Bill Brooks: Many will call but few are chosen

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Most of the consumer calls I field each week (sometimes 200 or more) aren’t published in this column. Why? That’s a fair question.

First, there isn’t enough room in the paper. Addressing a consumer’s issue and writing about that specific issue are two very different subjects. ALL calls are addressed; that is, I personally talk to each caller. In addition, I answer ALL emails. I NEVER leave a consumer “hanging.” Sometimes I can’t help, most of the time I can, but it may not be an issue relevant to many consumers.

An item like this won’t be addressed in my column. Another type of call that won’t find its way into print are legal issues, requiring the assistance of an attorney. Most of the more common, well-known scams don’t need constant repeating. The issues I try to publish are:

1. Interesting (or funny) to readers;

2. Matters that are new and could affect many readers;

3. Issues that can be addressed in the limited space that the newspaper generously affords me;

4. Inspirational stories that highlight people helping each other.

Just because your particular problem doesn’t fall into the “publishing” guidelines doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from you, and try to help. Addressing a consumer’s issue and writing about that specific issue are two very different subjects. Call me!

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Unless you have a lot of financial mail or you’re an international clandestine operative, you can probably get by without a real shredder. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to protect your identity, including your name and address.

You’ve probably seen magazines in your doctor’s office, with large portions of the front or back ripped off, to protect the identity of the subscriber. Having spent more time in hospitals than I care to remember, I can testify how appreciated magazines are by patients.

Unfortunately, most of the covers are torn up in an effort to obliterate any personal information. Instead of cutting up the magazine or document or trying to scribble out your information, try the following:

Recently a new, cheap product has emerged, the Identity Theft Protection Stamp. If you don’t know what it is, Google it or search for it on Amazon. They sell for less than eight bucks and they work. You’ll like it. Then you can safely drop off magazines to your doctor’s office, local hospitals or the Veterans Administration.

•••

A NEW TWIST ON MEAT: It’s common knowledge that ground meat, usually hamburger, MAY contain E. coli. Consumers are continually cautioned to take care where they purchase their hamburger as well as other ground meats, ensuring they are dealing with a reputable butcher, who handles all ground meats as required by USDA standards. This includes thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting all grinding equipment. Consumers are also cautioned to handle ground meat carefully, especially during the cooking phase.

Now comes a new warning: mechanically tenderized meat. The process involves repeatedly puncturing meat with very small blades or needles, which break down the meat fiber and make the cut of meat easier to chew. Usually, these cuts or pinholes in the meat are invisible to the eye. Because blades or pins are used in this process, mechanically tenderized meat should be handled AND cooked while exercising the same precautions used in the handling and cooking of hamburger, because the mechanical tenderizing equipment COULD introduce bacteria into the cut of meat.

I’m a meat eater. The butcher at my food store is my second-most favorite person in the world, second only to my wife! (One of my favorite meat cuts is cube steak — a good example of mechanically tenderized meat.) Our local stores are very clean and handle all food products, especially meat and produce, with the utmost care. MY ADVICE: Don’t be alarmed — just be aware and take care.

•••

WATCH YOUR BACK: A faithful reader of this column, a friend, and a man I have never met face-to-face, called me yesterday morning with a cautionary tale. It seems he had a dispute with someone who provided him a good or service. In an effort to settle the matter fairly, he wrote a check to other party, and wrote, on the front of the check, “PAID IN FULL.”

The recipient of the check cashed the check and then sued my friend for the higher amount that he claimed he was owed. Guess what? My friend lost, and was ordered to pay thousands more. The judge ruled that had “PAID IN FULL” been written on the reverse of the check, above the payee endorsement, once endorsed and cashed, the debt would have been paid in full.

If you really want to make it stick, write the following, above the place where the recipient has to endorse the check: “By your endorsement below, you agree to the terms and conditions written above your endorsement. This check represents that the debt referenced is PAID IN FULL”. (One small exception, this doesn’t work with government agencies — like the Internal Revenue Service!)

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MORE CRAIGSLIST SCAMS: Whether you’re buying or selling, my advice is to stay away from Craigslist. Right now, I’m averaging five calls per day from people in our area who have been the targets of scammers. MY ADVICE: Don’t use Craigslist — don’t become a victim. Print advertising is best, in that sellers must pay for their ad and scammers don’t like to leave identifying information with the publisher of print advertisers.

•••

I’M HIRING: I’m looking for a person to help me for a couple of hours per week, to help me keep my WordPress blogs and website up to date. The person I’m looking for will have extensive and verifiable experience with WordPress. If you’re that person and want a couple of hours of extra income per week, please call me 208-699-0506.

•••

PLAYING THE AGE CARD: While I firmly believe there are those who attempt to take advantage of those of us over 65, I urge you, never attempt to use your age as an excuse for not reading a contract, not doing your own due diligence, or not calling me BEFORE you act. As soon as you attempt to use your age as an excuse, you weaken your position.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com or fax me at 866-362-9266. (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumer advocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the broker and owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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