Consumer advice: Look, up in the sky: Bird, plane or Amazon?

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We have been hearing about the much-anticipated Amazon Prime Air, a new delivery system that will allow Amazon to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles called drones. What isn’t so obvious is Amazon’s add-on service to this concept called “surveillance as a service.” The company wants to use its network of delivery drones to keep watch over customers’ houses by forming a sort of flying Neighborhood Watch Group, at least according to their newly patented system.

Customers would be able to request (for a fee, of course) that Amazon’s drones visit their property hourly, daily, or weekly, where the drones would look for signs of break-ins like smashed windows, doors left open and intruders lurking on people’s property. For Amazon, this system would serve a dual purpose: It would fly the skies delivering your packages and watching over your property while getting paid to do both services at the same time. This sounds great for Amazon, but what about for customers?

Amazon is using friendly euphemisms like “buddy in the sky” to gain wide-based consumer acceptance to this concept. But consider if all your neighbors want this service while you do not, it won’t matter because the drones are flying the sky without boundaries (like a door to your house). I suppose you could complain about the need to fly over your property to reach your neighbor, but those concerns haven’t really been vetted yet. In reality, there will probably be nothing you can do to stop them from watching over you, too, whether you like it or not.

This sounds a lot like spying to me only wrapped up in a pretty package under the guise of safety and security for all. Before you sign up for this service and pay the fee, give some thought to the possibility of giving up your privacy by allowing others to monitor your every move with your explicit or not-so-explicit consent.

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MEDICAL BILLS AND CREDIT SCORES: With the rising cost of health care, many consumers are feeling the pinch when an unexpected medical bill needs to be paid. Once a medical bill ends up in collections, how does it affect our credit? Older credit scores did not differentiate between a bill in collections and a medical bill in collections.

There is some good news. The FICO Score 9 and the Vantage Score 4.0 weights medical collections less heavily than non-medical collections. They view people with unpaid medical bills as riskier than those with no derogatory marks, but less risky than those with unpaid non-medical collections. This is reflected in the updated programs.

Try to avoid having a medical bill charged off. Once this happens and the balance goes to zero, you will never be able to bring it back to current status. Even if credit scoring models don’t consider zero-balance collections, they will still appear on your credit reports. This can impact your ability to secure financing if your lender has policies in place about derogatory remarks.

The best practice, of course, is to keep medical bills out of collections in the first place. If you do incur an unexpected medical expense that you can’t afford, try to negotiate a payment plan with your medical facility before the bill goes into collections. Most hospitals offer such a service to help you pay over time.

Do not charge the expense to your credit card since the interest rates are likely to be higher and non-payment of such debt could have a greater impact on your credit score. There’s a bipartisan effort to pass legislation to prevent surprise medical billing. If passed, this bill could help patients better predict their costs when seeking urgent or emergency care.

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BANK ONLINE? READ THIS: Cellphone SIM/PORT hijacking or SIM swapping is a growing crime and a form of identity theft in the telecommunications world. It requires little more than a thorough Google search, a willing telecommunications carrier rep, and an electronic or in-person impersonation of the victim.

Basically, the cellphone provider allows an unauthorized person access to an account holder’s account without their knowledge. Once the SIM swap occurs, the thieves can access the victims’ bank accounts and steal their assets, including cash and cryptocurrencies. In fact, cryptocurrency is the true target of the thieves. It doesn’t take too long for a victim to discover their account has been compromised because they won’t be able to make/receive calls or send/receive text messages.

The SIM card stores user data on the Global System for Mobile (GSM) network, which is used by many if not all of the well-known carriers. The SIM card is essential to use a phone on these networks. It also contains vital information about the identity of the phone user.

Everyone is at risk of getting their SIM hijacked, especially those with easily accessible personal information, high-profile social media accounts or high-value financial accounts. To mitigate your risk, make sure you have security measures in place with your cellphone carrier such as a required password for any changes so if someone does call to access your account, they’ll be denied without this information.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m a full-time copywriter working on marketing strategy with businesses, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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