Consumer Alert: Do’s and don’ts of being a good consumer

Special to the Idaho StatesmanMarch 6, 2014 

Being a good consumer begins with you. Here are some tips to help celebrate national consumer protection week:


Know whom you’re dealing with. Try to find a seller’s physical address (not a P.O. box) and phone number. With Internet phone services and other web-based technologies, it’s tough to tell where someone is calling from. Do an online search for the company name and website, and look for reviews. If people report negative experiences, you’ll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk.

Read your monthly statements. Scammers steal account information and run up charges or commit crimes. Dishonest merchants bill for monthly “membership fees” and other goods or services without authorization. If there are unapproved charges, contact your bank, card issuer, or creditor immediately.

Give only to established charities. In the aftermath of a disaster, give to an established charity rather than one that has sprung up overnight.

Talk to your doctor. Ask about research that supports a product’s claims, risks or side effects of prescription drugs. Only buy from licensed U.S. pharmacies. Fake, expired, or mislabeled products could be dangerous to your health.

Remember, there’s no sure investment. If someone contacts you with low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, stay away. When you hear pitches that insist you act now, that guarantee big profits, that promise little or no financial risk, or that demand that you send cash immediately, report them.


Don’t send money to someone you don’t know. Don’t send money to an online seller, a classified advertising box, or an online love interest. It’s best to do business with sites you know and trust. If you buy online, consider a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card. Don’t wire money to sellers that insist on wire transfers for payment, or to an alleged relative or friend in an emergency, or anyone who wants to keep it secret.

Don’t agree to deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks have to make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. You’re responsible for deposits: If a check is a fake, you’re responsible to the bank. No matter how convincing, someone who overpays by check is almost certainly a scammer.

Don’t reply to messages asking for personal or financial information. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an email, a phone call, a text message, or an ad. The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick you into revealing information.

Don’t play a foreign lottery. It’s illegal. And yet, messages that tout your chances of winning a foreign lottery, or messages that claim you’ve already won, can be tempting. Inevitably, you have to pay “taxes,” “fees,” or “customs duties” to collect your prize. If you must send money to collect, you haven’t won anything. And if you send any money, you will lose it. You won’t get any money back, either, regardless of promises or guarantees.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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