‘I’ll sue!’ But irked consumers rarely do

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While most of us have never actually gone to court over a consumer issue, we’ve all felt like throwing down the legal gauntlet at least a few times in our lives. The problem is that often, the amount of money in question isn’t large, or the circumstance surrounding our situation isn’t clear (like not having a contract).

As consumers, we must remember that attorneys are highly trained; it generally takes four years plus three years of law school AND passing the bar examination in the state of practice to become a fully licensed attorney. Once licensed and admitted to the bar, an attorney needs to have an office and administrative/paralegal staff. As a result, the per-hour cost to hire an attorney in this area starts at about $200 and goes up.

Attorneys, while sometimes offering free services (pro-bono representation), also need to make a living, just like the rest of us. Many attorneys will offer a no cost, or low cost, initial meeting or phone call to do a cursory evaluation of your case.

There are basically four ways for an aggrieved consumer to proceed: 1. Pay the attorney a retainer (read – money in advance) and proceed; 2. Have the attorney write a letter to the target of your discontent and see if that gets the desired result; 3. Take the miscreant to Small Claims Court. In small claims court, attorneys are generally not allowed, and the rules are very relaxed, compared to normal civil litigation; or 4. Take your licks, learn your lesson and don’t make the same mistake twice. Consider it a cheap education and move on.

A friend of mine, an attorney, once told me this: “The American justice system is the best in the world, but it does not guarantee you justice — it guarantees you a chance at justice.”

• • •

CALLER ID — FRIEND OR FOE: Be careful about trusting your Caller ID to tell you who’s calling. Scammers and crooks can, with an easily purchased cash card, buy a telephone number, with any area code they desire, for about $5 in about 5 minutes. One of the favorite scams is to purchase a “202” area code number. Remember, “202” is the Washington, D.C. area code, where many government offices — like the IRS — reside. You get a call, check Caller ID, assume it’s legitimate. You answer the phone and believe you’re getting a call from the IRS. REMEMBER: The IRS DOES NOT CALL TAXPAYERS. The IRS sends mail. HANG UP!

Another way fake area codes are used is that the scammer purchases our local 208 area code and a number, making you believe the call is from someone in our home area, like maybe a charity, like maybe the cops, or the local animal protection service. They then ask you for a donation using your credit card as payment. Be polite; ask them to send you their information in the mail. If they won’t, HANG UP!

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t trust your Caller ID and don’t ever give out ANY personal information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, birth dates or Medicare card numbers. You’ll be happier (and safer) if you follow my advice — the crooks and scammers will be unhappy and poorer (without your money).

• • •

THE DARK WEB — What is it?: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Not really. Just don’t be naive.

The invention of the Internet opened the world up for many to explore, learn, and enrich their lives. Unfortunately, it also provided various evildoers a new and powerful tool to use against the rest of us.

The “Dark Web” is the term used to describe various web addresses that are accessible only by using special software. Once you have the software installed on your computer, and your computer connected to the regular Internet, you can ask for admittance to various Dark Web sites. Using Dark Web software, the users’ identity and location are masked. The user becomes hidden in layers upon layers of false identities and locations. Once the user of the Dark Web is hidden, they can then buy, and sell, and trade information (like your stolen identity), drugs, or child pornography, without fear of being identified.

MY ADVICE: Be aware of the existence of the Dark Web — never go there. Nothing good will ever come of it.

• • •

GOOD GUY (GAL) MERCHANT OF THE WEEK: Kay Quinn, a senior executive with Frontier Communications. Frontier offers telephone, Internet and TV in the Northwest. Kay has assisted a number of consumers in resolving some pesky problems. Thanks, Kay!

• • •

BITCOIN: Bitcoin is a worldwide crypto currency and digital payment system. Unfortunately, it is often promoted as a way of trading, buying and selling “under the radar.”

It is difficult for governments to track and more importantly — to tax. This makes it difficult to regulate. All of the above make it attractive to various investment schemes.

A friend of mine got involved in a “business opportunity” using a crypto currency. Before he knew it, his initial investment of $10K was worth well over $100K! Very soon thereafter the bottom fell out of the trading company and his “investment” was worth next to nothing. Wow! A very expensive lesson. Except, like the legendary broadcaster and storyteller Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “now for the rest of the story.”

The IRS found that he had indeed earned over $90K but that he had not paid taxes on his gain. They sent him a tax bill with interest and penalties for well over $100K.

MY ADVICE: Don’t put any money into plans, schemes, or business ventures associated with crypto currencies. Not only could you very easily lose your money, you could end up owing the government a lot more.

• • •

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: The new website is coming — probably by the third week in October. The website will have Bill’s List of Merchants as well as a long list of scams and solutions to consumer problems. (It takes awhile to put together a good website.)

• • •

REMEMBER: I’m in your corner!

• • •

I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on as The CDA Press Consumer Guy. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksRealEstate@gmail.com or fax me at (866) 362-9266. Please include your name and a phone number. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups.

• • •

Bill Brooks is the CDA Press Consumer Guy and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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