Q: I was scammed a couple of months ago by a telemarketer who tricked me into paying monthly fees without my knowledge. Thankfully, I knew enough to investigate on my own and then turn the scam over to the state attorney's office. Please tell others how to be smarter on the phone before it's too late. - Clever Calvin
A: Dear Cal: Boy, you're really razor sharp on the whiskers of life! OK, OK, too corny, but I'm really impressed with how quickly you realized
what was up and then got the ball rolling with the law. This particular scam is fairly new and probably one of the most deceitful I've come across in a long while. The following describes how Sammy Shyster tries to rip you off in terms of money and information.
First, when a telemarketer or stranger calls, most folks know to say, "Take me off your list and never call again or I'll contact the federal authorities" and then hang up.
However, these con artists don't get rich by being stupid; they're a lot smarter than we credit them to be. The trick here is to get the hapless prey to say the word "yes" to ensure service agreement mailings or, much worse, monthly charges on phone bills. Of course, Sammy's bag of tricks is pretty full of ways to make this "yes" happen; for example:
n Is this Jane Smith?
n Did you graduate from a Hamilton County high school?
n Do you live in the Chattanooga area?
According to http://bulletin.aarp.org (and Consumer Watch), none of us can be too careful. Anytime we pick up the phone and don't recognize the caller, be certain to always watch what we say or don't say anything at all. If you've not contacted the Direct Mail Association to cut out junk mail offerings and/or Mr. Postman fills up your mailbox, open every single piece.
Don't just ditch what's unfamiliar or unwanted; check out each and every one to ensure you're not being scammed. Even some banks send letters disguised as junk mail.
Unfortunately, by not opening what you think is junk, you may signify agreement that your interest rate jumps X percentage points. Again, caution is key. Finally, just as with credit card statements, always check for errors on your phone bill. Any third-party charges? Immediately call the company to dispute these.
Readers may recall 2007 and 2008's IRS tax tips, in which I proposed weekly suggestions to help taxpayers prepare for Uncle Sam's annual cut. Today's column begins the 2009 versions which I'll postscript through April 10, all compliments of varying tax articles/authorities and Big Bad Uncle Sam himself.
Tax Tip: Did you install energy-saving windows last year? What about attic insulation, skylights, a water heater and so forth?
The government allows us a tax credit equal to 10 percent of these home improvement costs for 2009 and 2010 (up to a max of $1,500 for the two-year period).
Even better, no dollar limit exists on the credit for qualified alternate-energy equipment, such as solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, and wind turbines. In fact, you can grab credit of 30 percent of these systems' total costs back from inside Uncle Sam's voluminous pockets.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.