Consumer vigilance paying off

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I’ve been writing this column for almost a year now — in the beginning only once a week, and now twice each week. I need to tell my readers how absolutely rewarding it is to be part of this effort.

In the beginning I would get mostly complaints and reports of scams and problems that had already taken place. Now almost half my calls and emails are from readers who have recognized a scam, averted financial loss AND helped educate their friends and neighbors. I feel like we’ve built a community of consumer advocates, as I’ve stated before, a “hard target” for those who would take advantage of people in our area, especially seniors. I don’t want to overdo this, but please remember, without these people: Michael Patrick, the managing editor, and the owner, and the publisher of the newspaper, it would not be possible. Thank you all!

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TIME TO EAT ANOTHER CROW: I made a booboo. My numbers were wrong in the section I wrote about Avista’s requested rate increase. When my column came out Monday morning, I immediately got an email and a call from my alert readers. It turns out that “the current electric basic charge is (if approved) going up $.25 not $5.75.” The gas base price is requested to go up $.75 to $6 if approved. Accurate information is essential to being a good consumer. I always try to be accurate — usually (almost always), I succeed.

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DANGEROUS: Within the last couple of days I’ve had calls from a number of consumers regarding heating problems in their homes. One woman in her mid-80s reported the temperature in her house dipped below 40 degrees during the night. What made it worse is that her “new” furnace, less than three years old, was malfunctioning and the local company that sold it to her wouldn’t take responsibility for the problem, and charged her a service fee each time they came out to diagnose the problem.

Most of the heating and air conditioning companies are honest and competent and take pride in providing excellent customer service. Unfortunately, a few do not. One company, even though it was not the company that sold and installed her furnace, volunteered to come out for free and, if they couldn’t fix the problem immediately, set up a temporary heat source for the lady. Having lived in Alaska for the better part of 20 years, I can tell you that hypothermia can kill, especially the elderly. Let’s work together to make it a warm winter for our friends and neighbors. Check on each other. Also make sure your elderly friends stay hydrated. Dehydration combined with hypothermia can be lethal.

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REAL ESTATE APPRAISAL MONKEY BUSINESS: One licensed real estate appraiser working in our area has generated more complaints than any other local business. Before you have a real estate appraisal done, insist on a “to be completed by” date in a contract or at least an email. This particular individual always insists on a check up front, cashes it immediately and then won’t answer phone calls. He claims he and his wife are in ill health and uses that as a standard excuse to cash your check, keep your money, and only perform the appraisal when maximum pressure is brought to bear. If you have or have had an experience like this please call the Idaho Real Estate Appraiser Board at 208-334-3233 and make a formal complaint. Let me state very clearly, this is the ONLY appraiser I’ve ever had a complaint against. The real estate appraisal industry is made up of highly skilled men and women with outstanding training and absolute integrity.

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MY WEBSITE: It should be up and running when you read this. We’ve tested it but that doesn’t mean it’ll always work perfectly. I welcome comments and complaints because that’s the best way for me to know if it’s working and useful to my readers and consumers in general. You should be able to get to the website by going to www.BillBrooksConsumerAdvocate.com. Let me know what you think. You can call, email or throw a brick through my window (only kidding about the brick!).

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COUPONS APLENTY: One reader wrote and expressed frustration with the number of coupons in the paper. Coupons and ads are a very important source of revenue for community papers like The Coeur d’Alene Press. Without good advertisers, most papers would cease to exist. Unless I’m looking for a specific item, I don’t pay much attention to the coupons and ads. On the other hand, when I want a product or service, it’s amazing how many coupons and ads I see advertising what I’m looking for. Don’t disparage coupons or ads too much. I’ve saved thousands of dollars this year by buying products and services advertised in The Press. Use the ads and coupons to be a good consumer and save some money.

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QUICK TIP: There are several individuals, many “retired” bank executives, accountants and bookkeepers who offer simple bookkeeping for seniors. You must be very careful to interview and vet anyone offering such services. If they check out, they can make a very positive difference in the life of a senior. If they’re crooked, they can open the door to abuse and theft. I had occasion to meet, and check out, a local company called “My Trusted Advisor” owned and managed by Mr. Paul Rich. He can be reached at 208-916-7964.

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IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR: Please remember to drop a couple of bucks in the kettle or buy a toy for a tot, or donate to your favorite charity. You may not change the world but you may change one person’s world.

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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 BillBrooksRealEstate@gmail.com or fax me at 866-362-9266. Please include your name and a phone number. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups.

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Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the broker and owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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