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Money April 2015

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Stuff You Should Know to Keep Your Money and Your Identity Safe… Plus a Few Freebies

By Teresa Ambord

If someone approaches you, claiming to be from the fire or police department or other authority, tell them to wait outside. Then call the appropriate department, using the phone number in the phone book. Do not rely on a number provided by that person.

Jury Duty Scam

And on it goes… the old jury duty scam. I just completed yet another round of jury duty, and was told by the court clerk that the so-called jury duty scam is alive and well. Even in the rural county I call home, the court is getting reports of citizens harassed by calls that claim to be from court employees.

The calls – complete with an appropriate caller ID – seek to alarm the citizen, stating that he or she failed to appear for jury duty, and is about to be arrested. The victim is instructed that the only way to avoid certain arrest is to pay thousands of dollars in court fines immediately. Generally the caller specifies that the fine must be paid over the phone, and with a prepaid debit card… the kind you buy at the grocery store for a small fee. The caller arranges a time to call back to collect the fine, giving the victim a chance to buy the prepaid card. The details of the scam call and payment may vary.

Court officials assure us, legitimate court employees and law enforcement personnel do not contact past or prospective jurors by telephone to request information or to collect money. If you get such a call, contact the police department in your area. If you believe your identity has been compromised, also contact your credit card companies, and check your credit status by calling each of the three major credit reporting companies:

Experian 888-397-3742, TransUnion 888-909-8872, and Equifax 800-525-6285.


Knock, Knock… I’m Here from the Fire Department

A recent scam has been making its way around some retirement communities in California, and a surprising number of intelligent people have fallen for it. It’s low tech, and so far isn’t widespread, but you can bet, if it works, others will jump onboard.
Here’s how it has been used in California:

A man, dressed in a firefighter uniform knocks on the door, and informs the occupant that he is there to inspect fire alarms. After the homeowners allow him access and show him the fire alarms, he asks if he can use the bathroom. Some homeowners report that they could hear the “firefighter” rifling through cabinets, particularly the medicine cabinet. All homeowners interviewed said they did not think any drugs were taken, so presumably… they didn’t have what he was looking for. When the police and fire departments were alerted, the homeowners were told it was a scam, most likely someone seeking drugs.

Their advice?

  • Homeowners should know that if the fire department sends out staff to visit homes, they will arrive in marked vehicles (this man was in an unmarked truck).
  • Generally when the fire department does send out representatives, they are sent in pairs, not alone as this man was.
  • If someone approaches you, claiming to be from the fire or police department or other authority, tell them to wait outside. Then call the appropriate department, using the phone number in the phone book. Do not rely on a number provided by that person.


Utility Scam Revived

CBS News reported last summer about a utility scam that was circulating. The caller claims to be from the utility provider or an affiliate. That way if you say, “but I don’t have utilities through that company, I pay XYZ Gas and Electric,” the con artist simply says, “Yes, but XYZ is our affiliate.”

This fraud may be more pronounced during high heat or high cold months, when many seniors already fear their utility bills might be out of control. Beware of notices and messages that seem to be from your utility provider. I reported last summer that, after hearing utility costs were going to soar during the hot months, I got one of these fake notices by e-mail, showing a billed amount four times what I expected. I almost bought the lie… until I contacted my utility provider and was reassured that the high bill was a fake.

If you get a threatening phone call or message about an unpaid heating bill and you suspect it might be bogus, do what I did and contact your utility provider directly, using a phone number you look up yourself.



Yes, there is a growing number of scams out there… but then there are also some legitimate freebies to be found! Here are a few.

Every month I post a few birthday freebies. But you can view the whole list here:

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep these freebies updated. But just to be sure you don’t waste a trip, you might want to check with the restaurant before you go to make sure the deal is still offered. Many of these require that you print a coupon. Just think… if you have a ton of friends or a slew of grandkids, you can treat each one to a freebie on his or her birthday.

Famous Dave’s. A free dessert with the purchase of an entrée, but you need to sign up and become a “Pretty Important Pig.” Plus a free dessert for signing up.

Firehouse Subs. A free “celebratory” medium sub for your birthday. Take your I.D.

Genghis Grill gives a “free birthday bowl.” Presumably, that’s a bowl of food!

Glory Days Grill. Free Oreo sliders on your birthday, and a free order of wings jut for signing up.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa