Regardless of your age and circumstances, it’s easy to fall prey to fraudsters, high-pressure marketing tactics and “once-in-a lifetime” special offers.
It’s only human, but how can we protect ourselves and those we care about and make sure that we’re both wise and safe consumers? Here are 10 great tips to put into practice each and every day:
1) Beware of door-to-door salespeople: Especially if you live in the city, you may regularly get salespeople at your door selling things like vacuum cleaners, chair lifts or other items that may or may not be of interest to you. It is important to ask for identification before opening your door, and also to be ready to say “no” if you are not interested. Salespeople can sometimes be quite persuasive: Buyer beware!
2) Protect your privacy: To stop telemarketers from invading your privacy when they are not wanted, you can get call display service on your telephone so you know who is calling, and can also block your number on a telemarketing list by registering your number on the National Do Not Call List (DNCL). A third option is to let calls go to an answering machine if you are unsure who it is or if the timing is not convenient to you. Like door-to-door salespeople, telemarketers are trained to be persistent; you need to be ready to say “no” if you are not interested.
3) Don’t fall for personalized junk mail: Sometimes you may receive mail addressed to you, perhaps telling you that you’ve won something. No you haven’t. It is more often than not a scam to get you to read further and sign up for something you may not want. An example might be that you have won a free trip—the catch is that you have to agree to view a time-share home while you are on the trip (and endure the high-pressure sales pitch), or the “free” trip doesn’t cover the cost of airfare or other expenses you will incur. All in all, the “you have won” mail is best discarded before opening.
4) Donate to the charities you choose: Charitable donations are helpful to the recipient and rewarding to the giver. However, be sure you are donating to a cause you feel strongly about and in an amount that is within your financial means. And arrange the donation in a way that works for you: For example, regular gifts to your local church can be made more manageable if they come out of your bank account automatically.
If you wish to make a donation upon someone’s death, feel free to donate to the organization of your choice if the charities suggested don’t meet your needs.
5) Remember…it’s okay to say no: When you are at the checkout counter, you may be asked to donate to a specific fundraiser. You might feel embarrassed to say no, but don’t be: The answer doesn’t always have to be yes, especially when you may have already chosen other worthwhile causes.
6) If an offer seems too good to be true—it probably is! It is so important to read the fine print of any offer you receive, to ensure that the “deal” is in fact a “good deal.” For example, if you are shopping for a large-ticket item or a home repair, be sure to get formal, signed quotes for the work to be done, which should include all potential costs such as labour and materials. You don’t want any surprises upon completion of the job.
7) Beware of contractors who “just happen to be in the area”: Maybe they’re paving a neighbour’s driveway or putting a new roof on a house down the block. Don’t be pressured or worried if they say serious work needs to be done on your home. If you have already been thinking about getting this work done, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a written quote—but don’t proceed without checking them out carefully. Don’t be lured by discounts or “time-limited offers.” Caution trumps convenience at times like this.
8) Ask others: Getting advice from friends and family is free, and can be invaluable. Get their input on how they found a purchase, or on a trip you’re considering. What is the best way to travel to the location? Which hotel will give you the best value? Listen to all the advice you receive and weigh it up—you’re still the one making the decision in the end.
9) Research major purchases: If you have to make a big purchase such as an automobile or a large appliance, shop around for the best price and warranty or service program. Also check Consumer Reports online or at the library to find out what others have said about the product. Look for what suits your needs and your wallet. For example, if you want a smaller fridge, you can visit a smaller local appliance store that carries more traditional makes and models.
10) Buy and live within your means: It is very easy in today’s busy world to buy things—there are so many choices, and so many avenues for making a purchase. Staying within one’s means can be tricky, too, when you feel pressured to buy something you may not need. For example, you might be encouraged to buy a new washer and dryer as a pair when you really only need a new washer. Buying groceries or household needs at warehouse outlets can also cause you to stray over the budgetary line, because you have to pay a fee to become a “member,” and because the product sizes may exceed your needs. Buying in bulk is beneficial, if it is something you need and can afford, or that can be used before its best-before date. Some people find it pays to share a membership at these outlets and buy things that can then be divided up among them.
In closing, be sure to take your time before you make decisions and don’t feel pressured by deadlines or sales personnel. Know that the most common type of fraud involves credit card fraud, so keep your card and purchase receipts in a safe place. Don’t let your mail pile up and check bills and statements so that you can report any errors right away.
It pays to be careful and err on the side of caution, after all.
Deb Jenkins, RN, BScN, MN, is a long-term care nurse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.