How to stay out of trouble

Keep your eyes wide open. Rely on your gut instinct. Remember to follow up with research and questions.

These are the three smartest ways to save money. They work even better than coupons, say some citizens of Watchdog Nation.

Dave Lieber's popular new Watchdog Nation book saves people money!

Watchdog Nation was founded by Dave Lieber

Keep your eyes wide open

Lynda Logue-Hughes of North Richland Hills answered an ad for a Dallas entry clerk on Craigslist, an advertising Web site.

The man who interviewed her online communicated in poor English and said he was head of the “hiring department.” Red flags flew all around her.

She contacted the company offering the job. “The person I talked to indicated this was a scam, and I was the third person to contact them regarding this,” she said.

“The ad promised $19 an hour. My unemployment is running out, and I was desperate, but not so desperate as to not check this out.”

She reported the false ad to the Federal Trade Commission, which has been cracking down on con artists who target the jobless: ftc.gov/jobscams.

Pay attention to your gut

Gary Ewing of Weatherford saw an ad in the Star-Telegram for a 2006 Travel Supreme 42-foot motor home for $15,000. The little voice in his head told him the price was too low.

“As a previous Travel Supreme owner, I know this one is worth upwards of $200,000,” he said.

Out of curiosity, he traded e-mails with the ad buyer.

“I specifically asked for the VIN and tag number. That’s when the e-mails stopped.”

If you get the vehicle identification number and tag, you can trace the history of a vehicle on various Web sites.

Dave Lieber's manifesto for WatchdogNation.com

Research and ask questions

More free services designed to protect you, such as the Do Not Call list, become available all the time. When you hear about these services, it’s important to take advantage of them.

For example, have you signed up for the free Property Fraud Alert Service offered to Tarrant County residents and property owners?

Any time your name comes up in a document filing for a mortgage or other real estate document in the county clerk’s office, you get a notification. This allows you to track possible fraudulent activity, such as somebody using your name to take out a mortgage.

It works. Last week, I was notified that a family member whose name I had registered had signed a gas lease.

Tarrant County, where I live, was the first Texas county to offer the service last year. But only 4,224 Tarrant County residents and property owners have signed up for the free program, said Diana Graebeel of Fidlar Technologies, the company that contracts with the county for the program.

(To sign up, go to www.tarrantcounty.com and click on “Property Fraud Alert” under “County Clerk” on the right side of the Web page. Add a name you want to protect. Whenever that name shows up in a real estate document, you are notified by e-mail or telephone.)

Ask questions to save money

Here’s another way that research and asking questions can help you: if you are a Texas resident, sShop now for an electricity contract at www.powertochoose.org and find the lowest electricity rates in years.

Last week, I signed a yearlong contract for a fixed rate of 9.4 cents a kilowatt-hour. We’ve seen a steady drop from the midteens to under a dime. Take advantage of it.

I could have signed for an even lower rate, in the 8-cents range, but I wasn’t familiar with the companies and their complaint rates (as shown on powertochoose.org) were a little too high for me.

The lowest rate isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s necessary to shop for something lower than you have. And double-check the other available documents, such as the Terms of Service and Electricity Facts Label, to make sure the rates you are agreeing to are the same you believe you are signing up for.

Dave Lieber's popular button was written about in USA Today.

Ask questions for accurate information

The Watchdog sent a fan letter this week to the creators of one of my favorite Web sites. Maybe you are familiar with Snopes.com, which calls itself the “Urban Legends Reference Pages.”

Founders Barbara and David Mikkelson of California have worked for more than a decade to find the truth behind the strange e-mails that people are always forwarding to each other.

No surprise that many are not accurate.

I love to check these stories on Snopes. Nobody should ever forward an e-mail of questionable facts and assertions without checking Snopes first to find out the real story.

Recently, The New York Times profiled the Mikkelsons and quoted them as saying that they doubted they have much of an impact on the world.

After reading that, I hit the “Contact Us” button on Snopes.com and wrote: “Are you kidding me? You have a huge impact. Your contribution toward truth telling in the world is immense.”

The Mikkelsons wrote back: “Blush. Thank you. What a wonderfully kind thing to say! And thanks also for telling people about our site. This is the highest compliment you could give us.”

So let me compliment them again: Snopes.com.

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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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Comments

  1. I have used the do not call list and am glad to know of the Free property fraud Alert. I will sign up. I signed up for the do not call list a long time ago. Have gone to Power to choose many times but do not know the names of many of the erergy services and would have ot pay $275 to get out of my contract with Reliant. That does not seem justified when our bills are as low as they are. So I will wait until Sept. when contract is out and check then. My husband painted the inside of outside walls with a paint that has the same thing in it as the ceiling paints for attic. I credit our low bills on his job plus our consistent monitoring of the temperature in our house.

    I want a number to stop the many catalogs that are arriving in the mail. I think I signed up for that at our last house in Hurst. I do not need all those.

    I am an avid reader of Snopes and wish all my friends who send forwards would be. I have introduced many of them to that web site.
    Thanks for all the good you do DAve! Keep up the good work.
    JV

  2. Thought you might be interested in a new scam: companies charging your phone bill for services you never ordered. I just found $230 worth of charges, from 8/09 – 4/10, from 3 companies on my Verizon bill, from outfits called ILD Teleservices, ESBI and Integretel. All in small amounts from $8.94 – $15.95. Apparently, once a company gets your phone #, they can bill you thru Verizon and other phone companies. I never noticed these small charges because – they were small and I never knew scammers could do this. But now I know they can. Now I'll always examine all of my bills with a fine-toothed comb, even from the utility companies.