Pull the plug on power company scams

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Here we go again.

A very sharp businessman who owns a midsized, successful company in this area reported to me that he had just lost over a thousand dollars to a caller posing as an Avista employee. Here’s how it went down.

He got a call last week at his place of business from the fake Avista employee. She informed him that his regular payment hadn’t been received for the past couple of months. He said he’d look into the matter and get back to her. She explained that the electricity would be turned off sometime in the next couple of hours unless he could make an immediate payment. He agreed to make payment using the Visa cash cards sold at area supermarkets and stores. He went out, bought the cards and called the telephone number the fake Avista agent gave him and read the numbers to her. She thanked him for his payment and hung up.

His power was not turned off (it wouldn’t have been anyway). The next day, the same “Avista agent” called him and wanted more money. He realized it was a scam — too late! This same scam was also successful in stealing money from a local doctor’s office and who knows how many others.

LESSON: If ANYONE wants to be paid by cash cards, gift cards, iTunes cards — IT’S A SCAM! DON’T DO IT.

•••

CENSUS SURVEY?: Here’s a difficult but important one. The mail you get really might be from the U.S. Census Bureau — and then again it might not be. I’ve studied scams and scam artists for almost 45 years. If I wanted to engineer a near perfect scam, it would be to use the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey as my platform. I would call consumers and ask why they hadn’t returned their survey and then get a wealth of personal information to steal identities and money.

(An example of the real survey can be found at: https://bit.ly/2umkpWe)

Much of the following information is taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. It is important.

Any legitimate U.S. Census personnel will:

• Present an ID badge which contains: photograph of field representative, Department of Commerce watermark, and expiration date.

• Provide you with supervisor contact information and/or the regional office phone number for verification, if asked.

• Provide you with a letter from the Director of the Census Bureau on U.S. Census Bureau letterhead.

Should you suspect fraudulent activity, please do the following.

If you get mail:

• Check that the return address is Jeffersonville, Indiana.

• If you continue to question the authenticity of the letter or form, call the regional office for your state to verify the household survey.

If someone calls your household to complete a survey:

• Call the National Processing Center to verify the caller is a Census Bureau employee. (See Number below.)

If someone visits your residence to complete a survey:

• Check first for a valid U.S. Census Bureau ID badge.

If you are still unsure then call the regional office for your state to verify you are in a legitimate survey and the visitor is a Census Bureau employee: https://www.census.gov/about/regions.html

If you get an email and think it is bogus:

• Do not reply, do not click on any links, and do not open any attachments.

• Forward the email or website URL to the Census Bureau at: mailto:ois.fraud.reporting@census.gov

• Delete the message. They will investigate and notify you of the findings.

Official Census Bureau surveys can be mailed to your home as “resident” — without your name — so receiving a survey this way doesn’t mean it’s a scam. (The Census Bureau mailed surveys to 3.5 million randomly selected addresses.) To ensure it’s legitimate, you should call 800-354-7271. The mailing will include a survey you can complete and return in a postage-paid envelope or direct you to: https://bit.ly/2vbLif3

According to the U.S. Census Bureau itself, “... you can expect personal and potentially ID theft-worthy questions...” You will be asked questions about your spending habits; your home’s value, taxes and insurance; and commuting time to your job, but not when you leave for and come home from work.

If you are called by someone purporting to be a Census worker, before answering ANY questions, verify the call’s legitimacy by dialing the toll-free number provided above. All officials must show a badge. READ IT CAREFULLY, but don’t rely solely on it; fraudsters can make counterfeits.

LESSON: BE SAFE BY BEING CAREFUL.

•••

FEELING CHARITABLE?: Charity Navigator. Go to CharityNavigator.org to check out any charity you are thinking about donating to. If they aren’t listed there or have a less than favorable rating — decline to donate.

•••

BONE MARROW DONATION WEBSITES:

Gift of Life: https://bit.ly/2LmXzIs

Be The Match: https://bit.ly/1QUwbw8

Apparently the one in the last column didn’t work or was way too slow.

Thanks to a reader, I found that donors are especially needed between the ages of 18 and 44. That’s because younger donors produce more and higher-quality cells than older donors. However, anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 can join.

•••

DISH OR DIRECT: The door-to-door sales people are out again, trying to get consumers to switch their satellite providers by promising lower monthly prices, $100 gift cards and anything else that will compel a consumer to switch. The problem is these people are usually independent contractors, focused on a quick sale and huge commissions.

To protect yourself, insist on a written contract, read it carefully and if you don’t understand it, don’t sign it. If you decide to switch, always pay with a credit card and get a receipt that is referenced in your WRITTEN contract. No excuses!

•••

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

•••

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. You can follow me at www.billbrooks.us. 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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