Bill Brooks: Listen when these experts say ‘no’

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I had the opportunity to speak to a couple of senior citizen groups recently. These people, averaging over 70 years old, are some pretty sharp cookies. Each has decades of experience being a consumer. (Many of my really good weekly consumer tips about scams and frauds come from this age group.)

I asked over 30 of my senior friends one simple question: Have you EVER bought a good or service from a phone caller, trying to sell you something, that you found important and valuable? Mind you, this group represents well over 2,000 years of experience. Their response was a resounding “No.”

Think about that. The next time your phone rings and a salesperson attempts to separate you from your hard earned money, the likelihood that you REALLY need or would benefit from the purchase is almost nil.

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THE MOUSE THAT ROARS: Recently, comments and observations about a large company caused quite a kerfuffle. (More like a “tempest in a teapot.”) To me, the lesson here is that we, as a community, have a lot of power and influence beyond this column.

During the past year, we have gained the attention, and cooperation, of some of the “big boys,” Spectrum, Frontier Communications, AT&T, Avista Utilities, DirecTV and Dish TV. These are good companies, but like people, they make an occasional mistake. The “proof of the pudding” is, what do they do when a problem is brought to their attention?

The important word here is “cooperation.” These companies do make an occasional mistake, but are usually willing to acknowledge the misstep and correct the problem.

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AUTOMATIC OR MANUAL: We’re talking about mortgage approval, not cars. As a real estate broker, I forget what people don’t know. One key difference is the underwriting of a mortgage loan.

Underwriting is: “Mortgage underwriting in the United States is the process a lender uses to determine if the risk of offering a mortgage loan to a particular borrower under certain parameters is acceptable. Most of the risks and terms that underwriters consider fall under the three Cs of underwriting: credit, capacity and collateral.”

Many lenders, especially large banks, use “automatic” or computerized programs wherein a (would be) borrower’s financial information is entered in, a button is pushed, and out comes a little slip of paper with a thumbs up or thumbs down on the loan. Automatic underwriting allows the processing of thousands of loan applications very quickly, with minimal human input (thought). How do you think large TV advertising lenders can give you preliminary approval on a mortgage loan in a couple of minutes?

On the other hand, manual underwriting is the process whereby an actual human being looks at your finances and you have the opportunity to answer any questions, or address “square” information that doesn’t fit neatly in “round” holes. Things like self-employment, inheritances, other financial assets, recent bankruptcies, other sources of income, and so on. This is the financial information that makes you, “you.”

LESSON: If you have some unusual circumstances in your financial life, look for a lender who uses manual underwriting, or at least a combination of manual and automatic models.

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CERTIFIED MAIL/RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED: Nothing gets the attention of a company quite so fast as picking up the day’s mail and being required to sign for a letter from you. Your letter then goes to the top of the stack for special attention. Phone calls and emails are easier ways for the consumer to contact an individual or company, but none are as effective at drawing attention to your situation.

The two forms are available at your local Post Office. The receipt (the portion that proves you mailed it) USPS Form 3800, and the proof of receipt USPS Form 3811, should be important arrows in the quiver of any competent consumer. The Post Office will stamp the date on your receipt, which also has the address to whom you sent the mail. The “green card” will be signed by the recipient, proving they received your sent letter. It’s also a good practice to write the certified mail tracking number on your letter so that it can be proved that the recipient got the letter.

U.S. courts of law regard certified mail as proof the recipient received the communication. (If you get certified mail, pick it up and sign for it.) Refusal to pick up and sign for certified mail does not relieve the recipient from the responsibility of knowing what was contained in the communication. LESSON: When you want to bring a matter to the attention of someone, USE CERTIFIED MAIL/RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED.

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IS “NEXT DOOR” A SCAM? No, it’s a great service. Find your lost cat or dog, a kid to shovel your snow, or be alerted to questionable door-to-door sales people in your neighborhood. The web address is: https://nextdoor.com/

To sign up you will need your address and your zip code. The website will then provide information about your specific area and allow you to post info your neighbors will see without revealing your identity. When a new post is made, you will be notified by email. I like the concept and have found no problems with the website.

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COMPUTER LITERATE: Many consumers consider themselves to be computer illiterates. I believe this phobia about computers comes from the days of floppy disks. (Yes, we old-timers actually had to insert disks into our computers and they were actually floppy.) In those days, we were sternly warned that one false button push could “crash” the computer and erase all our programs and data. It’s time to come out of the closet and use computers.

Today there is no programming or reading or writing code for the average consumer. For consumers, the Internet opens the world to you like a huge, almost infinite library of documents, videos, useful websites and so on. To deny you access to these resources is a tragedy.

Take my advice and find an “Introduction to Computers” class at our local schools or senior centers, or go to a computer store and ask to be shown a simple home computer. I almost guarantee, you’ll never regret it. If you don’t know where to start, call me at 208.699.0506.

P.S. It’s much easier to read and keep up with The Coeur d’Alene Press (and my column) online. You won’t have to pick your paper up from the snowy or rainy driveway!

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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 BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com or fax me at (866) 362-9266. (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumeradvocate.com. 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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