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NUESTRA VOZ OF NORTH TEXAS
LULAC OF Denton


The Sensible Shopper

by Worth Wren Jr.

  

EDITOR’S Note:  Nuestra Voz, literally, offers readers a steady new voice in print – on paper and online.

To enhance our shared community voice, we offer here a monthly column dedicated to making us all better informed consumers, ready to make wiser decisions on purchases, products, services, investments, savings, sales, trades, etc.
If you have a story idea or question, please email your suggestions or questions to Contact Us.

BUY SMART with Amigos-N-Business

At Home, On Phone, Online:

Old, New Scams Abounding

Part 2 of an Occasional Series:

Today’s frauds, swindles and scams – whatever you call the methods of the crooks – should not be surprising.  Whether you believe the Bible’s account of the swindler known as Satan, fraud perpetrators certainly go back to the dawn of documented human history.

The tools, methods of operation and venues, of course, are proliferating with new come-ons, twists, turns, touts, half-truths and lies – in emails or U.S. Postal Service mail, on Websites or texting or Facebook or other online pathways, in newspapers and other publications, on the phone (home or cell), at your front door, etc.  And many of the old pitches are still around, too.

Here are just three of the abounding scams afoot today, with a warning that new variations are evolving even as you read this column:

__Small, temporary Fort Worth-area roadside signs are once again touting unbelievable house-buying bargains.  That can be the end-game of a scam going back decades, at least, with each targeted victim welcoming the perpetrator through the front door.

Victims tend to be homeowners behind on their mortgage payments.  They’re hoodwinked by scammers into selling their “equity” – actually, their homes – for the overdue amounts.

In one old case, a naïve woman sold her $35,000 home for less than $4,000 (her mortgage balance in arrears) and became, unknowingly at first, a renter in what had been her own home.  The house was then resold to an investor for about $8,000.  The investor became the former owner’s landlord, and the scammer earned a 100-plus percent profit.

__Instagram, that relatively new Internet playground for sharing photos and artwork, is becoming a popular venue for scammers, too.

“They’ve made Instagram another tool in their arsenal of tricks to try to defraud consumers,” Fraud.org reports.

The ploy is typically a version of the old “flipping money” scam, Fraud.org states.

A victim sees an Instagram site featuring photos of folk holding spreads or stacks of cash.  The come-on touts turning a small upfront investment, maybe a few hundred dollars sent by wire transfer or prepaid debit card, into a big wad of cash, maybe thousands.  The simple scam: victim sends money; the scammer breaks online contact, disappears.

Fraud.org reports that “there are more than 45,000 photos on Instagram tagged ‘#flippingmoney.’  In practically every photo we reviewed, the pitch was a scam.”

Plus, now there’s a new variant:  A victim is asked to mail a debit card and the account’s PIN, explaining that a big check will then be deposited into the debit account.  The victim is told he/she will reap a share of the check’s substantial proceeds for this “flipping” service.  Then that large deposit into the account is quickly followed by a large withdrawal, equal to or larger than the so-called deposit.

“The deposited check is, in fact, a fake (hot), and the consumer is then left owing (his/her) bank the money when the check comes back as a fraud,” Fraud.org says.

One 20-year-old victim told Fraud.org that she was taken for $6,000, with the perpetrator disappearing quickly, the Website reports.

Does anyone today really have to be reminded that folk met or contacted online are strangers?  Would anyone with any common sense hand over a debit card to a total stranger?
No legitimate Instagram site “will ask you to mail a debit card or credit card” to the advertiser,” Fraud.org advises.

__Another common high-tech scam is the “tech-support” scheme.

A computer user gets a phone call from a person (often with a foreign accent) identifying himself/herself as a Microsoft or Norton or McAfee contractor or tech.  The caller warns the targeted victim that there’s a cyber virus or other invasive threat to his/her computer.

The caller tries to pressure the intended victim into allowing the caller to take remote control of the computer and then paying $99 and sometimes a lot more with a credit card number to install an antivirus program to erase the threat.  The caller may advise the target to go to a Website or open a computer program that will prove the hacking threat exists.

Fraud.org cautions:

“Know that legitimate companies will not call you without solicitation and tell you that you must pay for tech support.  . . .  Never allow someone to take remote control of your computer unless you are certain that they are actually representing a legitimate company.”

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The Sensible Shopper Buy Smart

by Worth Wren Jr

EDITOR’S Note:  Nuestra Voz, literally, offers readers a steady new voice in print – on paper and online.

To enhance our shared community voice, we offer a monthly column dedicated to making us all better informed consumers, ready to make wiser decisions on purchases, products, services, investments, savings, sales, trades, etc.

If you have a story idea or question, please email your suggestions or questions to goveaalberto215@yahoo.com .

BUY SMART with Amigos-N-Business!

Check FTC ‘Funeral Rule’
Before Mortuary Shopping

Part Two:  Pre-Need vs. At-Need Arrangements

When contracting for funeral arrangements, the savvy shopper does his/her homework.

Shop prior to having to cope with emotions and stress from the death of a loved one:

  1. UP FRONT, know what’s covered for the specific fees to be paid – and what’s not covered – in any mortuary service contract, deal, arrangement.
  2. Do the comparison shopping in advance of need, when calm, rational decisions can be made after thorough research, but without pressure or stress.
  3. Find reliable, ethical, professionally operated mortuaries and compare pricing and all options.
    “On a pre-need contract, you will have a listing of BASIC items not included,” said John Goobeck, Vice President and Director in Charge at Greenwood Funeral Homes and Cremation, Fort Worth.

“Prearrangements are straight and forward, meaning if the funeral home does not control the cost, normally it will not be in the agreement.  It is very rare if it is,” he said.
The Federal Trade Commission mandates that the mortuary/funeral home present the client family a “General Price List.”

“The FTC does not mandate what has to be sold,” Goobeck said.

The regulations’ primary concern “is that every family be treated the same and given the same prices, regardless of how much the family spends,” he said.  “The FTC’s principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection.”

The FTC’s “Funeral Rule” is aimed at enabling the mortuary-services shopper to choose only those goods and services wanted or needed and to pay only for those selected – whether making “at-need” arrangements when a death occurs or “pre-need” arrangements in advance, according to the FTC Website.

The client, the FTC stipulates, must receive a written statement of fees/charges after deciding on options but before services are rendered and before paying for them.
A mortuary/funeral home has the right to charge an add-on fee for any “cash-advance” service/item.

“But,” Goobeck said, “it must be mentioned on the ‘at-need’ contract that the funeral home will be charging for acquiring these types of services.”

He advised: “Whenever a family purchases a ‘pre-need’ contract, they just need to ask what is included and what is not covered.   If it is not mentioned in the contract, it is not covered.”

Of course, it helps to check out the reputations of prospective mortuaries; the Better Business Bureau is a place to start; also ask for comments from previous client families.
For more information, check out these Websites: www.nfda.org ; http://www.tfda.com/ ;

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule ; https://www.funerals.org ; and

http://www.prepaidfunerals.texas.gov/index.htm .

Also, check with these organizations online or by phone:  the Texas Funeral Service Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Texas Department of Banking, National Funeral Directors Association, Texas Funeral Directors Association, the Funeral Consumers Alliance, the ICCFA Cemetery Consumer Service Council and Texas Department of State Health Services.

Regardless of the mortuary choice made, Goobeck said, the mortuary should explain its fee arrangements in advance of service.

BUY SMART with Amigos-N-Business!

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The Sensible Shopper-Buy Smart

by Worth Wren Jr.

[ EDITOR’S Note:  Nuestra Voz, literally, offers readers a steady new voice in print – on paper and online.
To enhance our shared community voice, we offer here a monthly column dedicated to making us all better informed consumers, ready to make wiser decisions on purchases, products, services, investments, savings, sales, trades, etc.
If you have a story idea or question, please email your suggestions or questions to goveaalberto215@yahoo.com .
BUY SMART with Amigos-N-Business! ]

The Case of the Mortuary’s
(Surprise) Add-on Service Fee

Part One:  1st Rule of Contracting for a Funeral
For nearly a century – according to the business’s Website – this Metroplex mortuary has been serving families with a variety of high-quality funeral, burial and related options, delivered with respect and dignity.

So, how can the mortuary justify tacking on a previously unlisted, unmentioned 3 percent fee for collecting the life insurance proceeds on the deceased person’s policy?  It was a 3 percent reduction in total net proceeds going to the deceased’s beneficiaries.

Add-on fees are nothing new to the mortuary business, and certainly not limited to collecting on life insurance.  The big question is how to avoid surprises, especially on the bill.  And even federal regulations may apply.

The first rule of thumb – as with any savvy consumer decision-making:

UP FRONT, know what’s covered for the specific fees to be paid – and what’s not covered, said Dina Salinas, funeral director for Calvario Funeral Chapel, Fort Worth.
“Items that are not covered by the contract are items that are out of the funeral home’s control,” said John Goobeck, vice president and director in charge at Greenwood Funeral Homes and Cremation, Fort Worth.

“Typical examples of services not covered are the obituary, escorts, death certificates, permits and airline shipping, to name a few that come to mind,” Goobeck said.  “Every funeral home does things differently when it comes to these items.”

But, he warned, DO NOT expect the contract to list all items/services NOT COVERED:  “If they listed everything that’s not covered, the list would be too lengthy,” he said.
A typical contract, agreement, will feature four main charges:  for the funeral service, the casket, the interment/burial (opening and closing the grave) and the outer burial container (for grave support), Goobeck said.

The package might include fees for transporting the deceased to the mortuary, bathing and embalming and dressing the body, placement/arrangement in the casket, renting visitation and funeral location/facilities, using the hearse, conducting the services and providing the memorial sign-in book and service program cards.  The floral charges are often separate, and the casket might be.

“Each funeral home has its own packages,” Salinas said.

“The best rule of thumb is, if the charge is not on the contract, it is not covered,” Goobeck said.

On the matter of collecting life insurance proceeds, the mortuary/funeral home often relies on other service providers, the experts advised.
“Usually these third parties charge a small-percentage fee on the amount of insurance proceeds that the family wants to use to pay for mortuary services,” Goobeck said.
For the mortuary itself, the fee can be more of a pass-through cost than an add-on charge.

Jessica Koth, public relations manager for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), provided Nuestra Voz with an overview explanation:
“Many funeral homes require payment for services and merchandise before a funeral or memorial service takes place,” Koth said, noting that payment can be in cash, credit card, personal check or verifiable insurance policy.

“When a family wishes to assign the proceeds of an insurance policy to pay for a loved one’s funeral,” she said, “the process and paperwork to verify that the policy is valid and to verify its value can be complicated.”

Koth added that the process can take 30 to 90 days for the insurance company to process the life insurance claim.

“To avoid this hassle and receive payment prior to a funeral or memorial service taking place, many funeral homes use companies that will fund insurance assignment claims fast, giving the funeral home cash immediately to pay suppliers/vendors for merchandise and services associated with a funeral,” she said.

The funding insurance-assignment company charges a fee for its services.

“Funeral homes can take different approaches to this fee,” Koth said.

Goobeck said the funeral home often “just passes this charge along to the family.  This is normal concerning ‘Group Policies,’ since these are the most difficult to collect on.”
Regardless, Goobeck and Koth said, the mortuary should explain its fee arrangements in advance.

In Part 2 on mortuary fees, next week’s column will outline the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer-protection role.

[BUY SMART with Amigos-N-Business!]

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