Consumer advice: Small businesses make big targets

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A local business got a decent-sized order for its product from a company in a Middle Eastern country. The name of the country is not important. What IS important is that orders from any foreign country, particularly if your firm hasn’t done business with the company, should cause you to raise your antenna.

My friend, being a sharp businessman, started thinking ahead as soon as he got the call. First, he insisted that before any product was shipped, the entire order needed to be paid for by wire transfer, in advance. The order amounted to something around $10,000. The purchaser readily agreed and asked that the businessman check his bank account frequently during the next few days and email the purchaser as soon as the funds appeared in his account.

So far, so good.

Within a couple of days the businessman noted that not only had the $10,000 appeared, but 10 times that amount had been received, obviously a mistake. Someone had added an extra zero to the amount to be paid. Here’s where the businessman/consumer really showed his know-how.

Most of would have called or waited for a call from the foreign company arranging for the return of the $90,000. His bank account did in fact show that $100,000 had been received — an extra $90,000. Most people would assume that the funds had been deposited in his account, as requested by wire transfer. NEVER ASSUME! Remember the definition of “assume!”

Instead of assuming, the business owner called his bank to verify that the money had been deposited by wire transfer. Imagine his surprise when he learned and verified that the $100,000 had in fact been deposited in his account by an ordinary check in NAMPA, IDAHO! Of course the check was bogus and was destined to bounce higher than the International Space Station.

The scam is potentially two parts,

1. The business would ship the ordered merchandise before the check bounced, and

2. The scammers, the company placing the order, would quickly ask that the funds sent in error be returned to them by wire transfer. This would leave the target business out its merchandise AND an additional $90,000, making a cool $100,000 score for the scammers.

Fortunately, the business didn’t ship the merchandise and certainly didn’t send off a “refund” of $90,000 — all due to the smarts and due diligence of the local businessman.

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CHINESE HOME REFI: A number of consumers have called asking me if a China-based financial company’s offer to refinance their mortgage is a scam. Come on! There are some scams that are just too obvious. I’ll try to be kind: IT’S A SCAM!

•••

FTC SETTLEMENT CHECKS-LIGHTS OF AMERICA: Apparently, a few years back, Lights of America sold a lot of lights in this area. The problem is (for the company), its claims were not just exaggerated, they were BS, pardon the abbreviated expletive.

These checks are usually legitimate, but call to make sure. Some scammers are trying to piggyback on the legitimate checks issued as a result of the FTC settlement. You can check at the following website: https://bit.ly/2LTpn2C

•••

TITLE FRAUD: Title fraud happens when a scammer pretends to be you and either attempts to completely take over the title to your home, or at least borrow money using your title as collateral (of course they never pay the loan back so ultimately you get a foreclosure notice from the lending institution).

Not all protective services automatically alert you if someone attempts to take over your title or use it to obtain a loan. I called Life Lock, the company I use. The person who answered the phone advised me that my basic membership, the one I recommend, did not cover title fraud but for a small additional charge — twice what I am currently paying — they would cover me.

I’m going to do some more research and find a company that I can recommend. I’ll let you know what I find. I would be particularly interested to hear from any readers who have experienced title fraud. Please call me.

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OUTRAGED FIRE CHIEF: In just a few days we will all commemorate, and solemnly remember, one of the worst days in most of our lives: 9/11. Many people lost their lives on that sunny, fall September morning. In addition, scores of first responders, many firefighters, rushed into the towers, knowingly putting their lives at extreme risk, were killed that day.

A scammer called one of our local firefighters, who happened to be a fire chief in Kootenai County and who I’m very proud to say is a close personal friend of mine. The Chief called me late in the evening because he was so outraged by the tactics used by the scam caller.

The Chief voluntarily serves on a number of organizations that aid first responders. The scam caller specifically attempted to use the tragic events of 9/11 to pressure consumers to donate money, over the phone, to his scam charity front organization.

LESSON: Hang up if any caller solicits funds for any charity using the horrible events of 9/11 as a hook. If you get calls like this, please note the number, ask for the specific name and address of the “charity” and call me with that information.

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CBD: The key phrase here is: be careful. My latest information, according to a recent article in Forbes magazine, is that it is still technically illegal in Idaho. In 2015 a bill to legalize CBD oil passed both houses of the Idaho Legislature but was vetoed by the governor.

I haven’t heard of anyone being arrested for selling, let alone possessing CBD products. On the other hand, you should consider the following: Are CBD claims scientifically proven? Can consumers legally buy CBD? Should you trust online CBD products?

Due to space limitations, I won’t address each of these questions in this article. I will write in detail in a future column about CBD products. Remember: Be careful.

•••

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-BILL. You can follow me at www.billbrooks.us. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate who lives in Coeur d’Alene with his proofreader, Bobbi (who is also his wife).

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