Ignore bills at your peril

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This warning comes from one of our readers in Post Falls who learned this lesson the hard way.

He signed up for a Spectrum special for one month free plus free installation to try out the service. Within two weeks of installation he received a bill for about $280. Not sure why he was being billed, he called Spectrum to get the low-down. Without a clear answer, he figured it was time to ditch the service while he was within the promotional period.

He called to cancel and confirmed with the service rep that he didn’t owe anything. Then came the next bill — for over $500 this time. Time for a face-to-face visit with a Spectrum rep, where he was told he had canceled within the promotional time frame and so owed nothing. That was a relief.

But for the next six months he continued to receive bills from Spectrum for various charges. He figured that the right hand would eventually figure out what the left hand was doing so he ignored the bills. That is, until he got a call from a collection agency trying to collect on his delinquent bill.

Spectrum was helpful in getting to the bottom of this conundrum. They determined that the disconnect service was improperly processed, causing the continued billings and subsequent reporting to collections.

Now that Spectrum has confirmed the customer doesn’t owe anything and should not have been billed, this means they erroneously turned our reader into collections. Still, the customer must get a letter from Spectrum stating he owed nothing and that the report was in error. Spectrum has assured me they will provide the customer with whatever documentation is needed.

Moral to this story: Don’t ignore your bills believing it will somehow sort itself out. The reason a customer continues to get bills is they are still in the system. Yes, I think this will eventually get worked out but not without much aggravation on the part of the customer to follow up with Spectrum to get his letter and then with the three credit bureaus to make sure his credit rating isn’t affected by the erroneous report.

•••

HAVE I BEEN PWNED? Pwned, in this context, simply means that your account has fallen victim to a data breach. But the word itself is taken from player-to-player messaging in online computer gaming. When one player is defeated, another might type out a message to say “You’ve been owned.”

Thus, “Have I Been Pwned” is a website that allows internet users to check if their personal data has been compromised by data breaches.

Last week I wrote about the top 10 data breaches and now I’ve come across a website that might be able to let you know if your email address has been caught up in a breach. The website is: www.haveibeenpwned.com

This is not an exhaustive listing of all those affected because if email addresses weren’t provided as part of the data breach report, this database won’t capture that information. So while it’s good news if your email didn’t show up, it isn’t necessarily proof that you weren’t breached.

According to this website, they have uncovered 339 pwned websites and over 5 billion pwned accounts. The one feature I used on this website was to check some random passwords to see if they’ve been compromised in past breaches. The good thing is you don’t have to type in a user name and password combination; you can just test passwords.

To give you an idea of how safe the password “password” is, it’s been hacked over 3.5 million times, while “1234” has been compromised 1.2 million times. The password “test” has been hacked over 73,000 times while “test1” just over 13,000 times. Even my own first initial and last name has been involved in four data breaches.

When choosing a password, stay away from easy to guess ones. Adding numbers to your password sequence can reduce the probability of it being breached. Let’s get creative to keep our accounts safe from criminals!

•••

ONLINE QUIZ ALERT: I don’t know about you but I’m tired of getting bombarded by those online quiz popups trying to get me to find out which Disney princess I am or what age I really am. I laughed at the tagline on the princess quiz: This is a quiz that will reveal all you ever wanted to know about yourself.

Really? Here’s what I already know: I’m not a princess and my birthdate reveals my age.

These quizzes are designed to be fun to take, but here’s the true nature of them. They are nothing more than phishing campaigns that tap into our curiosity about ourselves or our desire for promised freebies. What the quiz master is really after is our name, email address and other personal information they ask you to answer in order to gain access to the quiz.

Here’s my advice: Be more vigilant about who you provide your online information to, and as for those quizzes, take a pass. Once they collect your information, they likely sell it and often times those so-called freebies come with strings attached.

•••

Remember: I’m on your side.

•••

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 CDA 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, local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter, columnist and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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