Two words to live by (and save your $$$)

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First, thanks and apologies to my regular readers for bearing with the repetition of the subject contained in today’s column. The information bears repeating. And repeating. And maybe repeating.

Last week, I talked with too many consumers who have been called, or scammed, or sent into a state of panic by scammers using robocalls or live calls. The column DOES contain new information. If your friends, family or neighbors do not subscribe to The Coeur d’Alene Press, please pass this column on to them. It could save them a lot of money and upset. If you need help, call me at (208) 699-0506.

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HANG UP!: Here’s one of the simplest ways you can protect yourself from scams AND maintain your sanity. Don’t talk to people who are trying to scam you. How do you do this? Hang up the phone — immediately! Here are some examples of those types of calls:

PRE-RECORDED ROBOCALLS: With the computer technology available today, robocalls are the cheapest, easiest way for crooks and scammers to get to you. With the cost of postage, if you include the postage itself, paper, envelope and handling approaching or even exceeding a buck a letter, it gets pretty expensive to send out 10,000 scam letters. Most robocall contractors will make calls for about 1 cent each. Do the math: 10,000 scam mail pieces cost the crooks about $10,000. The same 10,000 robocalls cost the spammers $100! One robocall operation can make as many as 140,000 calls per hour. One company bragged that it made over 2 million calls in one 8-hour business day. Some robocalls are simply announcements notifying you to either call a specific number OR press “1” to speak to a live person. (Remember: Don’t do either.) HANG UP!

LIVE OPERATOR ROBOCALLS: You can usually recognize these calls because of the very short delay from the time you answer the call to the moment the live operator comes on the phone. Once again — if you hear the delay — HANG UP!

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UPSETTING CALLS: Any unknown caller, usually a live caller, who tries to upset you by telling you things like your “grandchild is in trouble,” “you missed a court date” or failed to appear for jury duty or that “there’s a warrant out for your arrest” or “your home is being foreclosed upon” is simply trying to put your mind in a state of panic. Scammers using this technique are usually professional con artists. That is, they know exactly how to manipulate you into taking action without you thinking about the consequences. Once your guard is down they go in for the kill. They usually ask for as much personal and financial information as you are willing to give up. We all know, when we’re upset, we’re unlikely to think clearly. LESSON: Very simple — HANG UP IMMEDIATELY! Don’t let these people get into your head. Don’t talk to them.

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“I’M FROM THE GOVERNMENT”: Hang up. Any important communication to you from any government agency will be sent to you by U.S. Mail.

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COMPUTER TECH SUPPORT CALLS: Microsoft and Apple have millions and millions and millions of customers around the world. Do you really think they called “little old you” to help you with your computer? They didn’t — they don’t, and they won’t! If you don’t believe me, just remember the last time you called any legitimate software company for help. Every time I’ve had the misfortune to call, one of two things happens (sometimes both): My coffee cup runs dry while I’m on hold listening to the Muzak version of “Muskrat Love,” or my bladder says enough coffee and I need to make a quick trip to the loo. QUICK LESSON: If they call you “out of the blue,” IT’S A SCAM! HANG UP!!!

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PENALTIES FOR SPAM CALLS: (According to the Federal Trade Commission). “Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), banning the use of prerecorded commercial telemarketing calls, aka robocalls, to consumers who have not provided permission previously and in writing is a crime. Telemarketers face penalties up to $16,000 per call.” — If they’re caught (not likely!).

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BAD BUT PREDICTABLE NEWS: Political calls, robo or otherwise, are NOT covered if they come from politicians (the rules don’t apply to them). WHAT A SURPRISE!

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NEW TOPIC — MORTGAGE SCAMS: There has been a rash of calls to area residents who have recently either obtained a mortgage on a property, or refinanced. The caller sometimes claims a loose affiliation with the Veterans Administration or HUD or other agencies that are involved in mortgage lending. The caller offers “lower rates” and “new programs.” This is a scam to get your personal financial information and sometimes to steer you into a new loan with rates that are higher and almost always have very high hidden fees attached (always in the small print). Don’t fall for it. Again, HANG UP!

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HERE IT COMES: Within the next two weeks, the “new and improved” CDA Press Consumer Guy website will be up and functioning. My website will be updated daily with various tidbits of consumer information I find. Additionally, any breaking big news that you need to know about will be posted promptly. I will also be posting readers’ comments, good and bad (I’m not perfect — my wife reminds me frequently!). There will also be a link to sign up for a weekly newsletter. Included in the website will be “Bill’s List,” merchants and services I like and use. The names will come and go. Recently, I went through a nice car wash and the machinery tore off the rear signal panel on my car. The operator offered me $100 or a month of free car washes. Thanks a lot. It was a $500 repair! Even sometimes I get taken advantage of. I will remove that company from “Bill’s List” and keep the list updated.

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REMEMBER: I’m in your corner.

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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.

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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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