VIDEO: Watchdog Nation visits Southlake Library on Oct. 27, 2011

In this fun James Bond-spoof, Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber – founder of Watchdog Nation – invites the public to a free public workshop at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 at Southlake Public Library, 1400 Main Street. Fight back and win against the scoundrels. Learn how to save time, money and aggravation for the rest of your life!

Google change may make it easier for consumers to find accurate information

For most people, checking a company, a product or a service on the Internet begins with typing its name into a Google search engine box. Consumers hope for accurate information that will enlighten them and help save money.

But some companies, or the search engine marketing companies they hire, learned to game Google to dominate results with what they want consumers to see.

Studies show that very few people venture past the first page of search results, so manipulating the search rankings can give a huge advantage. It could drive Web traffic to a seller’s site — or bury damaging information.

In recent weeks, though, Google has cracked down on several search engine optimization practices it deems unethical and retooled its mathematical search formula.

The popular website Overstock.com was penalized with lower Web rankings after Google learned that it had offered discounts to college students and faculty members who put links to the company on their education-related Web pages.

Google treated links from pages that contain the domain name of .edu more seriously because they are from the academic, not commercial, community.

Google also penalized J.C. Penney’s retail website after it learned that a company hired to perform SEO for the website gamed the search system in another way. The outside company paid for links to J.C. Penney’s site from other websites worldwide.

More incoming links to Web pages lead to a higher Google ranking. Google doesn’t want businesses to buy these incoming links. That gives those who pay an unfair advantage. Yet it happens all the time. (Read what Google says about this on its blog here.)

J.C. Penney spokeswoman Darcie M. Brossart says her company did not know that the SEO practice was occurring. Penney fired the SEO company, is working to remove the offending links and “instituted more rigorous internal controls over our search program to ensure future compliance,” she said.

Google made a third change last month, its biggest in years, in its secret search formula. The change, Google says, is designed to reduce the rankings of junk Web pages that rarely offered relevant answers to users.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber column first learned, this is a significant advance for consumers.

Before the recent changes, when I tried to research vending machine company Planet Antares on Google and other search engines, the results had turned up meaningless Web pages. Watchdog Nation readers might remember Planet Antares as the company that sent me an invitation to a hotel sales seminar — even sent me flowers the day before — but kicked me out of the hotel and ordered me not to write about it when it learned about my column.  (Read this funny and memorable story here.)

The Office Deli Refreshmen Center

Critical postings about the company were buried deep in the Internet rankings. Consumers would have to dig past the first pages to learn, for instance, that the Federal Trade Commission fined the company $1 million in 1996 for misrepresenting potential earnings of prospective vending machine distributors and using shills as phony references.

Now, after Google’s search cleanup, such information is easier to spot. If you search for the company’s name, some junk postings remain, but more important pages, including a link to the Better Business Bureau’s website — http://www.trustlink.org/Reviews/Planet-Antares-Inc-205711200 — rank much higher.

When I called Planet Antares to ask officials about this, some of its various phone numbers were disconnected. One kept me on hold, but no one came to the phone.

In court papers filed in a California lawsuit, owner Dana Bashor stated in December that the company is “remaining open in order to service its clients until other arrangements can be made.”

Tony Wright, former president of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association and owner of reputation-management company WrightIMC.com, analyzed Planet Antares’ Google results for me. He said that someone had created a number of websites built around the phrase “Planet Antares scam.” Until the recent changes, anyone who searched for those words would have quickly found postings in the company’s favor, he says.

Headlines included: “Planet Antares Tips for Avoiding Vending Machine Scams” and “Planet Antares Awareness Program on Vending Scams.”

Those stories have now dropped in the rankings. “I do believe the Google algorithm change probably affected Planet Antares’ listing,” Wright says.

Watchdog lesson here: When researching a product, service, individual or company (a requirement for all citizens of my Watchdog Nation), you must go past early results and drill much deeper.

# # #

One of the many sites used by Planet Antares has apparently been hijacked by its previous webmaster. The writer, listed as Chris, lays out how his view about how the company managed its Internet reputation on this page:

Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is available in hardcover, as a CD audio book, ebook and hey, what else do you need. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Listen to this fun interview!

Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation is shared with thousands of listeners across America on Robin Young’s popular radio show, Here & Now. The show is heard on more than 160 public radio stations across America.

Listen here 

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Dave Lieber

Robin Young

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

Watchdog Nation Changes Lives/Two People Who Learned to Fight Back

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE STORY BEHIND THE RADIO INTERVIEW

A producer at a national talk radio show recently got bit by a common scam. She signed up for a low-priced teeth whitening product on the Internet and then got hit with excessive charges on her credit card. She tried for weeks to cancel.

Producer Karen Pelland decided to turn her bad fortune into good journalism. She produced a segment on the scam for her show, Here & Now. The show is created at WBUR-FM in Boston and heard on more than 160 public radio stations across the nation.

She searched the Internet and found these two Dave Lieber Watchdog Nation reports on teeth whitening:

Trial offers are trouble: Watch out for teeth whiteners sold on the Internet

Dentists angry about non-dental teeth whitening clinics

Dave Lieber was invited on the show. When Dave talked to host Robin Young on air, they explored the producer’s smart handling of her scam. (She got her money back!) Robin and Dave also talked about many other scams popular in America and how to beat them. Do you know that the garage door repair business is beset with overcharging repairmen? That companies advertising free credit scores usually charge? That these days even middle school students are getting scammed?

Do you know why most scammers get away with it? Do you know how to prevent getting scammed? Or if you do get scammed, do you know how to get relief?

Listen to the fun radio interview here.

[audio:hereandnow_0708_2.mp3]

Robin Young web links:

Here’s Robin Young’s Here & Now show.

Here’s the Public Radio International story about this Dave Lieber interview.

# #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new revised and expanded edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is available in hardcover,  an e-Book and a multi-set CD.

Save time, money and aggravation. This book changes lives. That’s why it won two national book awards in 2009 for social change.

Shop for the new 2012 revised edition at Dave Lieber’s Yankee Cowboy Store and, of course, world headquarters at WatchdogNation.com.

– – – – – –

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

Watchdog Nation Changes Lives: Two People Who Learned to Fight Back

Watchdog Nation is changing the way people protect themselves.

Watchdog Nation sets you up for the rest of your life. With simple steps that take only a second and are free, you can know that you are making the right decisions.

Terry Martin of Euless, Texas writes to Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber:

“I know you must get dozens of letters each day in regards to the big corporate  companies and their incompetence. I have read your book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation. And the one thing that struck a nerve with me is: never give up. The stories in your book had so much common sense, and I admired the way you helped the victims find a fair and ethical way or relief from all of their problems.

“Dave, your book inspired me to fight AT&T. I never gave up. It was a long and tedious fight, but I feel I won the battle. Thank you again for all the help and inspiration you gave me. Sincerely, A Huge Fan, Terry Martin.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Tim Durkin writes to Watchdog Nation:

“I just finished listening to your multi-CD audio book of Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation, just in time to learn how to handle an emergency where I live, thank goodness.

“My next door neighbor rang my bell at midnight. She told me the glass on her front door was shattered and the wood was splintered. She worried that someone had broken into her house.  We called the police.

“The robbers had torn off her electric meter to disable any alarm, and then kicked in her door and helped themselves to everything they wanted. They did this in broad daylight.

“Because I had finished the Watchdog Nation audio book and was enjoying my new honorary citizenship, I knew what to do. I immediately began an Internet search to find the strongest deadbolts and locksets. I kept reading until I found a video for Strikemaster Pro II which affords steel protection to any door frame, which is the weakest part of a door. I was amazed when I placed and order and the owner of the company called.

“Ed Anderson is passionate about trying to keep the bad guys out of your house. Anyone who has been robbed will tell you that losing their possessions is one thing but losing their piece of mind is really the bigger thing.

“I installed my Strikemaster in about 10 minutes. And when I told Ed about my neighbor and how she lost her family photos in the burglary, he asked if it would be OK if he sent my neighbor a free Strikemaster.

“My point is that your Watchdog Nation inspired me to quickly search for the  best and most inexpensive solution to solve my problem and my neighbor’s. I buy into it. It works. I can’t wait until the next problem. OK, not really. Best wishes, Tim Durkin.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

dmnsmalltwitter1small

wdn1smallyoutube2small

fb1smallgplussmall

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites:

Personal: YankeeCowboy.com

Hipster site: DaveLieber.org

Protect your elderly parents from financial exploitation

Her father is 91 and still sharp, she says. He didn’t retire until a year ago. Then Nannette Samuelson and her brothers and sisters took control of his and their mother’s finances.

They didn’t like what they found.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong helps people save money

An alarm salesman had pressured their dad, who lives in Fort Worth, Tx., into signing a contract he didn’t want. Hucksters seeking investors pursued him like prey. And then there was the credit card bill with 200 percent interest and an identity theft service he didn’t know he had bought.

Samuelson contacted me about the interest. She had recently studied interest rates in school and the 200 percent surprised her. After raising her children, she is earning a Master of Business Administration.

As more Americans take control of elderly parents’ finances, they are often surprised to learn how many face a barrage of unsavory financial opportunities and come-ons.

The alarm salesman showed up at her father’s door around dinnertime. He wouldn’t leave until the older man had signed a contract. As soon as he had, a team waiting outside installed the system.

The couple’s children later called the company to complain. It backed off and removed the alarm. “We got the money back, and now we have holes in the wall,” she says.

The ones who seek money for investments “call him up and hound him,” the daughter says. “And then a FedEx truck arrives at his house with forms. ‘Sign here and give us a check for this amount,’ and the FedEx guy takes it back.”

The couple’s children have tried to get some of the investments refunded. They hired a lawyer to write demand letters. Usually, there’s no response.

The daughter, embarrassed to reveal the actual amount, says more than $10,000 has been lost.

I was curious about the 200 percent interest rate on the year-old Shell gas credit card bill. The card is issued by Citi Cards, and a spokeswoman told me what happened. The bill had two monthly charges of $6.95 for the ID protection. Add to that a $2 monthly minimum finance charge. So the charge and the regular interest rate combined for 200 percent, the spokeswoman said.

As of July, credit card rules approved by the Federal Reserve require that bills show only the regular annual percentage rate, without added fees or charges. The bill must show additional fees in a separate box. Previously, the annual percentage rate included any additional fees.

The Federal Reserve made the change after asking consumers how to make credit card statements easier to understand. By separating fees from the listed interest rate — instead of combining them — Fed leaders hoped that the change would help.

But Samuelson says: “The change went the opposite way of being transparent. They’re not really charging you 15 percent interest if they charge you $2 on $13.90.”

She made sure her father’s monthly ID protection package was removed. She’s now on the lookout for the next trouble spot.

“In my MBA classes, they talk about ethical behavior and how to bring value to your customer,” she says, laughing. “And I come home and see these companies that prey on elderly people. It’s kind of the opposite of what I’m learning in the classes I’m taking.”

# # #

Read previous Watchdog Nation reports on senior scams:

Fighting financial exploitation of the elderly

Company that preyed on senior citizens forced to make restitution

An indictment for him, and a turning point for me

# # #

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

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Watchdog Nation’s oldest citizen celebrates her 100th birthday

Of all the people Watchdog Nation has tried to help in the past several years, Ruth Wingfield is our favorite.

Today, she celebrates her 100th birthday. That officially makes her the oldest citizen of Watchdog Nation in the world today.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

I know she’s a citizen of Watchdog Nation because whenever she gets angry at someone trying to rip her off, her first instinct, after calling me, is to demand: “WHO REGULATES YOU? I’M GOING TO FILE A COMPLAINT.”

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

I met her in 2008 when Cigna, her health insurance company, did her a big bowl of wrong. She wrote a $4.80 check she owed them. But then, at 98 years old, she put the decimal point in the wrong place. She wrote the check for $480. And when she complained later, the company refused to give her the money back. They said it could take a month or more.

Here’s the story I told earlier of how she got her back money.

At the time, she couldn’t remember my name was Watchdog, so she called me “Dogpatch Guy” — and I put that in the story.  For weeks afterward,  people called me “Dogpatch Guy.”

“I put you on the map,” she jokes.

Anyway, she’s been ripped off before, and she doesn’t like it. Somebody cashed out one of her insurance policies years ago (without her knowledge), and the agent involved was fired. She also got angry after she received a free cell phone but later learned she had to pay large bills. She also bought a phone for hard-of-hearing adults that turned out to be a dud, too. So she’s real suspicious.

Maybe that’s why she’s lived to be 100.

In the video box at the top of this post, shot on her birthday, she tells about her latest escapade.


Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Ruth Wingfield, 100, and the dude she calls "Dogpatch Guy"


# # #

Final note: Wingfield was an outstanding semi-pro women’s basketball player in the 1930s. She played with the legendary Hazel Scott. Last week, Nancy Lieberman, probably the greatest American woman’s basketball player alive today, presented Wingfield with a cake and an autographed basketball.

# # #

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

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Fighting financial exploitation of elderly

I keep meeting older adults who have lost money in exploitative financial investments.

There was the financial adviser who convinced his clients to invest $50,000 in a life settlements, but the company they invested in was put out of business by state regulators. Read that here.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong helps people save money

There was the 79-year-old man who lost $20,000 to an ex-convict in a home foundation scam. Read that here.

There were the retired teachers getting hit with postcards enticing them to invest in financial instruments that are loaded with excess fees. Read that here.

As I continue to research why the elderly are so vulnerable, I receive troubling letters from adult children of older adults.

Christine writes me that her father fell for a Jamaican prize scam and lost $50,000. “He is so upset with the final realization that he lost all of his money that he won’t let me help him,” she writes.

Annette writes that her father lives alone and is inundated with mail announcing that he has won lotteries, sweepstakes and other contests. All he has to do is send money to claim the rest of the prize. “He believes the windfall of money will land in his mailbox,” she writes. “This encompasses his daily life. It’s all he talks about, the money he is waiting for.” But it never comes.

There’s a name for this: elder investment fraud and financial exploitation. Although the problem is expected to get worse as more Americans grow older, initial signs are that one possible solution is coming out of Texas.

A pilot program originated by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston looks at how older adults may lose some mental abilities that helped them avoid risky situations. The medical term is cognitive impairment, and one-third of all adults older than 71 show some signs of it.

Couple that with a strong desire for more money, as shown by Christine’s and Annette’s fathers, and you’ve got the making of a financial catastrophe.

The Baylor program trains Texas doctors to detect warning signs of mental impairment that may make people susceptible to fraud. The doctors are shown how to report what they find to authorities such as the Texas State Securities Board and Adult Protective Services.

The experiment has its roots in a revelation by former Securities and Exchange Commissioner Christopher Cox. He said a few years ago that his elderly mother, besieged by throat cancer and unable to talk, was pestered by salesmen with a barrage of annuity schemes and bad mortgage offers.

“Even though my father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the brokers would prey upon him as well,” Cox said.

The products horrified Cox: They included annuities with huge penalties and a low-rate 30-year mortgage with a short-term loan that had a balloon payment and a teaser rate.

“That would have cost my parents their home when it came due,” Cox said.

Robert Roush, an associate professor of geriatrics at Baylor, heard about Cox’s statements and decided to pursue the matter as a field of study.

He learned that older adults can be especially susceptible to schemes where the true penalties of the investment are hidden in fine print. As adults grow older, they may take greater risks. Cognitive impairment is found in half of all adults older than 85, some researchers say.

When baby boomers reach senior citizen status, 1 in 5 Americans will be older than 65.

“We’ve got a large, growing population that is going to roughly double in the next 20 years,” Roush said. “It will change the way this country operates.”

He wants to change the way older adults are protected, too. His project is growing. Regulators from 30 states, including the Texas State Securities Board, have joined.

The program is built around red-flag questions that a doctor can ask a patient. Samples from the project’s Clinician’s Pocket Guide include: Who manages your money day to day? How is that going? Do you regret or worry about financial decisions you’ve recently made?

In Texas, almost 70 doctors participated in the study. About half reported to state authorities that they encountered potential victims before they were hurt and, in some cases, after they lost money.

June 15 was designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Investor Protection Trust released a study that day showing that 1 in 5 Americans 65 and over has been victimized by financial fraud. That’s 7 million people.

During his research, Roush learned about older adults hurt through cellphone contracts, credit card offers, car loans and “on almost every financial transaction you can think of.”

“If there’s a hell, those scammers are the ones that will burn the hottest,” he said. “At least I hope so.”

His project, if successful, may turn up the heat on them here, too.

# # #

WARNING SIGNS:

You run out of money by the end of the month.

You regret or worry about financial decisions.

Your bills are confusing, and you have trouble paying them.

You don’t feel confident making big decisions alone.

You don’t understand financial decisions others are making for you.

You give loans or gifts that you can’t afford.

Your children are pressuring you to give them money or change your will.

Someone is accessing your accounts, and money is disappearing.

You can’t reach your financial adviser.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine’s Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center.

# # #

RESOURCES:

Here’s the “Pocket Guide on Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation.”

Research investment advisors at the Securities and Exchange Commission website here.

Spend some time at the National Committee for Prevention of Elder Abuse website.

Learn about the Duke University student that shows that one in three people over 70 have memory impairment

Read about the Investor Protection Trust study that showed  that one out of five Americans older than 65 have been victimized by financial fraud.

# # #

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

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Assumptions kick our butt

The same dude, George Santayana, who said the most quoted line in the world (“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”) also said: “That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions.”

Dig that. But what about assumptions themselves?

I’ve narrowed down, in my continuing study of consumer boo-boos, that one of the most overlooked errors committed by anyone who buys something at least once a day (all of us!) is that we assume things when we shouldn’t.

We live in a world of assumptions. We believe what store products tell us on the label. We listen when our doctor says there’s something wrong with us. We assume the experts know what they’re talking about.

Assumptions kick our ass.


Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation shows Americans how to fight back and win.

Joseph Nguyen got his butt kicked by an assumption. He assumed his spare tire fit all the wheels on his Toyota Camry. It didn't. He spent several hours stuck on an interstate overpass in the hot Texas summer.


In today’s marketplace, the product box may say “Deluxe” or “Premium” — but it’s really not. Deluxe and Premium are now bottom rung. Corporate language is used to confuse as much as to inform.

I remember that I assumed that the company from which I bought a check stamp years ago was still the same honest company when I recently ordered a new stamp from them. By then, though, the company was in the business of taking money, but not fulfilling orders.

Not until I involved my bank, the California state police, two local police departments, the California attorney general and the Better Business Bureau did I get my money back. Then one day a new stamp arrived in an unmarked envelope. By then, I already bought one somewhere else.

I assumed.

Joseph Nguyen assumed that his spare tire was the right one for his Toyota Camry. It had worked once before when he had a flat rear tire. But this time it was a front tire, and that made all the difference.

He got a flat tire in the worst way. It shouldn’t have been a problem. He’s a mechanic for Lockheed Martin.

He was driving his 2004 Toyota Camry on the overpass that takes motorists from Interstate 30 East near downtown Fort Worth to Interstate 35W North. Nguyen was about four stories above the ground, coming down the slope that’s like a roller-coaster ride.

“I hear a pop. The car is shaking. I stop and pull over.”

Hole in the right front tire. He removed the spare tire from the trunk and jacked up the car.

It was 4 p.m. July 7. Traffic backed up. Nguyen and his car were on the shoulder of the treacherous ramp. No shade. Temperature in the 90s.

And the spare wouldn’t align with the bolts on his wheel. Although the mechanic had once used the spare for a flat rear tire, this time he couldn’t make it fit.

He was frustrated — and thirsty. He called 911. “I need some water,” he said. A dispatcher promised help.

A half-hour later, two police cars arrived. An officer tried to change the tire. “It’s not the right one,” he agreed. Police called for a tow.

A fire truck arrived, answering a call about a dehydrated man stuck on the ramp. A firefighter gave him water.

Then an ambulance arrived. Nguyen was shaky. A paramedic gave him more water.

It was now rush hour. Traffic backed up for as far as Nguyen could see. Two police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance didn’t help the traffic problem.

“I’m real mad,” he said. “I stay in the car and turn on the air conditioning. Because I have water, I feel better. And I wait for the tow truck.”

At 6:30 p.m., after 21/2 hours, a tow truck arrived. By the time the truck towed his car to the repair shop, it was closed. The car was towed to his home.

Nguyen next called Toyota’s U.S. headquarters in California. He was told to call his area dealership. Nguyen visited Freeman Toyota. His invoice states, “Spare tire is a size 15 and vehicle recommendation [is] for a size 16.” Freeman sent him to Vandergriff Toyota, where Nguyen bought the car four years ago, used, with 4,000 miles.

Under most state laws, used cars are sold “as is” unless the seller offers an added return policy or warranty. In this case, after four years, Vandergriff Toyota is under no obligation to do anything for Nguyen.

Still, Vandergriff gave him a new spare for free.

Vandergriff customer relations manager Radonna Gritten says the reason is that the dealership wants used-car buyers “to be just as happy” as new-car buyers.

“I have apologized to Mr. Nguyen, but he’s very adamant,” she said.

Nguyen is asking Vandergriff to also pay his $200 towing bill and $35 rental-car charge. He hasn’t received an answer.

Gritten gave it to me: “The fact that this was four years later threw me off. I do realize he is requesting we pay his tow bill. From what I understand, we’re not going to do that.”

What happened here? My guess is that before the used car was sold, someone put the wrong-size spare in the trunk and at least one improper-size wheel on the car. A Camry uses 16-inch tires. But a 15-inch spare worked on one of his wheels and not on another.

Because he used the spare once, he assumed the spare would work for all four tires.

“Most of the time, your spare tire fits all four,” Gritten said.

For Nguyen, the dominoes keep falling. To replace the one bad tire, because of uneven wear on the others, “I had to buy all four new tires.” Another $535.

This story reminds us to challenge our assumptions. We assume the spare tire will fit. The jack will work. We figure the fire extinguisher in the kitchen will spray and the backup valve on the water heater will hold. Our assumptions sometimes get us in trouble.

“Check the spare before you go on vacation,” Nguyen said. “Make sure you have the right one. You never know what’s going to happen on the freeway or wherever.”

Yes, that life is worth living is a grand assumption. But false assumptions can make you feel the other way.

Watchdog Nation advises: Now is NOT the time to assume anything anymore from anybody.

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

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

BOOK REVIEW: Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

By Maggie Dwyer

[This review originally appeared on author Maggie Dwyer’s Two Cents At A Time website here.]

Yankee Cowboy Publishing, Keller, Texas, 2010, Second Edition (Revised & Expanded)

$20, and worth every penny.

ISBN-10: 0970853025

ISBN-13: 978-0970853028

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation pays for itself many times over with simple savings ideas, book reviewer Maggie Dwyer writes.

Book reviewer Maggie Dwyer

I’ve been meaning to write this book review for a while, and kept putting it off. Partly because I was busy using the book myself. Since I started following these tips of Lieber’s closely I have changed my phone company, my electric company, and my Internet service. In those few acts alone I’ve paid for the book several times over. But the thing that set me to writing finally was a story a friend told me last week that made me want to kick something. Like a crooked roofing contractor.

My friend has been living in straightened circumstances for a number of years, getting by, but putting off a lot of things that needed doing. Finally, he could no longer put off having his flat-roofed Frank Lloyd Wright-style bungalow re-roofed. I had a real good one to recommend, who has done work for me a couple of times, and came to me via a contractor friend who has also worked for me a couple of times. My neighbors have also used and liked him. Word of mouth and satisfied customers is a good way to find a roofer. But my friend was trying to cut corners so he took the lowball bid from a guy who knew someone he knew. . . not a great introduction.

That job was slow, it was sloppy, and when torrential rains during the job got the house wet, everything turned musty and damp, and tar dripped down spots the inside walls. They didn’t finish promptly, they actually didn’t finish it. The rocks that need to be taken onto the roof are still in the side yard. The roofer had no insurance to pay for the damage to the house.

The worst (you mean, that’s not bad enough?) was discovered last week. The roofers (the only people allowed in this otherwise locked yard with very tall fences and gates) stole several expensive items. The theft was disguised by simply leaving behind the boxes and cases. A new pool pump, a good circular saw, the only evidence of their original habitation there are their empty boxes. Had my friend followed my recommendation, he would have had the job done for about the same quote as this fly-by-night roofer. And he wouldn’t have been out the hardware around the house or all of the time and expense of repairing the house now.

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.I’m sorry I didn’t write this review earlier, because I would have sent a copy of it to my friend and said “Do what Dave suggests – look at the local reviews, check with the BBB (Better Business Bureau), get personal recommendations from people you trust.” The bid price isn’t a bargain if the job isn’t done right, isn’t done at all, or is done so wrong as to cause more damage than a simply leaking roof will do.

I’ve sent copies of pages of this book to people. My brother received the pages (114-15) to do with complaining to the post office. It turns out that you CAN complain, you don’t have to take the desk clerk’s shrugged “that’s tough, you only paid for Priority, it wasn’t insured,” when you complain about something that went wrong that was under their control. (It seems the Artesia, CA, post office has a special drop-kick-and-thrash machine for both envelopes and packages, and special delay of weeks on delivering Priority mail.)

There was a woman at Lowe’s hardware in Fort Worth, TX, who was buying fans, and mentioned, “I have to set up an electric company in this new house. I suppose I’m stuck with TXU.” The clerk and I simultaneously said “NO!” but I was the one who was able to tell her how to do a good search to make a choice – “Go to Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation (watchdognation.com) web site and look for his articles about how to choose an electric company.”

Dave Lieber is the consumer advocate columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and he solves this kind of problem and shares the whys and wherefores with his readers for a living. This guy is good. He’s smart, he’s efficient, and I bet when he phones and has someone by the short hairs because of their company’s poor customer service, he’s a bit of a pain in the ass (though I do believe him when he says he tries really hard to be super polite, because he records his calls and if he needs to use them as evidence, he doesn’t want to sound like the bully in the conversation). And that old honey versus vinegar thing. I wish I had his discipline – I’ve had to hang up on some of these folks, telling them “I’m so angry at you I can’t be polite any more. Goodbye.” At least I learned from Dave to stop before I became rude, not slog forward and accomplish little.

Early in the book Lieber notes that 15 minutes a day to solve some of these problems may be the way to pace yourself, to not feel overwhelmed if you have several issues to solve. That’s a good strategy. And keep a separate folder and page of notes for each business and each call. Take names, real names, if possible.

I’ve glossed over a few of the tricks that Dave Lieber discusses in this little gem of a book. You’ll have to read it to find his descriptions of how to make these techniques work. His chapters are each no longer than a typical newspaper column, so you can read through this book a short chapter at a time, or read through it cover to cover in one sitting.

I still have work to do – my local Fort Worth cable company has the most obtuse billing system and the most inefficient customer service clerks I’ve ever encountered. Just try to get a credit to show up on your bill. They apply it to the “taxes and other charges” but it never seems to actually make the balance drop. So I’m still working on that. And on that, my best contact method is another one of Dave’s recommendations (and at least they’re pleasant to talk to, if their efforts still go for naught) is to type my frustration regarding this company into a line of my Twitter feed. Use the pound sign (hashmark) # with no space before the company name to make it easier for them to find your remarks. They’ll usually figure out who you are and actually call pretty quickly. I’ve heard from them within 30 minutes. Who knew?

One of the other really important things Dave comments on is to say “thank you” when it due. I’ve used tweets and written blog entries where appropriate to do just that. So this book review is also a blog entry and a “thank you” to Dave Lieber for a job really well done. I’m happy with the choices I’ve made, but I don’t feel obligated to stay with these companies forever and ever, if they do me wrong. That’s a good lesson!

Now, go ask a bunch of questions!

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

# # #

Maggie Dwyer of Fort Worth, Texas is a writer and web designer at University of Texas at Arlington Library. She’s a former park ranger naturalist and an avid organic gardener.

Follow Maggie Dwyer’s blog here.

Follow her “A Woman of Many Parts” blog here.

Follow Maggie Dwyer on Twitter @Maggie_Dwyer

Watchdog Nation book named “one of top 10 consumer books of 2009”

Many thanks to Rita Robison for naming Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation as one of the top 10 consumer books in 2009.

Just in time for the new revised and expanded 2010 edition which goes on sale today.


Dave Lieber's book, Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation, was named one of the top 10 consumer books of 2009

Dave Lieber's book, Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation, was named one of the top 10 consumer books of 2009. Is this the Oscars of consumer reporting?


Here’s her list:

# # #

Did you read any helpful or inspiring consumer books during 2009?

Below are my choices for the best consumer books of the year. You can order them through my blog by clicking on the Amazon.com ad in the right column.

1. “2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe and Sound” by Suze Orman. A plain-talking guide on how to take care of yourself during the recession and beyond.

2. “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care” by T.R. Reid. The Washington Post foreign correspondent traveled to Japan, Germany, France, Britain, and other countries to gather information on health care systems, using an old shoulder injury as a way to compare treatment plans.

3. “Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America” by Nomi Prins. The former investment banker describes how America got into its historic financial mess and how long it’s going to take to recover.

4. “Is America Driving You Crazy?” by Stephen Bezruchka, M.D. The University of Washington professor and emergency room physician says antidepressants are making Americans worse not better.

5. “Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth” by David Korten. Korten, cofounder of the Positive Futures Network which publishes Yes! Magazine, believes in the new economy, Wall Street will be shut down.

6. “Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression” by Morris Dickstein. A survey of the economics, politics, arts, daily life, and social legacy of the 1930s.

7. “Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong” by Dave Lieber. An award-winning guide to help you protect yourself as a consumer.

8. “Food Alert: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Food Safety” by Morton Satin. A guide to foodborne illnesses and how to prevent them.

9. “Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs” by Melody Petersen. The former New York Times reporter examines the pharmaceutical industry, and its influence on America’s medical system.

10. “Beyond Work: How Accomplished People Retire Successfully” by Bill Roiter. The psychologist and executive coach describes how people can transition from the 40-plus years as a career-focused adult and build new adult lives in which they evaluate their options and determine how they can develop personally fulfilling lives outside of work.

Add these consumer books to your library to improve help you improve your consumer choices.

Disclosure: When you order books through my blog on Amazon.com, I receive a small commission.

Copyright 2009, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist