CONSUMER ADVICE: Take a tip from this smart grandma

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I just got a call from a grandma in Post Falls. She wanted to tell me how she handled the “grandma call” — you know, the one where the caller pretends to be the consumer’s grandchild. This consumer had a unique way of shutting down the would-be scam artist.

Caller: “Hello grandma.”

Consumer: “I thought you were still in prison?”

Caller: “Click.”

She said it works every time!

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REFI BUT CHANGE HABITS: As you know, we’re in another “up” cycle in the real estate market. Increased property values combined with historically low interest rates make for a boon to homeowners wishing to pull a little money out of their home. But be careful!

The lure of doing a refinance of your mortgage to pay off credit card debt can be a dangerous “sirens song.” If you’ve piled up debt by spending recklessly and use a refinance to extract equity from your home to pay off high interest rate credit cards, you may get a second chance at an economically stable future. However, if you go back to your old habits of putting everything on the ol’ plastic, and not paying it off each month, you’re just headed for disaster again.

LESSON: Do the refinance; pay off the cards; but CHANGE YOUR HABITS!

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WHOLE LIFE IS NOT A SCAM — BUT...: Last week a consumer called me asking if I thought whole life insurance was a scam. My answer was no, but there are better ways to create an instant estate at the policyholder’s death AND save money for the future.

With whole life you do both, but neither very efficiently. I’m a big Dave Ramsey fan (www.daveramsey.com). If you haven’t checked out his website and his recommendations, you owe it to yourself to take a peek. Some of his advice is free; some is contained in courses and books he’s written and sells. My wife and I gave the basic course to some friends of ours as a wedding gift. It’s a good way to get started for a young couple.

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HARD OF HEARING: I wear hearing aids. That being said, it’s sometimes very difficult for me to hear some conversations, especially when I’m on the phone and talking with a young person with a high-pitched voice who talks fast, like Chip and Dale the chipmunk cartoon characters (not the Chippendales dancers!). Often, I only understand about every third word. Usually, I’m either trying to get technical support or doing something like making or changing a plane reservation, especially when I’m talking with a CSR (customer service representative).

When the matter involves a complaint or a legal matter, I ask them to send me a written confirmation of our conversation, usually by email. If they’re reluctant, and especially if the matter is very important, I tell them that I’m somewhat hard of hearing and that it’s sometimes difficult to understand what they are saying.

As a consumer, this gives me a written record of the result of our conversation. Or, as I have pointed out, in Idaho it is legal to record telephone conversations. Just turn on your recorder and put your phone on the speakerphone setting. That way you have a complete record of your conversation.

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GIFT OF LIFE CHEEK SWAB: This organization is a bone marrow registry: https://bit.ly/2O3zm7H

They help match those needing a bone marrow transplant with donors. Unbeknownst to me, finding bone marrow donors is difficult, and without a perfectly matched donor, many people who need a transplant die each year. While not a burning consumer issue, I felt compelled to devote a couple of lines to this worthwhile organization and their efforts.

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BAD EATS: The FDA is advising consumers to avoid eating fresh crab meat from Venezuela, as it may be contaminated with vibrio parahaemolyticus. The FDA is investigating so contaminated crab meat will be removed from the food supply. The bad crab has been found in fresh, imported crab meat from Venezuela. As of this writing Friday, there had been 12 confirmed cases of infection across four states, including Maryland, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

If you’ve ever eaten “bad” crab, you’ll flee from any dish containing it, at least for a week of or so. Better safe than VERY sorry!

If that’s not enough, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised consumers to avoid Honey Smacks cereal after it was linked to an outbreak of salmonella in 33 states. Remember: No Crab on Your Honey Smacks!

One more: USA Today reports, “The number of people sickened by tainted McDonald’s salads has jumped to 163 in 10 states. Three of the victims have been hospitalized. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the problem is caused by the Cyclospora parasite that is transmitted in foods contaminated with fecal matter.” Glad I’m not a big salad eater!

P.S. According to the CDC, ground raw turkey is also off the menu for a couple of weeks. What’s next?

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THREATENING LETTERS: If you get a threatening letter, CALL ME! Numerous nasty scams are making the rounds in our area. The scammers send consumers very threatening letters regarding unpaid debts and/or pending legal action. Other letters threaten to expose the murky nonspecific, embarrassing events in a person’s past.

If you get one of these letters, do not call the number. Call me.

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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 brookshomes@gmail.com (#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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