Set up your 'My Social Security' account
It doesn’t matter if your retirement is just around the corner or years away. If you haven’t already signed up for your free “My Social Security” account, you should: at https://www.ssa.gov/site/signin/en
The main benefit is accessing your Social Security statements online, which will allow you to monitor your benefits and keep track of your expected benefits in retirement to plan accordingly.
To save money, the Social Security Administration no longer mails paper statements to anyone under the age of 60. The SSA will start mailing paper statements three months before your 60th birthday if you haven’t signed up for a My Social Security account.
It's good to monitor your account because your Social Security statement has two important pieces of information: Your earnings history and projections of your future Social Security benefit. The earnings history is calculated based on your 35 highest-earning years of work, so you'll want to make sure it's accurate.
If you have frozen your credit, you could have difficulty signing up for an account because the SSA uses information from the credit bureaus to verify your identity. You'll likely receive a message that states "we cannot create an account for the Social Security number you entered."
Even if you unfreeze your credit, it could take time for this to work its way through the SSA system. In this case, it might be best to visit a local Social Security office and bring identification with you. That way the local agent can provide a special activation code that would allow you to complete setting up your account online.
Finally, and perhaps just as important as the other reasons listed above, setting up an online account will allow you to frequently monitor your account, which can prevent criminals from creating an account in your name and then using it to apply for benefits without you noticing.
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Watch out for Bench Craft Company
A local Coeur d’Alene small business owner sent a warning to readers to watch out for a company located in Portland, Ore., called Bench Craft Company. This company claims to sell advertising at local area golf courses to business owners but then has a pattern of not delivering on the services, according to the Better Business Bureau.
A Press reader received an unsolicited call from a company sales rep, Jason Madison from Bench Craft Company. He offered to place an ad for our reader’s company on a bench on the first hole at a local golf course for $395 for 12 months.
The ads would need to be delayed since the bench hadn’t been built yet but she could place her order now to reserve the prime spot.
To add credibility to his sales pitch, he told our reader that he saw her ad in another publication (which was true; she had placed an ad in the publication he referenced). He was very efficient with the pitch and close, letting the customer know she would receive the documents from his assistant in a matter of minutes at the email address he saw in the other ad.
Sure enough, the documents showed up as promised. Jason called back with instructions for our reader to give his assistant the “OK to proceed,” but then told the customer not to pay attention to one of the documents in the email.
Our reader paid $395 via credit card for the ads she had agreed to purchase, but shortly after placing her order, within a week she received an email from the publisher where she had placed the ad that Jason had referenced. The email from the publisher warned that Jason claimed he worked with her company selling advertising to small businesses, which was not true.
Our reader called Bench Craft Company to get a refund since the benches hadn’t been built yet but was told her ads were already in progress so no refund would be processed. She then called her credit card company, closed out her account and put the amount in dispute.
The BBB says this company has a pattern of complaints from consumers regarding service and refund issues. The company has over 235 complaints, with the basis of most of the complaints alleging that consumers paid Bench Craft Company for advertising services on golf courses in their local area but were never provided the services for which they paid.
Also, consumers alleged that they had to keep following up with the company on the status of their advertisement and at times the company was not responsive and rarely offered refunds even when they didn’t perform on the contract.
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Consider shopping locally
The COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc in many areas of our lives but for retailers, it's been especially tough. From the onset of COVID, shopping took a huge shift to online and away from in-person shopping, which has caused retail stores to struggle.
Shopping online has downsides to every community such as the loss of jobs and vacant store fronts when a retailer closes. With the online shift, those empty spaces will become an eyesore and take away from the beauty of our area. The shift to online is especially hard on small independent retailers who do not have a strong online presence, so we may become increasingly dominated by the big box stores.
So please continue to shop locally and in person so we keep local businesses thriving and our fellow local residents employed.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.