Archive for the ‘Consumer info’ Category

Why you should eyeball any mysterious teensy charge on your credit-card bill

January 14, 2009

quarter.jpgIt may have been placed there by scammers.

Maybe you think: So what? It’s for, like, a quarter, give or take a few cents. If that skates under your radar, no big deal. Right?

Not necessarily so. Brian Krebs of the Washington Post, who blogs about computer security issues, says the tiny charges that have been reported by numerous people in recent weeks may indicate those accounts are dangerously compromised.

While some consumer advocates think the crooks are trying to surreptitiously steal a bunch of money by taking teensy amounts from lots of people, Krebs said it’s more likely that the crooks are using the teensy charges to test whether the accounts are good for the looting.

The charges are coming from two alleged companies called Adele Services and GFDL — though no one’s located these outfits.

If one of these unauthorized charges shows up on your credit-card statement, you should contact your card issuer pronto and consider filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.


Of Super Recycling, Acai berry come-hither offers, and Christmas wrap

January 5, 2009

I apologize for the blog’s hiatus. I was on vacation but am now back — with a bunch of topics to deal with.

So toot sweet (so to speak):

big-blue-cart1.JPG*If you regularly have way more recycling than will fit in your blue cart, you may be pleased to hear about the city’s latest offering — a mega blue recycling cart.

It’s the size of the city-provided green trash carts — 96 gallons.

That should be able to easily handle most people’s recycling each week.

One thing, though: The cart ain’t free. (Is anything?) If you want it, you’ll have to plunk down $54. For an extra $11, the city will deliver it to your house. That one-time cost will be in addition to the $42 recycling fee that residential property owners in the city are charged each year.

To order one of the super recycling carts, call the city at 433-1329 (1FAY) or stop by the city’s solid-waste department at 455 Grove St. or go to this city Web site.

The city ordered 250 of the super carts and has sold a few already. If the first batch sells out, it may order more, depending upon demand.

acai.jpg*A reader just called to recount how both she and her daughter had been taken in by an online ad for an “amazing!” weight-loss product — the currently hot, hot, hot acai berry.

J.M. said she’d seen an ad for an acai-berry product through her e-mail and decided “what the heck” and she ordered it. “Who doesn’t want to lose a few pounds?” she said.

Plus, it seemed cheap — something like $34.95 for a month’s worth of pills, plus $4.95 shipping and handling.

Then, though, she got her credit-card statement and saw she’d been billed another $80, which she said was for some kind of fitness program. Apparently, she’d missed the fine print that mentioned that was part of the deal, too — and that it would be a monthly cost.

She hadn’t realized she’d agreed to get the pills monthly, either — for another monthly fee.

After much telephoning and haranguing and discussing, J.M. got the contracts canceled but was out the first set of monthly costs. During the whole mess, she learned her daughter had, on her own, gotten unwittingly involved in a similar acai-berry program that came with extra costs.

She wanted to alert people so here: Read the fine print, people! Ask questions before you buy. Make sure you understand what you’re committing to. There are often additional costs hidden away in this kind of thing.

Here’s an ABC News reporter’s account of her and her husband’s brief foray into acai-berry programs. Here’s a brief, brief bit on the acai berry from the Mayo Clinic.

dont-burn-wrapping-paper.JPG*Speaking of recycling: Unfortunately, W.P. e-mailed me a Christmas-related recycling question after I’d already left for vacation. He wanted to know if it was OK to burn wrapping paper.

I suspect he’s dealt with his wrapping paper by now but I figured I’d get this info out anyway: No, you shouldn’t burn wrapping paper. Because it’s paper, it ignites quickly. Duh. After all, isn’t fire what you’re after?

In this case, though, the resulting fire could be so intense, so hot and so big that it ignites a fire in your chimney or in your house.

old-boombox.jpgMeanwhile, in a pre-Christmas column that I wrote before going on vacation, I told M.R. how to recycle smaller electronics, including TVs and boom boxes. Office Depot has such a program. Read the linked column for info and go to this Office Depot site for even more info about it.

Important! info! for those who never received a stimulus check

November 26, 2008

(But who think they should have received one.)

stimulus-check.jpgTime’s a-wasting if you really should have received a stimulus check this year. I’m printing the lead question from tomorrow’s column in this space today because, for you, time is of the absolute essence.

Q: How or where can one inquire why we never received the economic stimulus check? We didn’t receive a letter as was announced would happen in October with payment to follow in November. Everyone we know received their checks months ago. — D.K., Fayetteville

irs_logo.jpgA: Right after you read this answer, put any other plans on hold and go directly to the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site.

We’re not kidding.

That’s because if you really were eligible for a stimulus check this year, you have to contact the IRS by Nov. 28 —  Friday — to actually have that check mailed to you this year.

If you really were eligible, but don’t alert the agency in time, you’ll have to hope that next year you can claim a “rebate recovery credit” when you file your 2008 federal income tax return.

“Hope” you can claim a credit? Won’t they just send the money then instead of now?

Not necessarily. If your financial circumstances changed this year to the point that you’d no longer qualify for the stimulus or for as much of it as you would have based on your 2007 tax return, the payment would be adjusted accordingly. It would stink to forfeit money because you missed a deadline.

Meanwhile, just because “everyone” you know received stimulus checks months ago, that doesn’t mean you qualified for one or for the full amount. Click on the “economic stimulus payment” link on the IRS Web site to see if you really are eligible for the check.

If you are eligible for a check, you may receive $300 to $600 if you filed singly and $600 to $1,200 if you filed jointly. If you have eligible children, you may receive an extra $300 for each one.

The actual amount of your check would depend on the information on your tax return. The IRS Web site has an economic stimulus calculator that you can use to figure it out.

The letters you mentioned were sent by the IRS to about 260,000 married couples who were once denied the stimulus money because a spouse’s married name and Social Security number didn’t match. You apparently weren’t in that category.

Note: Your name isn’t on the list of checks that were sent to taxpayers but returned to the IRS as undeliverable. There were 794 of these in Cumberland County. They’re worth more than $460,000. These folks must also contact the IRS by Friday to update their address to get their check this year.

Before you contact the IRS, make sure you have at hand your Social Security number, your filing status and the number of exemptions listed on your 2007 return.

Don’t have Internet access? You can call the IRS’s economic stimulus hotline at (866) 234-2942 — but it’s not open on Thanksgiving Day. But it will be open Friday until 10 p.m.

Orange you glad?

October 30, 2008

A few readers missed last week’s column about the perennially popular topic of when the Indian River fruit truck is going to be in the area.

So here’s the pertinent info, taken from that column:

oranges.jpgAs usual, the Citrus Unlimited truck will set up shop in the parking lot of U.S. Flea Market Mall at 504 North McPherson Church Road in Fayetteville. It’ll be here from 9 to 11 a.m. on Nov. 18, Dec. 16, Jan. 13, Feb. 10 and March 10 (all Tuesdays).  It will be here from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on April 8 and May 6 (both Wednesdays).

The truck will also stop in Aberdeen on those dates. It’ll be in the parking lot of the Mount Fuji Steak House on Sandhills Boulevard from 1 to 3 p.m. for the November through March dates and from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the other dates.

It’ll be in Sanford on Nov. 14, Dec. 21, Jan. 9 and Feb. 6 — all Fridays — from 9 to 11 a.m. oranges2.jpgIt’ll also be there March 10 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. There are no April or May dates there. In Sanford, the truck sets up in the Kmart parking lot on South Horner Boulevard.

For more info, check Citrus Unlimited’s Web site or call (772) 460-6081. Citrus Unlimited sells fruit grown in the Indian River area of Florida.

You fruit cake

October 28, 2008

A&P is long gone from this area, but folks’ fond memories of the supermarket chain’s Jane Parker-brand fruit cakes live on and on and on — much the way fruit cakes do. Just kidding about that last part.

jane-parker-light-fruit-cake.jpgEvery year for many years, I’ve gotten many requests from people who want to know how to order Jane Parker fruit cakes. You used to have to call a hard-to-find toll-free number to place an order — and hope that you got yours in before the chain ran out of fruit cakes.

Now, though, A&P has entered the 20th 21st century and made it so you can order the fruit cakes online, too. Woohoo. (Thanks to Andy, who recently pointed this out.)

Go here to order a Jane Parker fruit cake. Or call (866) 443-7374.

With the energy-efficiency tax-free weekend approaching

October 27, 2008

energystar.jpgIt’s nearly upon us — it’s next weekend, from 12:01 a.m. Friday to 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

I’ve written several times about this new sales-tax holiday for purchases of certain energy-efficient appliances, including qualified clothes washers, freezers and refrigerators, central air conditioners and room air conditioners, air-source heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers and programmable thermostats.

You can read about the specifics of it here and a bit more about it here.

A couple of readers didn’t really believe me on all this. All I can say is: It’s for real. The N.C. Department of Revenue has its summary of the holiday here.

central_ac.jpgMeanwhile, you may save even more money on purchases of heating and cooling equipment through a federal tax-credit program.

In a press release, the Alliance to Save Energy says tax credits are available for certain investments in making your home more energy efficient.

They include a credit of up to $300 on the purchase and installation of a central air conditioner, heat pump, water heater, or bio gas (e.g. corn) stove. But, ASE notes, the equipment must meet stringent efficiency requirements. Not even all Energy Star products will qualify.

ASE says there is also a separate credit, through 2016, for qualified geothermal heat pumps – 30 percent of the cost, up to $2,000.

I haven’t had time to check how these federal tax-credit requirements square up with the state’s tax-holiday requirements but, if you’re making one of these purchases this weekend, you may want to. Meanwhile, if you’ve already invested in this equipment this year, you’ll want to know about the tax credit. ASE has information about it here.

energy-star-windows.jpgThere are also other federal tax credits available for certain energy-efficiency-related home improvements, which aren’t covered in the upcoming sales tax holiday.

They’re for purchases (and sometimes installation costs) of such things as insulation, exterior doors, or roofs; exterior windows, including skylights and storm windows; and a furnace or boiler. See the ASE Web site for all the details.

Money matters — boy, does it

October 10, 2008

You may have noticed I was also tackling questions in the business section this week — having to do with how the rotten stock market and its corresponding corrosive effect on the economy might affect your investments, your bank, your credit needs and your job.coaster-1.jpg

Here, I wanted to give some links to more info that you may or may not find useful as the stock market swoops steeply up or down — mostly down, though, of late.

Investment talk

money-running-away.jpgSurviving it all: Money mag suggests 9 ways to tough it out, including how to earn a yield of nearly 5%, how to “ladder” CDs for safety and income, how to know when a stock is a bargain, how to rebalance (what’s left of) your portfolio, and so forth.

401k advice: This not-unexpected advice is from an exec with a company that makes its business of advising and managing accounts in defined benefit plans.

When you’re ready to dip your toe back into the market: Yeah, some of you are saying: as if. But c’mon, you will one day. They’re chewing over ideas all over the place, including at The Motley Fool, The New York Times Economix blog, and The Street.

Bank safety

Consumer information from the FDIC: This is the agency’s gateway site for such info. FYI: Here’s the site for the N.C. Commissioner of Banks as well.

piggybank.jpgBank rating services: You can find the links to many such services here. Among the sites listed there is one operated by, which is itself a very worthy site for all kinds of consumer-oriented financial information. It has a special section devoted to ensuring that your money in the bank is safely insured by the FDIC.

Info about the federal insurance program for credit unions: This program really is backed by the federal government. You can learn all about it at this site, which is operated by the National Credit Union Administration. Here’s the site for the state agency that regulates credit unions.

Credit info

Need a credit counselor? Check the Federal Trade Commission’s tips on choosing a credit counselor first. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling represents more than 900 nonprofit credit-counseling offices around the country.

Your credit score: How to improve it and why it’s so important.

Job tips in a tough market

find-a-job.jpgIf you’re unemployed: Check in with the N.C. Employment Security Commission or, at least, the job listings on its Web site.

Wanna protect your job? Tips from a columnist at U.S. News & World Report.

Wanna stay in your career — at your same job or somewhere else? A blogger at the San Francisco Examiner offers some ideas.

If you’re looking: Tips for older job seekers, tips if you’re going to be attending job fairs, even more tips if you’re going to be attending job fairs, networking is important, but be careful how you network at online social sites.

Free antennas!

October 10, 2008

Today’s column deals with the alert that DLee gave here on the blog earlier: Yes, WRAL gives antennas away to folks in its designated market area who need that equipment to pick up a TV signal off the air.happy-tv.gif

And no, you don’t need this if you have cable or satellite service.

Go here to download the application for a free antenna.

If you want more info on the coming digital TV changeover, I’ve written about it many times here on the blog. You can do a search for “digital” and pull up a bunch of posts. Here are a couple of the most recent ones, from Sept. 17 and, well, from later that same day.

Don’t miss WRAL’s tips for receiving over-the-air digital TV.

Shareholder data lost

September 30, 2008

If you received an alarming letter recently from an unfamiliar entity calling itself BNY Mellon Shareholder Services, well, it was for real.

bny-mellon.gifThe company — part of the result of the 2007 merger of Bank of New York and Mellon Financial Corp. — works for many public companies as their stock transfer agent, their stock plan administrator and in other capacities.

As such, it maintains the personal info of all those companies’ past and present shareholders.

But in February, BNY Mellon learned that a box of tapes containing that data had been lost by the vendor who’d been archiving the info for the company. Oops.

The missing tapes contained such details as names, addresses, Social Security numbers and/or shareholder account information.

If that happened in February, why is it coming out now? It did come out in March but, at that point, BNY Mellon thought the incident affected only a few thousand people, whom it notified.

In late spring, it expanded the notification to a few million people.

In September, it expanded that notification to several million more people.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper says 248,000 North Carolinians are among them.

BNY Mellon says it has no indication that anyone’s information has been accessed or misused. But it’s offering everyone whose data was lost the chance to sign up for two free years with a credit-monitoring service called Triple Alert. The service is operated by Experian.

If you choose to place a freeze on your credit files, BNY Mellon will reimburse you the cost of one lifting of that freeze.

You have to sign up within 90 days of the date on your notification letter. For more information, check this BNY Mellon site or call (877) 289-0136.

Cooper also suggests visiting this site — operated by his office — for tips on protecting yourself from identity theft.

Deadline nearing for claims in GM class-action settlement

September 19, 2008

This has to do with GM cars that were damaged by a faulty orange coolant called Dex-Cool.

People who paid for related repairs may be eligible for a cash reimbursement.

But the claim deadline is approaching. It’s Oct. 27. For info or to make a claim, go here or call (866) 245-4291.

The settlement covers current and former owners and lessees of certain 1995-2004 model year GM vehicles with 3.1-liter, 3.4-liter, 3.8-liter or 4.3-liter engines.

The repairs had to occur within seven years or 150,000 miles (whichever is earlier) of original vehicle purchase. The repairs include intake manifold gasket replacements, cooling system flushes and heater core repairs.