A good answering machine can prevent big headaches

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Consumers are always calling me with scams. Many start out like this: “I got a new one for you Bill …”

Honestly, it’s rare that a consumer calls with a new one. However, on Wednesday someone actually called me with something I’ve never heard before.

The lady was the target of six different calls in one morning — wait for it — all in Arabic! Finally, a pre-recorded English message started playing, asking the recipient to enter their credit card information using the touch pad of the phone. Obviously the consumer hung up. How dumb do these crooks think we are?

The genesis of these kinds of calls is a combination of cheap international calling, lightning fast, readily available robo calling machines, no attempt at law enforcement, and just enough clueless consumers to make this gambit profitable from anywhere in the world. Consumers almost always recognize a scam when they hear it, but the frequency and number of these calls make a person want to go back to using smoke signals to communicate, or at least two tin cans and a string!

My best answer — get yourself a good quality answering machine with a call blocker feature. Once installed, let every call go to the machine and only return the calls YOU want!

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REMEMBER THE OLD 900 NUMBERS?: There’s a new breed of international scammers out there using 900 numbers to steal large sums of money. During the ’90s, psychics, fortunetellers, astrologists and sex call services used telephone numbers with a 900 area code to ply their wares. Most of these calls were from the U.S. Soon, they became a joke, and went the way of the whoopee cushion and squirting lapel flower. (I still get a kick out of a good whoopee cushion, especially when used in conjunction with a squirting lapel flower!)

What’s not so funny is that countries outside the U.S. (read NOT subject to U.S. laws) are issuing telephone numbers that work like the old 900 numbers in the U.S. The scam goes like this: You receive either a recorded or live call that asks you to call back to another number, supposedly a different department in the company. The problem is, as soon as you connect to the number, you begin being charged $1.99 to $9.99 PER MINUTE while you are connected. In that these scammers are outside the U.S., it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get your money back.

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WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF AREA CODES: Here’s an oldie but goodie that I am often asked for — a list of area code “no–nos.” Please cut this portion of my column out and tape it by your phone.

Here they are:

242 — Bahamas, 246 — Barbados, 264 — Anguilla, 268 — Antigua, 284 — British Virgin Islands, 345 — Cayman Islands, 441 — Bermuda, 473 — Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, 649 — Turks and Caicos, 664 — Montserrat, 758 — St. Lucia, 767 — Dominica, 784 — St. Vincent & Grenadines, 809, 829, 849 — Dominican Republic, 868 — Trinidad and Tobago, 869 — St. Kitts & Nevis and 876 — Jamaica.

Regular readers will remember the 16-minute call with my Jamaican “friend” John Peterson, allegedly from Publishers Clearing House. DON’T CALL ANY NUMBER WITH THESE AREA CODES AND DO NOT ANSWER ANY CALLS COMING IN FROM THESE AREA CODES!

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HERE’S ANOTHER NEVER: Never pay any person who calls you by giving them your credit card information, your bank account routing and/or account number — NEVER!

Also, legitimate businesses will never ask you to go to the store and buy cash cards or iTunes gift cards to pay for a purchase or to pay a debt — NEVER!

This week I had a senior call who had given a caller her credit card number, expiration date and security code. The caller told her that he wanted to refund $19.95 to her that his company had mistakenly charged her.

First thing they did was max out her credit card, to the tune of $6,000. They said this was a mistake and they would immediately refund that “erroneous” charge, but the only way they could refund her money was by crediting the funds “directly” to her bank account. Fortunately, she called me BEFORE she gave them her bank account numbers. They would have wiped out ALL the money in her bank.

Giving out your credit card info or bank info to someone who calls you (including a caller who gives you a number to call back) is tantamount to begging to be scammed.

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ADDICTIONS COME IN MANY FORMS: I was talking this week with a woman who has a problem with her husband. In this case, it was a problem where I could offer some help. It seems he’s become addicted to entering sweepstakes he receives in the mail. You know the kind — they promise, if you’re the Grand Prize Winner, you’ll get $5,000 per day for the rest of your life, or some other equally ridiculous “prize.” The problem has gotten so bad that it seems every time he enters one contest, the company sells his name and information to 10 more companies. The result? You guessed it: He received 10 times more contest junk mail almost immediately.

You can imagine the mathematical progression. In a month, theoretically he could be getting 1,000 sweepstakes offers every day! I told his wife to sit down and have a talk with him. She did, and it didn’t work. I suggested getting a locking mailbox so she would be the only one picking up the mail. She felt that would be dishonest. I asked her to have him call me, and just maybe I could help dissuade him from his futile quest. We’ll see.

Remember, addictions come in many forms. When it affects your life a little it’s usually called a neurosis. When it takes over your life, it’s called a psychosis. Sometimes it’s a fine line!

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QUICK TIP: If someone calls you and wants to refund you money, tell them to send a check. Don’t give any personal financial information — Ever! Once you’ve told them to mail you the money in check form, DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH! (You’re not going to get any money!)

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QUICK TIP II: Look into getting a locking mailbox. They’re not terribly expensive and you’ll have tremendous peace of mind. The only inconvenience is, you’ll have to deposit your outgoing mail in one of the many official U.S. Postal Services boxes around town or at the drive-through at the post office.

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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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