Consumer advice: Yo ho ho! Mess with scam callers

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Jolly Roger (jollyrogertelephone.com) is a new program using artificial intelligence (AI) to drive scam callers crazy. The program “engages” the live caller using AI to keep them on the phone as long as possible and to frustrate them to no end. If you’d like to hear an example, go to: https://bit.ly/2pJbTh1

As AI develops, these anti-robo call technologies will rapidly advance to destroy all robo callers and scammers. It can’t be soon enough!

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MEDICARE QUESTIONS: When it comes to Medicare issues, we feel like we’re all bombarded with initials, bureaucratic terms or three- and four-letter abbreviations, all causing confusion. There is help for those of us who are tasked each year to review our plans and perhaps make new choices.

It’s OK to keep the same plan as last year, but only after reviewing your current plan. Almost all plans, even if named the same, do in fact contain changes. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that our medical needs, as Medicare recipients, often change over the period of a year.

A local organization is here to help you. Go to: https://bit.ly/2Qzrc7v

If you need further direction or information — call me.

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IT’S REALLY EASY TO PROTECT YOURSELF: Just follow these rules:

If it sounds too good to be true — IT IS! Don’t fall for it.

If you’re being offered a “grant” or sweepstakes winnings, or government money — it’s a scam. Don’t do it.

If you’re required or pressured to hurry up and make a decision — don’t do it. It’s a scam. Good deals today are also good deals tomorrow — after you’ve checked them out.

If someone calls and threatens you with arrest or a warrant — it’s a scam.

Don’t EVER buy gift cards or prepaid cash cards and send them to anyone for payment of anything.

Don’t EVER give your credit card information to anyone that calls you. Not even if they suggest you call them back. Telephone numbers are easy, cheap and quick to buy online. You can pick any area code you want!

Before making any decision about paying for anything resulting from an email or a phone call, get in touch with friends or relatives to discuss the matter. You can also call or email me.

Always use a credit card to pay for remote purchases of goods or services. Don’t use a checking account number and information or the information on your debit card — the Federal Trade Commission protections only apply to credit cards.

Above all — talk to each other. Together we can be a “hard target” for the crooks.

If you follow the above rules you’ll avoid 99.99 percent of the scams out there.

Also, if you’ve fallen victim to a crook, con artist or scammer, let friends and family know. Don’t be embarrassed. Trusting, honest people are the easiest to take advantage of. If you’ve got a story others could learn by hearing, call me. No names, I promise. Think of the good you could do, and the pain, loss and embarrassment you might save someone.

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WARNING TO LOCAL SCAMMERS: A few months ago I wrote about rental companies that charge hundreds of dollars as an “application fee” to would-be apartment renters. There might be only one apartment, but the rental company or landlord may take many more applications that would be necessary to find a renter. Once a renter is secured, all the other applicants are informed that they didn’t meet the credit check or background check qualifications and were therefore rejected as renters. The disreputable landlord or rental companies keep all the unsuccessful applicants’ “application fees.”

Good news: The FTC is cracking down on this scam. If you feel you are or have been a victim of this ruse, call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP and file a report.

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FREE TRIALS CAN BE EXPENSIVE: One of the most common complaints I receive is from consumers who have answered an ad offering a “free” trial of a product. This includes vitamins, wrinkle creams, and especially dietary supplements and weight loss products.

Read the small print. Most of the time, it’s so small you can’t read it.

It’s becoming common practice for scammers to not even include the “small print” that says you agree to receive a new shipment each month at the normal retail price. They just start sending their garbage products (I’m really trying not to use the word “crap”!) every month and hitting your credit or debit card for the regular retail cost of their wares, postage, shipping and handling costs. You don’t even notice it until you’ve carefully examined your credit card or bank statement.

They use names like “ABC Services” instead of the name of the company you thought you were doing business with. Then the fun really begins.

First of all, you try to find the telephone number of the company to stop the charges. This is usually very hard to do. Second, if you reach the company, they will tell you that they aren’t responsible for the sales, just the shipping, and further they have no information on the company placing the ad in question. And on and on it goes.

If you do manage to reach the actual company and they admit to sending you products you didn’t order, they will almost always insist that you return the products (expensive, annoying and time consuming) in order to begin the refund process.

REMEMBER: Idaho law says if you didn’t order it, you don’t have to pay for it OR return it.

DON’T ORDER “FREE” TRIALS of anything!

If you just can’t stop yourself — use ONLY A CREDIT CARD — NOT A DEBIT CARD OR CHECK.

Once you realize you’ve been scammed — IMMEDIATELY call your credit card company and put ALL charges from the offending company “IN CONTEST.”

To avoid all this trouble, see item No. 1 above!

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GOVERNMENT DOES NOT ASK FOR GIFT CARDS: I’ve said this before, but I guess I need to say it again — any call pretending to be from ANY government agency, federal, state or local, that asks you to pay a fine or a fee in gift cards IS A FRAUD! No prepaid credit cards, no retail store gift cards, and certainly no iTunes cards! Hang up the phone. Don’t even talk with anyone trying to pull this one.

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STUDENT LOAN SCAM: Be on the lookout for calls from companies that want to “help” you with your student loan debt. My readers who, like me, are looking at college and student loan debt in the rearview mirror should help counsel their children and grandchildren to avoid this kind of scam. The fees are recurring and outrageous. The “solution” they offer will likely ruin your credit rating. If you have questions — as usual — call me, please.

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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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