When a deal seems too good to be true …

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Watch for phony online car sales

A Coeur d’Alene reader called to warn us that he saw a Jeep Cherokee on the local Nextdoor App listed for $1,600. It looked like a good deal so he contacted the seller to get the scoop. The ad was supposedly posted by the sister of the person selling the vehicle. The story sounded fishy: The seller was never able to speak with the reader on the phone. All communications needed to occur online. Why? Because she is in the military and had very limited access to a phone or computer.

He tried to speak with the seller directly. Each time there was an excuse as to why she couldn’t talk directly and would only answer questions by email or text message. He asked why she was selling the vehicle so cheaply. The story just didn’t seem to add up. She was in the military and was going to be stationed overseas for two to three years and simply no longer needed the vehicle. That still didn’t explain why she was selling the vehicle for only $1,600 when it could easily bring five times that.

Our reader directed me to the listing. The vehicle was in pristine condition and was worth way more than $1,600. He told the likely con artists that he was no longer interested in the vehicle but continued to get messages that she was very interested in selling. This appeared to be a local listing on Lincoln Way. No one responded to my inquiry.

According to the FTC, it’s unlikely the listing party owns or has an interest in the vehicle. The fact that they wouldn’t speak to a buyer is a huge red flag. This situation is clearly one of those deals that’s too good to be true. It was wise for the reader to take a pass or he would have been out $1,600. For more tips, check out the FTC website at www.ftc.gov/usedcars.

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The FTC shut down a student loan debt relief scheme

More than 42 million Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. So it isn’t surprising that crooks are targeting them. The FTC warned consumers to watch out for Mission Hills Federal and Federal Direct Group: These operators have scammed borrowers out of more than $23 million.

The FTC said these companies lured people with false promises to pay down student loans and reduce monthly payments. The companies also lied about taking over the servicing of the loans, which tricked people into submitting loan payments directly to these shysters.

Surprise! The crooks diverted the money to themselves. To make matters worse, some borrowers went months and sometimes years before learning their student loans weren’t being repaid. How? The grifters required people to disclose their federal student-aid IDs to enroll in the debt-relief program. The thieves then used that data to change the borrowers’ contact information on Department of Education websites, which resulted in limited contact by the borrower with their federal loan servicers.

Bottom Line: If you have student loan debt and are looking for relief, there’s nothing a company can do for you that you can’t do for yourself for free. If you or someone you know have federal student loans, start with StudentAid.gov/repay. If you have private loans, speak with your loan provider. For more information, check out ftc.gov/StudentLoans.

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Monitor your Social Security account vigilantly

With the recent uptick in the Social Security scams along with a warning from the Idaho attorney general telling seniors to be more vigilant about their Social Security accounts, it’s a good time to set up your free account if you haven’t already done so. Why? Because this will allow you to monitor activity on your account and keep track of your current as well as your future benefits.

Even if you aren’t retired yet, consider setting up your account now for monitoring purposes. This will likely prevent criminals from creating an account in your name and then using it to apply for benefits. The account also allows you to track your earnings history. The earnings history is important because your Social Security benefit is calculated based on your 35 highest-earning years of work. In addition, your statement will give you a projection of what to expect when you do eventually file for benefits.

One thing to be aware of is if you have frozen your credit it will take additional time to set up your account because the SSA will use information from the credit bureaus to verify your identity online. The SSA suggests that to expedite the process you visit a local Social Security office with your identification. The local agent can give you a special verification code allowing you to complete the registration online.

My advice is to monitor your activity on your SSA account so if you see something that doesn’t seem right you can take action and prevent any problems down the road.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please email terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call 208-274-4458.

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