Consumer advice: Businesses, beware Chamber ad scam

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The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce wants all local business owners to be aware of a suspected scam. One of our local businesses was contacted by a graphics company operating out of Illinois. They wanted to sell him ad space for a business directory that they claimed was going to be handed out by all the local chambers of commerce in this area.

Since the business owner wasn’t part of the local Chamber of Commerce and the company calling was from out of state, he thought he’d better check it out. Turns out the local chamber is not soliciting ads through a company in Illinois, so they were able to warn the owner before he sent any money to the graphics company.

To let business owners know, the Cd’A Chamber of Commerce does print an 80-page relocation guide and business directory, which is distributed by member businesses and also at the visitor center, but a local business must be a chamber member to be in the directory.

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DATA BREACH BONANZA: Most of us remember the bombshell in the fall of 2017 regarding Equifax’s data breach, which could have impacted as many as 145.5 million people. Information like Social Security numbers, credit and debit card numbers, names and addresses were stolen, making it possible for the bad guys to steal our identities.

But have you kept up with the major data breaches from 2018? If you’ve done business with any of the companies below, check your statements closely for any discrepancies.

Here’s a top 10 list of companies and the potential number of people exposed in each breach.

1. Orbitz, 880,000 customers

2. Panera, 27 million users

3. Under Armour, 150 million users

4. Facebook, about 30 million users

5. Saks, Lord & Taylor, 5 million users

6. Exactis, 340 million individuals and businesses

7. Ticketfly, 27 million users

8. MyHeritage, 92 million users

9. Delta & Sears, up to 5 million customers

10. Google, 52 million users

Because scoundrels are becoming more proficient at hacking into some of the largest retailers and tech companies, it seems likely this trend will only get worse in 2019. If you’ve discovered you were caught up in one of these breaches and have been notified by the affected companies, and if they offer you some free fraud monitoring protection or anti-identity theft services, take them up on their offer.

In addition, freeze your credit if you’re in a position of having established credit and aren’t looking to make any major purchases requiring you to fill out credit applications. This will stop anybody from opening up new credit lines in your name without your knowledge. You can also thaw out your credit when you need to.

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HOW TO DUMP PMI: People who have purchased a home with less than 20 percent down almost always have to carry private mortgage insurance, or PMI. This insurance protects lenders who claim that when buyers put down less than 20 percent, they’re more likely to walk away in tough times.

When the principal balance of your mortgage has reached 80 percent of the original value of your home, the insurance can be dumped. But in reality, it can take years to eliminate this insurance from your payments because most of the payment in the early years is attributed to interest, not principal pay down.

Here’s one strategy to consider that might allow you to cancel that insurance sooner rather than later. If you have owned your home for several years, our rising home values just might work in your favor. Some lenders allow you to pay for a new appraisal and drop PMI if the appraisal shows at least 20 percent equity in the home.

Call your lender to ask about options for removing PMI. The appraisal will cost a few hundred bucks but it could shave years off paying for worthless insurance and allow you to spend that money on other things.

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THE GIFT OF LIFE SUPPORT: If you happen to have a Sears gift card, you might want to spend it as soon as possible.

Despite Wednesday’s news of a $5 billion deal that will keep 400 stores afloat, Sears has yet to issue a gift card expiration date so it’s best to use them up now.

Also, if Sears is offering an attractive price on a Sears brand appliance you’d like to purchase, be careful about counting on a warranty or purchasing any extended warranty. Sears has said that it will honor all warranties as long as it remains in business. If the business eventually goes under, customers will lose any consumer protections, including warranties.

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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 Cd’A Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter, columnist and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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