Consumer Protection and Financial Tips for the New Year
If you are like me, it seems like you get at least one scam call or text daily, often multiple. These scammers seek to catch people unaware, asking them to submit private information or go to a website that will hack into your computer or mobile phone to access personal information.
I want to remind you: never click on a link in an email or text message, even from someone you trust, as it might be a scam. Reply and ask if this is legitimate. Sometimes, though, the scammer might reply when someone has hacked a Facebook account. If it is suspicious, ignore the temptation to open it until you verify the message is of no threat.
The most common scam of late via text is “(phone carrier) Free Msg: bill is paid. Thanks, Here’s a little gift for you” with a web link. I decided to do some digging, and here is what I found. The good news is AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon all accept spam reports through a text report. Forward the message you received and type in the number 7726 (which spells “spam” on a phone keypad) to send it to your carrier. They will then ask for the number which contacted you with the message, and they will begin the process to investigate the scam. You should then block the number, and do not be afraid to ask for help from someone if you are technology challenged.
I have also received phone calls asking if I am interested in solar panels. I installed some in my house this past year (and love them and the savings), so I tell them each time that I already have panels. On the last call I received, the person on the other side proceeded to cuss me for wasting his time. I looked up the company to report him and found they had to put on the front page of their website not to give information to a caller as they were being used in a scam. There are several great solar companies in operation in Oklahoma and if you are interested, take advantage of the 26% tax credit offered by the federal government this year.
Let this be a lesson to never give any personal financial information out over the phone. While these scammers might know your name and address and say they are with the IRS or a company, never trust someone calling you. Always reply that you will contact the company yourself and handle the issue. I owed a late payment on a bill because I had accidentally signed up not to receive paper billing, and the company switched me back.
One final tip for savings is to ensure you have applied for either the federal or Oklahoma homestead exemption. Under our state law, property owners may exempt up to 1 acre of property in an urban area or 160 acres if it is rural (to help protect farms). Tax savings could amount up to one hundred dollars for many. Contact your county assessor this month to ensure you are signed up.
I hope these tips help you and your family. Thank you to the state and federal lawmakers working to reduce scams and provide tax benefits that help all. If you have any questions for me about any of these issues, drop a note to me at email@example.com.