The Fixer: Resolutions for a consumer headaches-free year
By STEPHANIE ZIMMERMANN firstname.lastname@example.org January 13, 2012 6:36PM
THE FIXER HAS SAVED YOU
Updated: January 29, 2012 11:06AM
This was originally published in the SouthtownStar on Jan. 1, 2012.
What’s your New Year’s resolution?
If it involves getting in shape, earning more money, going back to school, buying new wheels, fixing up your house or pretty much anything else a consumer might do, read on.
While The Fixer loves going to bat for people who’ve been ripped off and given the runaround, we really hate hearing about sad, unfixable situations that could have been prevented. Steve Bernas, president of the local Better Business Bureau, feels the same way. So we put our heads together and came up with this year’s Fixer’s New Year’s resolutions. Follow them and you may save yourself some grief and money — which is what The Fixer wishes for all of you.
In 2012, I hereby resolve . . .
♦ I will never hire a service company or contractor that doesn’t have a physical address. That goes double for someone who “just did work in the neighborhood and has leftover supplies.”
♦ There’s nothing worse than finding out that a company that ripped me off has a mountain of complaints. So I’ll take a minute before doing business to check them out at BBB.org and on other free consumer complaint websites.
♦ I will thoroughly read and understand every contract before I sign. I’m no dummy, so I will never, ever sign a blank contract. I’ll also get a copy from my salesperson.
♦ Sure I’m in a hurry, but I won’t click “I agree” on an online agreement before actually reading the terms and conditions.
♦ A free 14-day trial period of super-duper fat burning pills? I will remember that nothing is free and these online subscriptions are notoriously difficult to cancel.
♦ I will remember that a lifetime membership to a health club — or any other club or service — refers to the lifetime of the business, not me.
♦ I’ll use my gift cards ASAP — before the business goes out of business.
♦ If a lender promises a guaranteed loan to consolidate my debts, as long as I pay them an advance fee to guarantee the transaction, I will run away and not look back.
♦ I will not give money to a supposed “mortgage rescue” business. Instead, I’ll go to illinoisattorneygeneral.gov or call (866) 544-7151 to obtain accurate information on how to save my house.
♦ Before traveling abroad, I will contact my bank, credit card companies and cell phone provider and advise them of my travels. I’ll be sure to ask about getting the best possible phone and data plan.
♦ I will not pack my laptop, camera, iPod, cash, jewelry or other valuables in my checked luggage. These items have a habit of disappearing and the airlines won’t reimburse me.
♦ I will make a copy of all business documents such as warranties, contracts and other agreements and store them in a safe place.
♦ Shred, shred, shred! That’s what I’ll do with old personal and financial documents to de-clutter and keep my information away from identity thieves.
♦ I’ll get my free annual credit reports from all three credit bureaus from annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228 toll-free. I’ll avoid sound-alike sites that will charge me big bucks.
♦ I will not buy a used car without having an independent mechanic first check it out and without getting a CARFAX report on its history.
♦ And I won’t let an overaggressive sales guy tell me to “just drive it home” before I know the financing has gone through.
♦ Would I marry the first guy who came along? Nope — and I won’t hire the first contractor, either. I’ll get at least three detailed estimates and check everyone’s references. I’ll get all promises in writing. I’ll make sure the contract details the start and end dates and the specific materials for the job. And I’ll never pay the full amount of the job upfront.
♦ I will remember that I didn’t win an overseas lottery because I didn’t enter one. Nor have I inherited vast Nigerian oil wealth.
♦ If a scammer sends me a check, I will not cash it.
♦ What’s that you say — I’ve been hired as a mystery shopper and need to wire money to a boss I’ve never met? (Do I look like Jan Brady?)
♦ Speaking of jobs, I will run from any supposed employer who says they will hire me only if I give them money for training and equipment.
♦ At tax time, I’ll remember that the IRS does not contact taxpayers by e-mail to threaten them with an audit. The links on these e-mails are run by scam artists.
♦ I’ll also ignore those scam e-mails that pretend to come from my bank, credit union, insurance company, credit issuer, etc., and which ask me to provide personal and financial information. Puh-lease.
♦ True, I really hate that timeshare in Mexico, but I won’t make matters worse by paying an upfront fee to someone who claims he’s got a “hot” buyer.
♦ I’ll check out citizensutilityboard.org to find out how to lower my phone, electric and gas bills.
♦ And I’ll actually look at my phone bill to make sure it hasn’t been “crammed” with bogus charges.
♦ Education is a great thing. Inflated loans from for-profit colleges are not. I’ll be smart when I look into continuing my schooling.
♦ I’ll be wary of “storm chasers” — those unlicensed roofing and other contractors that blow in after the storm to try to get a piece of my insurance check.
♦ I’ll find a reputable locksmith business and keep its number in my wallet for the next time I’m locked out of my home or car. While I’m at it, I’ll find a good plumber and furnace service, just in case.
♦ I will not let my bank balance dip into the red. If I’ve opted in for “overdraft protection,” I could get hit with hundreds of dollars in unexpected fees.
♦ I will read my bank and credit card statements online and quickly report any fraud. I’ll remember that debit cards offer less protection than credit cards, and if I wait longer than 60 days to report a problem, I could be on the hook for unlimited losses.
♦ This is the year I will create a family budget and sock away a little extra for emergencies.
♦ And finally, if I get ripped off, I’ll make some noise. I’ll file complaints with the BBB, attorney general, The Fixer and other places to build a record and make sure no one else gets hurt.