Consumer advice: Alexa, are you spying on me?

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If you use Alexa and haven’t asked that question yet, then perhaps you should.

According to those who have asked the question, here’s what Amazon’s Alexa said:

“I only send audio back to Amazon when you activate me. For more information, view Amazon’s privacy notice.”

Google’s reply was similar.

“Your security comes first in everything Google does. To learn more check out privacy.google.com.”

Google’s privacy policy is 15 pages long.

Apple’s Siri reply was most succinct. “Nope.”

Bottom Line: It’s hard to say exactly what information these companies are gathering on us when we activate their devices. I’ve had several readers tell me they haven’t done any online searches on a specific topic but have discussed it with their spouse, then the next time they log into their computer they get ads on these topics. This suggests to them that someone is listening in on their conversations — and there was no one else in the room.

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MYSTERIOUS DELIVERIES: When Amazon packages you didn’t order show up at your doorstep, it’s not Christmas come early. It’s a new scam called “brushing.”

At first glance it might seem like no big deal but there is danger to consider.

First, if you’re “brushed,” this means information like your name, shipping address and maybe your phone number have been compromised. How’d that happen? Maybe from a less-than-reputable third-party seller on Amazon.

Second, be concerned about what gets shipped to you, particularly if it isn’t anything you want or something that may be offensive to you. When people try to return these packages to Amazon, often there is no return address to send it back to.

And, finally, when crimes like this go on, there is an unseen cost. Somebody has to pay for the lost merchandise and shipping costs. It’s likely to happen through higher prices on online purchases through Amazon.

Some theories have started to surface that third-party sellers are behind the scheme so they can pose as a verified purchaser and write a glowing review of their own product. Gaming the review system pushes their product higher in Amazon’s search results but it also violates Amazon’s vendor rules. Amazon has stated that vendors who abuse the review system will be shut down.

In the meantime, the best you can do is report it to Amazon. If a vendor is found to be attached to an order, Amazon investigates and takes appropriate action.

•••

PET INSURANCE: Some say it’s a good investment, others say not so much. Here are a few things to ponder if you’re considering purchasing a plan.

There are a couple of popular types of plans: Those that focus more on wellness plans for your pet’s preventative care, and those that cover the real unexpected medical expenses.

Most of us think of insurance being something we need for the unexpected things that happen, like your pet gets severely injured and needs surgery or has a long-term illness that requires constant medical monitoring, prescriptions and attention. Given that, it doesn’t make sense to focus on an insurance plan that covers only preventative care because that’s something we as pet owners can plan around.

You want a plan that covers urgent care, exams, lab tests, X-rays, prescriptions, surgeries, hospitalization, and chronic care. If you can find a plan that covers dental, that would be good because these can be expensive procedures.

From those I’ve talked to directly who have pet insurance, if the unexpected surgery or long-term illness has come up, that’s when it has really paid off. But as with humans, we can’t always predict these situations so it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

Other things to watch for are pre-existing conditions and breed exclusions. Read the fine print carefully on any plan you’re considering because it is extremely frustrating to pay for something for years only to find out when you actually need it, your pet isn’t covered.

As a final thought, Consumer Reports has long been of the opinion that pet insurance is rarely worth the price. Another option is to consider a pet savings plan. This one requires some discipline because you need to decide how much and then set money aside every month to ensure your pet is cared for in an unexpected situation.

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

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