Smile: You’re on kinky camera!

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Turns out some new android apps are actually scanning your android phone for suggestive or outright lewd photographs, without the owner’s knowledge. (Not the kind of photos for your family Christmas or holiday card.) The purveyors of the app then contact the owner of the phone, demanding ransoms of $500 or more to delete the app and erase the questionable photographs. So far, this scam seems only to affect android phones. On the other hand, it seems like it’s probably only a matter of time until some sleaze invents a copycat app for iPhones. MY ADVICE: Don’t try your hand at being the next Hugh Hefner with your cellphone. You could find your very private photos plastered all over the WORLD WIDE WEB!

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MEDICARE PHISHING: Medicare pays out billions of dollars annually. For dishonest or just shady medical device sales companies, your Medicare information, account number, and other personal information is a gold mine. Especially at this time of year, the crooks are at work. Some call, attempting to solicit personal information from Medicare recipients by pretending to be, or trying to sound like, official government agencies. IMPORTANT: Often times, a component of the attempted scam is to make it sound like unless you hand over the information, you may lose your Medicare benefits, or at least have them substantially reduced.

If you get a call from anyone asking you for Medicare numbers or information, hang up and call the telephone numbers on your insurance cards — NOT THE NUMBERS GIVEN TO YOU BY THE CALLER.

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NON-MEDICARE MEDICAL IDENTITY THEFT: Because there are trillions of dollars spent annually, there are many schemes to obtain and then sell a consumer’s confidential personal information to others, to receive medical care in your name. Again, be safe. Don’t give this information out over the phone and don’t fill out applications or surveys that ask for this type of information. It just opens you up to fraud.

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QUICK TIP: All the advertisements you’ve seen on TV and in magazines for various cactus juice concoctions to reduce inflammation have just been ruled fraudulent by the FTC and FDA. Don’t waste your money on this junk. To put it another way – it’s “snake oil” in a different form.

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EXPENSIVE BAIT & SWITCH: Home mortgages have become the latest vehicle for this old ruse. Why? Simply because mortgage language and terms are complicated and lend themselves to numerical shell games, ending up costing the borrower tens of thousands of extra dollars in interest rates and extra fees and charges. I had two of these calls last week, one before the final signing, and one after. The consumer who had questions before the signing was able to have the “mistakes” corrected relatively easily. The unfortunate who signed and then read the mortgage had a much more difficult time reversing the terms and conditions. They were forced to retain an attorney — read expensive!

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ALL THAT GLITTERS: Every holiday gift giving season, commemorative coins and medallions pop up on TV and print advertising. Before you buy, understand that the chance of commemorative coin sets or medallions increasing in value due to their value as collectibles is almost zilch. (Remember the “rare” Elvis collectible plate sets? If you doubt me, look up their value on eBay.)

Rare metal specialty minted coins and collectibles are very rarely worth more than the spot price of the metal itself. Some have recently been advertised for five times their spot precious metal value. If you think you’ll ever get your money out of these “collectibles,” I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. If you want to invest in gold or silver, consult a local, reputable dealer and also do your own research. Numismatic material (old coins) can be a good investment. Again, do your research and even then, consult a local, reputable expert.

Morgan silver dollars, for example, vary wildly in value depending on their rarity and condition. Coin investing, unless for fun, is not for the amateur. I’ve seen too many “collectors” devastated when they find out the true value of a collection assembled over decades. The best, bad, and most recent example of coins sold as “investments” was the quarters featuring each state’s emblems on one side. They are basically worth — wait for it — 25 cents each!

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UNORDERED AND UNWANTED: We’ve touched on this one before, but especially at this time of year there are hundreds if not thousands of what I call “junk mills” sending their packages of crap to any address they can find, especially seniors. Seniors tend to immediately call the sender, at which time they’re told, very insistently, that they ordered the merchandise. The company tries to guilt them into sending a check, or better yet, paying for it with a “tele-check” over the phone, a debit card or lastly a credit card.

REMEMBER: Idaho law says, “If you didn’t order it, you don’t have to pay for it – AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO RETURN IT.” If you call them or they call you, tell them about Idaho law. The conversation will probably end quickly and they won’t bother you again. If they do keep pestering you – call me.

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FUNNY, FUNNY, FUNNY: “Lenny” is just revenge to all phone spam or scam callers. Go to YouTube and search for “Lenny.” There’s usually a red telephone next to the video. Lenny is an artificial intelligence voice that answers live callers using robo-calling techniques. Lenny sounds like an older gentleman, with a British accent that engages the caller in dialogue that sounds just like a real person — sometimes keeping the offending callers on the phone for up to an hour before they give up in total frustration. It’s a hoot and a little hard to explain. Look it up on YouTube and have a laugh. It’s worth it.

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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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