That police benefit fund only benefits bad guys

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You might get a call asking for donations to the CDA Police Coalition Benefit Fund.

First hint, they’re calling from Boise. Second clue, the call-back number doesn’t accept incoming calls. Third piece of evidence, they won’t send you any information but they’ll ask you for all your personal information — name, Social Security number, credit card number, expiration date and security code.

The offenders’ telephone number comes across caller ID as 208-272-9342 from Boise, Idaho.

If they call, don’t answer and for goodness sake — DON’T GIVE THEM ANY INFORMATION.

It’s completely bogus, as confirmed Friday by Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White.

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I LOVE ANIMALS: I’m a soft touch for animals, and animal welfare and charities purporting to help animals. The “North Shore Animal League” is NOT one.

If they call — hang up. Among consumer advocates, this group is a joke. This group is extremely aggressive. Once they determine you’re an easy mark, they will hound you (pun intended!).

While we’re on the subject, I want to take this opportunity to call out the various animal welfare groups that use images of suffering animals to motivate viewers to call. Can you imagine if the same tactics were used to get viewers to donate to child welfare agencies? Every time I see one of these ads showing suffering animals, I call the number and tell them how disgusted I am at the tactics they’re using to get people to give them money. I usually urge people not to call, but in this case, for the animals’ sake, please call and make your feelings known.

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PASSPORT FRAUD: Many government agencies and businesses constantly urge us to go online instead of calling or going into an office or business in person. Recently a consumer made me aware of a new scam.

New passport applications, due to heightened security risks, are required to be made in person. On the other hand, renewal of passports that are less than 15 years old may be done online or through the mail. If you go online and stumble onto the wrong website, you may inadvertently turn your old passport over to top level identity thieves.

In addition to getting their hands on the “holy grail” of your identity, your passport information and photo, the crooks will charge you a hefty fee, by credit card or check. Because of the nature of the process of renewing a passport (it usually takes several weeks), you won’t be aware of the fraud for quite awhile.

MY ADVICE: Apply for your passport renewal in person. Passports are great targets for identity thieves. The key to good consumerism is to make the target as small as possible. Go to http://www.kcgov.us/departments/recorder/passport.asp for further information.

• • •

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS AND ADVERTISING: It has always made me a little uneasy to see merchants using religious symbols as part of their advertising. I have nothing against religion or the expression of faith, but the question remains: Why would a company associate itself with a particular religious faith? Unfortunately, often times, it’s to attract the naive consumer and lull them into a false sense of security.

Whenever I see a company or a business using religious symbols, it has the opposite effect — my “consumer antenna” immediately goes up. Recently a number of consumers have complained about some businesses in this area, which have attempted to attract customers using logos in their ads that include religious symbols. While these recent complaints were not fraudulent or scams, the companies exhibited unfriendly consumer traits. Just beware!

• • •

MISLEADING COUPONS: The grocery business is a tough business. The profit margins are very small and consumers can be very fickle. Good customer service, a wide selection of products, and honesty are mainstays of a good store. Why then would a well-known food store publish a large print coupon in the grocery section of their advertising insert, and then in very small print, advise their customers that the promised savings do not apply to food? To me it seems like the perfect way to alienate their loyal customers. One elderly and loyal customer was recently blindsided by this unsavory tactic at the register. My advice to consumers, like always: Read the fine print very carefully. My advice to the food store: Quit advertising like this. You’re going to lose otherwise loyal customers.

• • •

EXTENDED CAR WARRANTIES: Imagine this — you’ve just bought a brand new car. A few days later you get what looks like a very official vehicle warranty extension offer. Almost without exception, these solicitations don’t come from the dealership or the car company. Instead they come from a group that gleans information from government online automobile registration sites.

The mail solicitations try to look very official. If you bite, at best, you’ll be purchasing very expensive and unnecessary insurance that is often worthless. At worst, you’ll be giving up a lot of personal information for nothing. Place these offers in the shredder or in the good old “round file.”

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PERSISTENT CONSUMER AWARD: The award for most persistent consumer of the month goes to a gentleman who FINALLY (after over 4 months and many long hours on hold) got his refund from Sears. The refund? About $15. Relatively small amount, but big in satisfaction.

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ADULT LIFELOCK/SENIORS: I’ve mentioned Lifelock on several occasions in this column. I am not trying to push this company, but they have some pretty good products. One I particularly like the sound of is “Lifelock Senior” for about $20 per month. It allows adult children of seniors to monitor their parents’ credit and identity files while being alerted should a suspicious item appear. For some adult children of seniors, this program could really provide some peace of mind.

• • •

SUSPICIOUS AREA CODES REDUX: 242 –Bahamas, 246 – Barbados, 268 – Antigua, 284, British Virgin Islands, 345 – Cayman Islands, 441 – Bermuda, 473 – Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique, 649 – Turks and Caicos, 664 – Montserrat, 721 – St Maarten, 758 – St Lucia, 767 – Dominica, 784 – St Vincent, 809, 829 849 – Dominican Republic, 868 – Trinidad and Tobago, 869 – St Kitts and Nevis, 876 – Jamaica.

QUICK TIP: If you don’t have friends or relatives actively traveling in these areas, don’t answer ANY call from these area codes.

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REMEMBER: I’m in your corner.

• • •

I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on as The CDA Press Consumer Guy. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksRealEstate@gmail.com or fax me at (866) 362-9266. Please include your name and a phone number. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups.

• • •

Bill Brooks is the CDA Press Consumer Guy and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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