Opinion - Brooks: Sickness, serious charges and a writer’s apology

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In Monday’s column I suggested that people who were not “wheelchair-bound” (this is a key word, necessary to understanding my advice) consider using a wheelchair in their transit through airports. There are many, like me, who are not “wheelchair-bound” but find it difficult or often impossible to stand for long periods of time or walk long distances. People like me who often use a wheelchair or another assistive mobility device should consider using the airport wheelchair services.

I was NOT suggesting the able-bodied use wheelchairs in order to jump the line. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my writing (it wouldn’t be the first time). Also, please call me anytime, good or bad, fair or foul and tell me when and how you think I’ve messed up. Please have the courtesy to leave your number, not just a rant. I’ll be glad to talk with you.

As for “Fragile” stickers, lying is NEVER acceptable. If you don’t have anything fragile in your luggage — don’t ask for the stickers.

I apologize for any misunderstandings and lack of clarity.

P.S. Do you remember the old luggage commercials where the suitcase was handed over to gorillas at the zoo? Here it is for your viewing pleasure: https://bit.ly/1qj7kA1

•••

CAUTION —SALMONELLA IS BACK: This outbreak has affected pre-cut fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe. Keep your “ear to the ground” on this one.

Unfortunately, these CDC alerts seem to expand as the days go on. So far, the new outbreak of salmonella poisoning is limited to eight Midwestern states. The cut fruit is processed by a company called Caito Foods. Idaho and Washington don’t seem to be affected — yet. That’s the good news for us, anyway. The bad news is that about two thirds of the “60-plus” people who have been sickened have ended up in the hospital. Salmonella is pretty nasty and dangerous stuff.

•••

IS MY ECHO LISTENING TO ME?: The short answer is yes. The good news is that these can read recipes to you, play your favorite music, turns lights on and off and lock and unlock doors.

Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple Homepod all store your commands “in the Cloud.” As far as the Amazon Echo and Dot are concerned, they are always listening for the “wake up word” — “Alexa” or “Echo,” depending on what you have named your device. It is always listening. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can tap the microphone button on top of the device and it will stop listening. To activate it, tap it again and say the “awake word.”

To delete pieces of speech your device has recorded, you need to open the Alexa app on your computer or phone. Tap the “More” and then “Remove” tab.

To completely get rid of all saved data, you need to go to “Settings” and “History” and then select and delete the offending voice snippet.

If you want to do all this in one fell swoop, just go to “Accounts & Lists” then “Your Content and Devices,” and then “Your Devices” and then select “Manage Voice Recordings” and then click the “Delete” button. This will delete everything you’ve ever said to Alexa/Echo.

If you’re as confused as I was, go to the following YouTube recording: https://bit.ly/2yaqh9e

It’s really pretty easy once you watch the video.

•••

HANDCUFFS AND THE IRS: The scammers are getting bolder. Last week, back East, a scammer knocked on a consumer’s door, flashed an official looking “IRS” credential, and told the consumer he was there to arrest him for outstanding taxes that had not been paid. The consumer slammed the door in the face of the fake agent and called 911. The scammer was arrested and hauled away to the hoosegow on a number of very serious charges.

REMEMBER: When in doubt — call 911.

During the last few days, many consumers, including me, got a call from a 607 area code informing the recipient that there were “serious charges filed against them.” It was a prerecorded call, a robo call. Being the obtuse person that I am, I called the number back. When the phone was answered, I informed the robo caller that I wanted their name, the name of their company and the name of their supervisor. Somewhere during my request, the line went dead. This group hasn’t called me again.

QUICK TIP: Good robo killer software for both Android and iPhones is Mr. Number. Try it. I think you’ll like it.

•••

HAVE YOU BEEN SLAMMED OR CRAMMED?: No more. The FCC said in a statement, “The Commission’s rules also now include an explicit prohibition against placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills. In doing so, the Commission reaffirms for the benefit of service providers and billing companies the existing prohibition against cramming to ensure there is no misunderstanding about previous authority and enforcement of that prohibition.”

In the wireless industry, cramming can often show up as device insurance that customers didn’t ask for, extra features on a line, or even a device like a tablet that’s “free” in store but costs $20 extra a month. For the cable and home Internet business, changes to bundles without authorization are more common.

The practice of “slamming,” which refers to unauthorized changes to a customer’s phone provider, is also coming under the spotlight with new rules. If a salesperson is found to have been deceptive with obtaining your permission to switch carriers, the consent will be deemed invalid, and if a salesperson or sales company deliberately misleads the third-party verification services, which often use recordings of calls supplied by the salespeople to verify the user’s consent to switch, the company will be barred from using any verification service for several years.

•••

SOME TYPICAL SCAM PHONE MESSAGES: These are some of the texts of a few of the oldie but goodie messages that made the rounds again this week:

“Your information they got compromised. If you are the one who is using Microsoft windows in your computer than please call 972-441-5555 or press one now to speak with security team now.”

“You will be taken under custody by the local police as there are four serious allegations pressed on your name at this moment. We would request you to get back to us so that we can discuss about this case before taking any legal action against you the number to reach us is 607-555-3549 I repeat 607-555-3549.”

Notice the very bad English? Don’t ever respond to messages like this — just delete them! I just thought those of you who don’t get these scam calls might like to see what the rest of us are subjected to on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

•••

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

•••

I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at brookshomes@gmail.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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