Consumer advice: Beware of hinky credit card settings and check scams

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ABU & COF COULD COST YOU: A consumer called me recently with a new wrinkle that every credit or debit card user needs to be aware of. The story is this: The consumer spotted a couple of charges on his credit card that were fraudulent. He immediately notified his financial institution, placed the charges “in contest” and asked that his card be immediately cancelled and a new card issued. No problem. He received his new card. At the next billing cycle, he noticed new fraudulent charges FROM THE SAME fraudulent source.

How did this happen? It turns out that his card, in this case a MasterCard, had two key settings, which allowed both ABU and COF billing. ABU means Automatic Billing Updater. COF means Card on File. ABU allows a merchant (or scammer) to charge your NEW card, the one you got to replace the one that’s been hacked.

Make sure you notify your credit card or debit card issuing company to TURN OFF the ABU function. COF, credit card on file, allows a merchant (or others) to place charges against your card without actually having your card in front of them, sometimes even without your three- or four-digit numerical security code. If you get any resistance from the customer service representative, ask to speak to someone on the Fraud Prevention Department, they’ll understand what you’re asking for.

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IT’S EASY TO AVOID THIS SCAM: There is a fake check epidemic: https://bit.ly/CZYbZq. Consumers are receiving these very authentic looking checks everyday. One simple solution is to throw away every check you get. Of course the real world problem is that you may be throwing hundreds or even thousands of dollars away. The way NOT to avoid a bad check is to attempt to verify the validity of the check by calling the telephone number on the check. Your chance of being told the check is good is almost 100 percent. If the check is legitimate, the bank will, of course, verify the validity of the check. If the check is bogus (unless the scammers are truly stupid), when you call the telephone number on the check, you will be calling a number setup by the crooks to woo you into a sense of security.

As I’ve said before, any number on the check, in all likelihood will ring on a phone on a card table setup at scam central, where some loser in his underwear, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer will sound as professional as possible and verify that the check is good. DON’T call the number on the check. You can always find another source for the various contact numbers of any financial institution. The problem is — how do you know the number you’re calling is in fact, a real number for the bank?

I’ve done the research for you. By using the routing number on the bottom of the check, you can actually verify whether a check is valid. Important Point: Just because the number is a valid Routing Number doesn’t mean that there are funds in the financial institution. (Never spend any funds received until the check has cleared.)

To really get the straight facts, go to the NIC. The NIC is part of the Federal Reserve System. “The National Information Center (NIC) provides comprehensive information on banks and other institutions for which the Federal Reserve has a supervisory, regulatory, or research interest including both domestic and foreign banking organizations operating in the U.S. The NIC Public Web Site is an interface to the NIC data.”

All you need to know is the state where the bank is located, and the RTN or Routing Number, which is located next to the listed bank account number.

With any suspect check in hand and the routing number identified, go to — https://bit.ly/2MR4w57 and “check” away! (If you need help, call me and I’ll pull up the website for you.

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HOW TO “FREEZE” YOUR CREDIT REPORT: I will write about this topic in detail in the coming weeks. In some cases, it’s easier than you thought and in other instances, it’s very difficult. Stay tuned for some good information. The best way to ensure that your credit files are locked is to contact the credit-reporting agency directly. The telephone numbers are as follows: Equifax — 888.298.0045, Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. (expect about a seven-minute wait to speak to a human). TransUnion — 800.909.8872, Monday to Thursday, 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. (about a three-minute wait), keep pressing “0”. Experian — 800.4931058, Monday to Friday, 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. (also about a 3 minute wait, press “2” then “2” then “1” then “3”.

It takes a little work, but if you want to “freeze” your credit report, that’s how to do it.

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BEWARE OF CREDENTIALS: “Credentials” are often indicated, in many professions, as a bunch of capital letters following the person’s name. These letters appear on their nametags and/or in their address or signature block. Having been a Hospital Administrator, in charge of health services, one of my pet peeves is health care professionals, with so many credential initials that the person’s name is hard to find on the nametag. You’ll also see this phenomenon with individuals in the insurance business and financial planning industry. Some credentials do indicate that an individual has worked hard and gone above the minimum in professional education to better serve their clients or patients. On the other hand, many “credentials” are displayed to make up for a lack of real training, formal education and preparation. There is an excellent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. You can read the entire article at: https://bit.ly/2M66jhH. This article has mostly to do with financial planners but applies to other professions as well. Don’t be impressed by the “credentials,” be impressed by attitude, honesty and results.

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QUICK NOTE: If anyone asks you to pay fees “upfront,” that is before you receive the good or service — DON’T DO IT!!! The only exception to this rule is some construction and home improvement projects. Even then, at the most, 50 percent of the total cost of the project. Make sure to have a receipt AND a contract. If you follow this rule, without exception, you will avoid many problems.

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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-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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