Consumer advice: Holy sheet! Don’t pay fees up front

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Upfront fees? Never! That’s my rule.

One of the most accurate indicators of a fraudulent or at least questionable offer is when all fees or service charges are required to be paid upfront. In almost two full years of listening to customers’ stories, most of them that don’t end well begin with, “I paid all the fees or charges BEFORE I received the good or service.” Once they have your money, they don’t need you.

In addition, many companies sell bad products or services and are paid through second or third level shell companies. What that means is, you think you’re buying AND paying the ABC Company for the goods. In fact the charges are to a second or third shell company.

As a matter of fact, this recently happened to me. I bought a set of sheets from Amazon. The reason I buy from Amazon is it haa a very consumer-friendly return policy. The sheets arrived but were not as described. I tried to return them and found out the actual seller of the sheets was Mr. Krishna Mauri of the Shrimahaveer Home Furnishing Expo of Sudama Nagar, in front of the Ram Temple, India (that’s the actual address of the company!). The company’s return policy made it almost impossible to return merchandise. The cost wasn’t too much and clearing customs would have been complicated.

Even your Consumer Advocate gets taken once in a while! (Anyone want to buy a king-sized set of zebra-striped sheets — cheap?)

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NO CASH — NO TITLE: You don’t have to be a curmudgeon, but don’t be a sucker! I’ll repeat, NO CASH — NO TITLE.

The bad guys who would cheat you don’t wear signs around their necks proclaiming “crook” or “scammer.” As a matter of fact, the really good crooks and scammers intentionally appear to be some of the nicest people you’d ever meet.

The other tactic is to tell you a long, involved story about why you should give them a title to your vehicle, boat, trailer, or RV, etc., before you get the cash. Notice I said cash. Do not sign over anything without cash in hand. Cashier’s checks are now commonly counterfeited; a regular check is next to worthless. If the buyer can get a money order or cashier’s check, they can get cash.

This is a BIG ONE — no wire transfers! Remember “NO CASH — NO TITLE!”

RESULT: No Scam!

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LEAKY WATER METERS: Remember Joe Friday of “Dragnet” fame? Well here are the facts according to the consumer:

She kept a close watch on her various utility bills. The water bill seemed a little high; in fact it seemed a lot high. She called the city and the water department told her that the leak was between the city water main and her home and that it was her responsibility to hire a company to come out and determine where the leak was.

She hired the private company as directed. It performed the tests and found NO leakage between the city water main and the city meter. At that point, the city finally relented and sent out a city employee to check the meter (a very simple and quick process). It was determined that the city meter WAS faulty.

The meter was replaced — problem solved. Except for the $500 to $600 the woman had already paid the private water leak detection company. I think the city owes this lady the money she paid out PLUS a BIG apology!

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DMV LINES: Help is on the way. There is new software on the way that will enable consumers to “take a number” online and be notified when it’s their turn to show up. I know it’s discouraging, but sometimes it takes a little longer than anticipated to get the new software up and running. Have a little patience and you’ll be rewarded.

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ROBO CALL LEGISLATION: As I have said before, in this column, consumerism IS NOT a political issue. Consumerism is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It is neither conservative nor liberal. We are all in the same boat.

I have never had a robo caller or a scam caller ask me about my political views. Believe it or not, the “Do Not Call Registry” goes back to 2003 — fully 15 years ago. Now ask yourself, are you getting more or fewer unwanted spam calls? If you’re getting fewer, you must be using tin cans connected with a string for communications. How about asking our politicians to introduce and pass legislation with some teeth in it that will hurt companies and owners of companies who plague us with these horrible robo calls?

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COME-ONS BY MORTGAGE LENDERS: Especially online.

I’m getting ready to refinance my home. I went online to check the current rates for a Veterans Administration home refi loan. I visited a number of websites advertising VA loans and before I knew it, I was getting calls from every loan clerk on the internet.

Not only that — every time I get on the internet now, I get pop-ups offering me mortgage refinance services. If they do manage to call and talk to me, I tell them I will never use their company because of their high-pressure sales tactics. It may not upset them to hear that, but it makes me feel better.

LESSON: Be careful about giving out your personal info, including your phone number. Some very aggressive and annoying clerks will be calling you!

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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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