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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Word on the street: Watch out for scams

Jan Quintrall Special to The Spokesman-Review

I have started using my “people on the street” radar when choosing topics to write about for this column. I get repeated comments on certain subjects when speaking with people both personally and professionally, and here are some of them:

Predatory telemarketing programs. Premier Benefits, also known as Buyer’s Union, of Orange, Calif., calls to tell you today is your lucky day. A large retailer (Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Kmart) has a $500 certificate or cash prize they want to bestow upon you. Wow! Who wouldn’t listen?

The catch? They need your bank account number or bank routing number so they can debit $4.95, then the voucher is yours. Problem is, once they have that bank account number, the money deducted from your account grows. See the full report at www.labbb.org

Star Communications, ironically also a California company, has an offer that’s quite similar. One of its telemarketers uses the name “Prince Allen.” The number of inquiries being handled by the BBB and the Washington state Attorney General’s Office were large enough last week to attract the attention of Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and to prompt a joint warning. This looks like a new way to try to catch people off guard, get an account number and start unauthorized charges, if not ID theft. Watch out.

Are you a lucky winner of a Canadian lottery? Last week, a local couple brought in for our review materials sent from the infamous “Canadian Lottery” folks. There was a check enclosed from a Dallas-based auto parts store, made payable to the woman of the house for $4,995. This amount was to cover the “taxes” on the winnings, and then “a little something more” for your trouble.

The letter instructed her to deposit the check, send a cashier’s check to Canada for the “taxes” on the multimillion-dollar prize and keep the rest. But the check from the poor unknowing Dallas company is no good: it simply had one of its checks stolen and duplicated. So the recipient of the letter sends a cashier’s check to Canada, then two weeks later the bank notifies her that the Dallas check is bogus, but deducts the amount of the bad check from her account. The “winner” is now the loser, and ends up $4,995 poorer.

If you work for one of the banks out there that consistently warns its customers about such activity, and even places a hold on an account until it clears or comes up fraudulent, pat yourself on the back. That vigilance has saved who knows how many thousands of dollars for your customers.

So, bank customers, when your bank puts a hold on such funds, it’s not to annoy you or take away your freedom; it’s often to protect you and your funds, so don’t complain.

Consumer Grants USA” still out there. This company started calling our region last year, telling folks they were eligible to receive an $8,000 grant from the U.S. Government. Yes, these guys were good, to be sure. All they wanted was $249 to cover the cost of paperwork and the process would begin. They warned recipients that the process could take eight to 10 months — it is the government, after all. They gave people a toll-free number to call, telling them it was the Federal Government Grant Processing Department.

Now that time has passed and nobody has received any of these grants, disgruntled customers of Consumer Grants USA have been calling the number they wre given.

Unfortunately, that number belongs to a technical book store here in Spokane.

The lesson in all of these scenarios is that people are still falling victim to scams, despite the advent of the Do Not Call list, Caller ID and all sorts of media attention. If you have someone in your life who may be an easy mark, just let them know these safeguards:

Never give personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call and you know who you are talking to.

Even a bank account number is too much information, let alone a check or routing number.

“ You never have to pay for a prize, ever. One more response to street talk: Last week’s BBB regional conference successfully showcased our region. The attendees were quite impressed. I’m still glowing from all the compliments and praise for Spokane. Consider the positive feedback a reflection of how we’re doing.

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