Those ‘freedom checks’ might just be handcuffs

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Questions and concerns about “Freedom Checks” flooded in last week. Is this a scam? In a word, no, but read on, Macduff*.

If you try to research Freedom Checks online, what you’ll find is a massive amount of information, most of which is what I call advertising and promotion — very light on factual information. Claims of individuals getting checks for thousands and thousands of dollars pepper the various websites.

It looks to me like the company behind this massive marketing campaign is peddling a monthly or weekly investment newsletter. The amounts paid to individuals are probably verifiable. What isn’t clearly stated is how much has to be invested in order to generate checks for thousands of dollars.

As an example, if you invest $1 million for a year at 2 percent interest, you’ll generate $20,000. By the way, many banking institutions offer 2 percent annual interest on deposits left for a certain amount of time. Does this “insight” make me an investment genius? Far from it. If you have a million bucks available for investment, hopefully you already have a financial advisor.

MY ADVICE: Steer clear of this one.

*Macbeth’s challenging line: “Lay on, Macduff; / And damned be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’”

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BIG BOX ADULT BEVERAGE STORE: I’m a wine connoisseur (in my dreams). A close friend of mine brought a matter to my attention that needs to be addressed.

People like me depend heavily on the recommendations of a knowledgeable staff person. Unfortunately, often there is not a staff person around when you need them, (kinda like the hardware big box stores). The wine sections of most purveyors of wine have placards prominently displaying a description of the wine, including the all-important vintage. I, like most people, depend on the signage for my information.

The caller alerted me to the fact that much, if not most, of the signage in this store is inaccurate. It wasn’t the description of the wine’s attributes — it was the vintage itself — the year the grapes grew. It does make a difference.

For example, I paid the doctor who delivered my youngest daughter (in 1974) with one bottle of wine. That was not a great year (for the wine — not my daughter): Romanée-Conti. It cost $40. Currently a single bottle of that vineyard is selling for in excess of $20,000!

LESSON: Compare the vintage on the bottle with the advertising information over the bin. Go with the bottle.

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CONFLICTED LAWYERS: It is my practice to refer legal matters to licensed attorneys. By law, I am prohibited from dispensing legal counsel. I am a real estate broker and an independent licensed insurance adjuster. I have errors and omission insurance to cover me, should I make a mistake in my licensed practice. Law is NOT my licensed practice.

As a result, when I encounter a consumer with a problem that needs legal advice or action, I refer them to an attorney. Last week, I received an irate call from a consumer I had referred. It seems the lawyer would not take his case. The exact reason was unclear. I called the attorney.

It wasn’t that the lawyer wouldn’t take the case, he COULDN’T take the case. He or his firm, at sometime in the past, either had consulted with or represented the individual or firm that the consumer wanted to take action about.

Lawyers are ethically prohibited from accepting clients who represent a conflict. A good lawyer will refer a would-be client to another attorney. Every attorney is ethically required to do a check of any potential conflicts before representing a new client.

•••

LIE — TELL THEM YOU DO: I don’t often tell consumers to lie, but in this case I always make an exception — when a nuisance or scam caller manages to get you on the phone.

Start out by telling them you are recording this conversation and that you record all conversations. They’ll hang up faster than corn through a goose, and probably NEVER call you again. It’s much more effective than pressing “2” to be put on their “No call list.”

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SPRING PESTS: While it may not be apparent today, spring is just around the corner. As the weather improves, the door-to-door scammers, many disguised as handymen, house painters, tree trimmers and driveway repair firms, come-a-calling. They will soon be door knocking, calling and sending junk mail to you. Almost all claim to be “licensed, bonded and insured.” My advice is JUST SAY NO!

If you choose to get involved with anyone offering these services, ask for a copy (for you to keep) of their license, bond and proof of insurance. Usually, as soon as you make this request they will disappear like a bad smell in the wind. If they persist, you INSIST on a contract for all proposed services, including a detail of all work to be done, the final price (not to exceed) and the date by which all work will be accomplished to YOUR satisfaction.

Also don’t forget local REFERENCES. Call up the references. In addition, ask the references about someone else the reference knows who had work done by this company or individual. Remember: Get references. And finally, NEVER pay up front for more than 50 percent of the entire cost of the project. NEVER! If you have a question, call me.

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GET FINAL INSTRUCTIONS IN ORDER: Sometimes it’s too late. A dear friend of mine had a will and other legal documents he prepared for the person who would handle his estate. For three years, he continued to mention that he really needed to update those documents and instructions, in that his family circumstances and relationships had changed. Unfortunately, he ran out of time. He passed away suddenly and left things a mess.

If you’re reading this, you still have time to make things right. Don’t procrastinate. If we don’t “take care of business,” many of us spend more time and energy stewing about it in the middle of the night. Important instructions include, but are not limited to, living wills, medical and funeral instructions, and dispositions of special possessions.

The only thing my kids or wife will have to worry about when I’m gone is cleaning out my messy office. Good luck with that!

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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.billbrooksconsumeradvocate.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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