BILL BROOKS: Hey, buddy: Don’t cash that check!

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Last week a consumer called me about a high-end Trex bicycle that he had for sale on Craigslist. When it was first listed months ago, a man from Bolivar, Miss., called immediately. The man told the local consumer that it was “exactly” the bicycle he was looking for and asked if he could send him a check for payment, including a generous sum to cover all shipping and insurance costs. The consumer smelled a bicycle-riding rat and declined.

Months went by, and last week the same “buyer” contacted him again, by the way, always by email, and asked about the bicycle again. The consumer decided that he would let the guy buy the bicycle.

The buyer sent a personal check to the consumer. Just before the consumer went to his bank to deposit the check, he decided to call me. We talked for a few minutes and I told him it very likely was a scam and that he should NOT endorse and deposit the check. I explained that it would probably bounce, and he’d get charged a “returned item” fee by his bank and secondly, by cashing the check, he’d probably be required to enter his own checking account number on the reverse of the check. We talked some more but he still really wanted to cash that check.

He was about my age, so I asked him if he remembered the Walt Disney cartoon about Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. He was familiar with the fable. I asked him why he wanted to punch the Tar Baby so badly, and if he recalled what happened to Br’er Rabbit? (If you don’t know the story, go to https://youtu.be/hiMw-8Ttu10).

While on the phone with the consumer, I pulled up the main number, the legitimate number of the bank on which the check was supposedly written. I told the consumer to call the bank and tell them that he had a check from their bank, and to provide them with the routing number, the account number, and ask if a check for $1,800 would clear. The consumer called the bank and, guess what? The check was bogus!

As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

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ATTORNEY PROBLEM: A consumer called with an unusual problem. She received a check from an out-of-state inheritance that needed to be cashed by an attorney in our area. Generally speaking, attorneys will put the money in their trust account and then write the consumer a check, deducting a reasonable fee for their services. Remember, attorneys have to make a living too!

The attorney she contacted said he would handle the transaction for $300. The consumer asked him, due to the simplicity of the transaction, if he’d agree to do it for $200? He agreed. A few days later she received her check from the attorney, but it was $300 light, not the $200 that they’d agreed to. She called him and his response was, “it took more time” than he’d anticipated. He was rather short with her, and she felt he’d taken advantage of her. She called me for help.

First of all, the attorney would probably tell me that he could not discuss the matter with me, due to client-attorney confidentiality, and honestly, that would be a fair and legal response. Instead, I suggested that she call his office and leave a message for him, that unless he honored their original agreement, and immediately paid her the remainder of the money — $100 — she would be filing an ethics complaint with the state bar association. She left the message and, lo and behold, she got a check for a hundred bucks within a few days.

The lesson here is that you, as a consumer, are not powerless in disputes with attorneys. As a consumer making a complaint against an attorney, you have a responsibility to be absolutely accurate and not exaggerate or misrepresent the facts. After all, you are making a charge against a professional’s character. Usually, it boils down to a misunderstanding — but not always.

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A REPEAT: Short but sweet, if someone calls to congratulate you for winning a prize in a lottery — YOU DIDN’T! It’s a scam. Hang up, and for heaven’s sake, don’t give out ANY personal information.

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FORECLOSURE ASSISTANCE: If you’re facing foreclosure, about to lose your home, any company offering you assistance should be seriously scrutinized. If you are in this situation please call me.

A “foreclosure assistance” ring was recently fined millions of dollars for duping consumers out of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Almost all of the people finally lost their homes, but only after paying the scammers thousands of dollars up front for assistance.

The other angle to this scam can be to sign your property over to the “helpers.” They then skim any equity from your property, put it in their pocket and leave you poorer and with zero equity and ultimately foreclosed upon.

If you’re facing foreclosure, you’re probably feeling desperate. Your fear and desperation is what the scammers use to prey on you. Instead of listening to their soothing and false promises of assistance, please call me and I’ll try to get you some actual help, either with the financial institution or with a local, ethical attorney.

A friend of mine in another state, through no fault of his, was facing foreclosure. He made the mistake of trusting an attorney to stop the foreclosure. After paying thousands of dollars he still lost his home to the lending institution and found his credit was ruined. It’s always better to work out a “short sale” of your property rather than face involuntary foreclosure. A foreclosure on your credit report will make it VERY difficult for you to buy a home in the near future. Be careful!

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FREE MEDICAL DEVICES: If you get a call offering you ANY free medical device — HANG UP! Callers making offers like this are ALWAYS fishing for identity information — Medicare account numbers, credit card, or bank account numbers. MY ADVICE: Hang up and don’t talk to them. If you need a “medical device,” talk with YOUR doctor.

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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. billbrooksconsumeradvocate.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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