Consumer advice: Beware charity auction items that have strings attached

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People in our area are truly generous. A consumer called me with a sad story. It made me angry as I listened to him.

It seems he went to a charity auction and bid on a particular item. Knowing this man, he probably overbid intentionally because he is generous and the auction was for the benefit of a well-known and respected charity organization in our area.

Upon visiting the merchant who had “donated” the auction item, the winning bidder found that the item was being used as a “come on” specifically structured to induce him to purchase additional goods and services at vastly inflated prices. To say the least, he felt as though his generosity had been taken advantage of.

LESSON: Charities need to be especially careful to check out the terms and conditions on all goods and services they accept from merchants or companies to ensure that there are no hidden charges or conditions attached to auction items or services. If they don’t, they risk turning generous patrons away from participating in future fundraising events.

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FDA EXPANDS VALSARTAN BP MED: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expanded its recall of a commonly used type of heart drug because some of the products may contain a potentially cancer-causing chemical. If you’re taking this med, call your doctor immediately.

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In my column Monday, I cautioned consumers not to confuse your insurance agent with an insurance adjuster. I firmly stand by that admonition. A good agent will help craft insurance coverage that affords you the most protection at the best price AND when you have a claim, a good local agent will help you work with the insurance adjusters — your company’s or theirs. Don’t expect this kind of service from the big insurance sellers that advertise nationally.

REMEMBER: There is a world of difference between an insurance agent and an insurance adjuster. Also remember that there is often a huge difference between an “800” number insurance company and a local agent who works and lives in our area. If you don’t get the service you want from an “800” number, your only recourse is to try to talk to a supervisor. If you use a local agent, you can drive over and have a discussion, in person.

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CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD BUT BEWARE: One not-so-new scam starts when you get an email or sometimes a call that purports to be from one of your trusted websites. The problem is that the email or call is NOT from your friendly website. It’s from scammers.

They are very good at looking like and/or sounding like the real company. This scam is especially dangerous because the fake communication is carefully crafted to fool you into believing that it is an official, genuine email or call.

A fake email will always use the logo of the organization. Scammers spend hours and hours comparing their fake website to mimic the real thing. The fake emails are designed to lull you into a sense of security with a familiar layout and graphics. The email you get will then work to cause you to take immediate action, without thinking. The opening line might go something like this:

“WARNING — our online security department has determined that your sign-on and password may have been compromised. Please click on the link provided below to securely change both your username and password. Do not attempt to sign on to your account using the usual URL or website. You may call our security department at (800) XXX-XXXX, however due to the number of compromised accounts, your wait time may be up to 20 minutes. Do not use our normal website with your original sign on and password. If you do, you will expose yourself to online theft from your account. For faster and more secure service, please use the web address provided below:

www.bankofXXX.com”

Once you get to the scammers’ website, you will be required to enter your old username and old password BEFORE you can change to a new username and password.

If you fall for this one, you give the crooks and scammers TOTAL access and control over your account. The crooks will work as fast as lightning to scoop up anything of value in your account, including cash, credit or stocks, and transfer them to an offshore, untraceable account. Once that’s done, they will withdraw all funds from all your accounts and disappear under some rock. If you get an email or a call like this, call your bank, using the number on the back of your debit or credit card or the telephone on your last bank statement and ask for the fraud or security department. As usual, you may call me and we’ll figure it out together BUT DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK and then call. It’ll probably be too late!

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I’VE BEEN PAID: More and more, as I go about my day, meeting people and answering phone calls, people tell me about recent scams they’ve encountered and how they quickly recognized the ruse and AVOIDED the crooks. I never get tired of hearing these stories.

As my readers know, I’ve been writing this column since January 2017 and now twice weekly on Monday and Thursday as a community service — nada dineros. I do it because I enjoy it. We all work together to protect each other by sharing our experiences and knowledge. I am especially thankful to The Coeur d’Alene Press, the owners, and professional staff.

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THINGS ARE GETTING BUSY: Please continue to call me about problems you are having and scams you’ve encountered and call me anytime if you truly have an emergency. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

If you want to report a scam, just leave a message and I’ll add it to the ever-growing list. If you do need a call back, say so and be sure to leave a telephone number. It’s much easier for me to work with someone on the phone instead of email. (If you knew how slow I “two finger” type, you’d understand.)

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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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