They’ll go to great lengths to get inside your house

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A couple attended an event where an exhibitor was conducting a contest to win an off-road vehicle made by one of the motorcycle manufacturers. The vehicles look like a lot of fun — zooming over sand dunes riding with your friends over hill and dale. All they had to do to enter the contest was to drop a short form into the contest box. The drawing would be later this year.

Lo and behold, only a couple of days later, the couple received a call informing them that they had indeed won a prize during the preliminary drawing. The “prize” consisted of two $50 gift cards, one for gas and one for groceries. So far, so good.

The representative of the company, on his way home, offered to drop by and give them their gift cards. When the meeting took place, it turned out that the “gift cards” were not true gift or cash cards; they were rebate cards, which contained a number of conditions in order to be used. The consumer had to shop at a certain store and buy certain products. In addition, the consumer was required to sign up for mailing lists and would be sent periodic emails and other promotional material (read: junk mail and spam).

And oh, by the way, the nice young man, while he was delivering the “gift cards,” asked if he could show them his company’s newest home air filtration system. So as not to be impolite, the couple agreed to the demonstration (read: sales pitch).

Before they knew it, the nice young man was gone and they had agreed to purchase a $3,400 home air filtration system! In addition to purchasing the system, they had also agreed to finance it with a third-party company at a very high interest rate.

Once the salesman left, the consumers realized they had been “taken to the cleaners” and that not only were they going to have clean air, but they realized that their bank account would also be a lot cleaner. They took immediate action — they called me, intending to leave a message asking that I call them. I just happened to be available, and after hearing the story, suggested they call the salesman and cancel the contract AND send the company a certified letter making a formal request, in accordance with federal law.

BOTTOM LINE: The consumers were immediately released from the $3,400 contract and the nice young man picked up the air filtration system the next day. Case closed.

REMEMBER: Not all high-pressure salespersons look like Snidely Whiplash. Most appear to be nice young men and women, just trying to help you and make an honest living. Be careful. When in doubt, “sleep on it” — don’t sign, and feel free to call me BEFORE signing.

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INSURANCE ADJUSTERS ARE YOUR FRIENDS — MAYBE: Never confuse your insurance agent with your insurance adjuster. The agent is the person selling you an insurance policy (product) from a specific company. Some work for one company, others represent many companies and presumably help you to select the company that will provide you with insurance coverage that best suits your needs at the best price.

The adjuster is the person working for the insurance company after a loss, accident or as they call it the “occurrence” to determine how much money the company will pay you, or pay to have your property fixed.

The agent is a salesperson, the adjuster in the best case scenario is there to see that you are compensated fairly for your loss, and worst, the adjuster is there to pay out the minimal amount that you will agree to and close the claim.

Be very careful when you talk with the insurance adjuster and ONLY talk to insurance adjusters working for your company. If an adjuster contacts you, make sure you know who they are working for. Questions like, “Don’t you think you were a little bit to blame?” are specifically designed to shift blame and liability.

Don’t call your agent asking for advice. Before accepting a settlement, cashing a check or signing a release form, read the terms and conditions carefully. The release as well as any check will be written in legalize. If you don’t understand it — don’t sign it. Again, call me. I will most likely refer you to an attorney for a no cost or very low cost consultation. Once you sign a release or cash a settlement check, your options are extremely limited or sometimes completely eliminated. Don’t be rushed. Some claims, especially personal injury claims, take months or years to settle equitably.

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HELP OTHERS: When a door-to-door salesperson knocks on your door, if you answer, be polite and courteous. BUT DON’T LET THEM IN YOUR HOME! Ask to see their solicitor’s license. Read it carefully. Then if everything looks in order, listen to their pitch. If they don’t have a solicitor’s license — politely send them packing and call your local police — NOT 911. Report the encounter. The police will usually send an officer to the area to check to see if the solicitor is legitimate.

Every summer there are squads of itinerant salespeople working selected neighborhoods selling everything from vacuum cleaners to satellite systems. Some are legitimate — many are not. I call them hit-and-run sales scams. Here today and gone tomorrow. All of their verbal promises vanish as soon as they have your payment information and your signature on an 8-page contract with print too little and complicated to read.

The reason I say call the police is because you will be helping your friends and neighbors to avoid these high-pressure itinerants. Older seniors are especially vulnerable to these tactics. You will probably recognize the tactics — some of your less able neighbors may not. Make a difference — “drop a dime” on the people who may be preying on others.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived; it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

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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. 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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