That ‘Census Bureau’ letter does smell kind of fishy

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Many consumers in our area have been receiving letters purporting to be from the U.S. Census Bureau. Unfortunately, the letters request that you provide personal information, including your name, full address AND Social Security number. I have called the telephone number listed on these letters and I either get a “fast busy,” indicating that the number is not in service, or a person who represents themselves as an employee of the U.S. Census Bureau who becomes very threatening and belligerent when I balk at giving out my Social Security number. They usually hang up after failing to intimidate the caller into handing over personal information.

I have tried to call the Census Bureau and, after leaving numerous messages, am still waiting for a return call. In the meantime, I would recommend that consumers NOT fill out and return these forms. If you want, hold on to them. I will let you know if I hear anything from the real U.S. Census Bureau.

HEADS UP: The Census Bureau never asks for your full Social Security number, money or donations, anything on behalf of a political party, your bank or credit card account numbers, or your mother’s maiden name.

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THE MERCHANDISE SHUFFLE: I thought I was losing my mind. I went into Costco a few weeks ago and bought some very nice storage bins. They’re great, about as big as four shoe boxes, clear with snap-on tops, and not expensive. I decided to go back the next day and buy five more (you wouldn’t believe the “valuable” possessions I need to store — my wife calls it my office clutter).

I went directly to the location where the storage boxes were and, lo and behold, there had obviously been a “run” on these boxes — they were all gone, at least 50 of them. I couldn’t believe it.

I searched the aisle for a few minutes, but alas, no boxes. So as to not make the trip a total loss, I ran the gauntlet of “grazers” (that’s what I call the people who go to Costco to eat the free samples, with shopping being a distant afterthought), and picked up one of the perfect roasted chickens. On the way, I bumped into a woman wearing a Costco manager badge. I asked about the storage boxes. She told me they were still available, but had been moved to a completely different section of the store. She explained that Costco often moves various products to different areas of the store so “members” can acquaint themselves with other products that Costco makes available.

As someone who occasionally has a “senior moment,” I told her that their marketing techniques were not conducive to my shopping “experience.” She explained that it was a well-proven, marketing technique and that all Costco warehouses use it. Now every time I go to Costco and can’t find something exotic — like shaving cream, believe it or not; I couldn’t find any kind of shaving cream for more than five weeks (it had probably been moved next to the bulk oatmeal) — I always ask, instead of going on an insane Easter egg hunt like a deluded bunny.

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STEM CELL THERAPY: In that we are only a hundred miles or so from a foreign country, where U.S. law does not apply, “stem cell therapy clinics” (read scam artists) are aggressively targeting older citizens on the U.S. side of the border, offering free room and board to potential patients who will come over for a free evaluation and sit through a presentation.

MY STRONG ADVICE: Don’t do it without your doctor recommending it. You may ultimately be disappointed, without any improvement of your medical condition or without any reduction of pain. You will, however, be considerably poorer! Consumers report spending upward of $20,000 on stem cell therapy treatments that provide no relief.

Don’t be suckered in by these charlatans and snake oil salesmen. Talk to your doctor. He or she is where your trust should be placed. If you’re not getting the service, results or care you’re happy with, ask for a referral. Any reputable physician will gladly refer you to another professional. Stay away from the guys promising the miracle cures. Stem cell therapy is real, but is limited as to the conditions it is proven to treat.

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AMERICAN WATER RESOURCES: This company sells insurance, primarily to seniors by scaring them into thinking their water line to the source is in danger of failing. Their return address is Alton, Ill. They glean your name and address from publicly available sources like county tax records, and then they mass mail notices that are designed to panic homeowners into thinking that they are “unprotected.”

If you get one of these notices, please call me. I am a licensed insurance adjuster in Idaho. I will be more than happy to review your situation with you — at no charge. I am going to formally report this company to the complaint department of the Idaho Department of Insurance. Don’t let this company scare you into sending it money.

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CHIPPED CREDIT CARDS: Credit card companies are no longer requiring cardholders to sign a credit card slip, or even one of those little greasy plastic machines once your card has been “approved.” It seems the chip provides the company all the verification they need. It always amuses me when I “sign” my name, on the greasy pad, using the crayon-like sticks, attached to a short cord. It NEVER looks anything like my signature. I have taken to writing “Mickey Mouse” with my finger — the charge always goes through!

Merchants will probably take a while to catch up to the new technology. More than likely, they will still require your signature. Don’t be impatient with them. It’s all moving so fast.

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FREE MEDICARE BRACES: Sounds good but could be very dangerous. If someone calls you and offers medical braces at little or no cost — HANG UP! Braces should only be prescribed for you by YOUR doctor, not some doctor in Bombay working for a company in the Philippines.

Here’s the problem. By using a medical device not appropriate for your condition, you can actually do severe and permanent damage to yourself. Additionally, in order to get these devices, you will be required to provide your Medicare information, account numbers and Social Security number. This opens you wide up to identity theft. Again, go through your local doctor.

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A WARNING TO MY FRIENDS: I am fully aware of how frightening the world can be, how threatened you may feel, but exaggerating or outright lying to me is not the solution. As I have told my readers, over the last 14 months, I record every call that comes to me, mostly so I can really take the time to listen to your situation instead of taking notes. Many scams are very complicated and I have to replay them a couple of times to fully understand the situation.

If you feel safer, you can call me from a blocked number or NOT give me your name, but please, don’t lie to me or exaggerate. It only destroys your credibility. Be anonymous — it’s OK — but let’s be honest!

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumer advocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the broker and owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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