Consumer advice:

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If youíre deciding whether or not to give a new business or restaurant a try, checking out their online reviews seems like a prudent thing to do. But can you always believe what you read? Hereís a quick guide to spotting questionable reviews.

Reviews are usually written rather quickly, and tend to be written very informally. If youíre reading a very well thought-out and constructed review, chances are it has been written by a professional hired to write a glowing review for the business. Or if itís a complaint, it is possible a competitor has hired a writer to write a terrible review. Either way itís a red flag.

Itís always good to see lots of opinions before you can know if what youíre reading is a credible trend. If a company has at least 25 reviews, that would be encouraging to get a sense of what customers really think of the business and/or services.

Throw the outliers out ó meaning if there is an excessively positive or negative review, take that into account. There will always be grumps who donít like anything, and then there are those cheery people who see rainbows everywhere. If reviews are only scathing or glowing, you might want to verify with someone you know who has actually frequented that business to check in with their experience.

And finally, consider the source. I used to travel quite a bit so I would read online hotel reviews to get a sense of where I should stay since I could rarely afford five-star accommodations. I once read a glowing review from a British couple (the British are used to tiny spaces) about a cute, snug room at a nice hotel that was reasonably priced in the heart of San Francisco. It fit my budget and sounded nice, so I booked it.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to the room and was shocked to see it was smaller than my dinky closet back home. I could brush my teeth, go to the bathroom and sit on the bed all without moving more than two steps in any direction. But hey, the price was within my budget and I had to chuckle because the description of a snug room was amazingly accurate.

To help others make informed decisions about local businesses and restaurants, consider writing a review. I think Iíll write one for The Mango Tree. Itís a new Indian restaurant near Ramsey on Kathleen. I thought the food and service were great!

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GAS PUMP TIP: The skimming devices at service stations used to be installed over the protruding credit card readers on the outside of the pump. But now most gas stations donít have protruding credit card readers anymore, making it harder for scammers to install these devices.

So whatís a crook to do? They figured out a way to attach a skimmer to the inside of the pump so itís virtually undetectable by the customer.

But there is good news. Many gas stations have put some security measures in place to protect consumers. Some stations have installed special keys on their pumps, making it harder for scammers to access the inside of the machine. Others are checking inside the pumps for these devices at least daily and at some stations up to three times a day. Once checked, the employee places security coded tape over where the machine comes together.

Next time youíre at the pump, check to see if the tape is still intact. If it is, it is likely the machine has been checked recently and is skimmer free. If the tape is tampered with, avoid that pump. And whatever you do, donít use a debit card at the pump. It offers you less protection than a credit card, and if the station puts a hold on your account for higher than your purchase amount, your money could be unavailable to you until the hold is released.

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PRESENTATION INVITATION: On Jan. 9 at 10 a.m., Iíll be giving a presentation on scams and how seniors can protect themselves. The event will take place at Real Life Ministries, 1860 N. Cecil Road in Post Falls. Youíre invited.

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REMEMBER: Iím 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 CdíA Press Consumer Gal, Iím here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. Iím available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Iím a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur díAlene.

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