Archive for Scams

Watching Holmes On Holmes Might Save You A Lot Of Money

Posted in Entertainment, Personal, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Mike Holmes, star of the show about renovations gone wrong -- Holmes on Holmes

Since I started my home renovation almost three years ago, I’ve found myself watching a lot of programming on HGTV and their sister channel, DIY.  On a lot of these shows, I’ve seen ordinary people — not trained or licensed in home remodeling or repair — tackling a number of hefty projects around their houses and making it look (relatively) easy in the process.

But it’s not anywhere near that easy for people to do a lot of that kind of work – something I’ve found out numerous times during my own project.  In cases where the job was overly complex, or required skills beyond our capability — like the plumbing or our bathroom tiling jobs, for example — we hired out skilled contractors to handle the jobs for us.  When it’s something that’s crucially vital to the safety and security of your home, hiring a professional should be the safest way to go, right?

Except it’s not.  I’m thankful that the people we hired were tremendously professional and did the jobs they were hired for in a timely fashion and correctly (according to the codes and standards required by the state), but it’s a fact that there are a lot of contractors out there who don’t know what they’re doing at all, or who bite off jobs that are well beyond the scope of what they’re capable of doing — and the homeowners who hire them often find themselves in situations that leave them with structural problems, unfinished jobs, and safety issues — all while costing them ungodly amounts of money in the process.

My education as to how prevalent these situations actually are has been coming lately from the HGTV show Holmes on Holmes, the current season premiere of which will air on HGTV Sunday night at 9:00 ET.  The show, which originated in Canada, follows around contractor Mike Holmes as he attempts to repair and fix botched jobs by contractors who range from the inept to the flat-out unethical.  The show has been one of the highest-rated shows on HGTV Canada during its run, and it’s been running almost daily in the afternoon on HGTV the last couple of weeks, where I’ve been able to catch it.

Needless to say, the show has been a complete eye-opener.  In episode after episode, I’ve watched families whose lives had been driven almost to ruin, whose finances had been all but wiped out, by contractors who either couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do the job properly.  There have been examples of contractors who literally stole tens of thousands of dollars from helpless homeowners, often leaving them with houses that were in ruin and — in some cases — unsafe to live in.  In every one of those cases, it was left up to Holmes and his crew of workers to fix the problems, with the price tag largely being absorbed by the show and on more than one occasion, Holmes himself.

In every one of these cases, the family afflicted hired a contractor who seemed to be the right person for the job.  But what I’ve learned over the course of watching the show is that there are far too many people out there who aren’t doing quality work the way it should be done — and that it’s really easy to find yourself a victim of a botched job if you’re not careful.  For anyone attempting to embark upon a renovation project who’s looking to hire someone for the job, just watching a few of these episodes could save you thousands of dollars and countless headaches.

MY spider-sense was immediately tingling when the contractor dodged the question of permits for our renovation project

How easy could it be to fall for a one of these con artists depicted on the show?  When my home renovation project was started, the first contractor my wife and I talked to about doing the framing on our extension seemed eager enough to take the job — but he wasn’t able to give specifics on budgeting for material or labor, he wasn’t able to give a clear and concise plan for how the project would unfold, and he was evasive when it came to discussing the needs for permits or adhering to code — all red flags according to Holmes (and to me at the time).  We thankfully passed on doing business with this guy, but I had a relative who did hire him for a much smaller job — and who got taken when he took money from her and never did the work.   I remember hearing about it and thinking “That could have been us — but far worse”.   As thankful as I am that we apparently avoided any mishaps along the way of our renovation, I wish we had known then what we’ve learned since — and that I’d seen a show like Holmes on Holmes way back then.

Holmes deserves tremendous credit for shining a light on some of the problems in the building industry, in which the contractors have all kinds of protection within the law, but homeowners have far fewer.  His show is well worth checking out if you have the time — and if you’re thinking of doing a remodeling project.  You just may end up saving yourself a lot of money down the road if you do.

Advertisements

A Scam Alert, Walking In A Winter Wonderland, And A Brand New Feature

Posted in Idiot Alert, News/Current Events, NFL Football, Personal, Rants, Sports, The Wrapups with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2010 by thelasthonestman

With Valentine’s Day upcoming this weekend, I give to everyone the gift of a look back at some of what got my attention this past week:

**  Scam Alert ** This morning, I was online paying bills when I got a nasty surprise checking my phone bill from AT&T.  My bill is always pretty much the same each month, give or take a penny — I use the same services each month, with no long distance calling (that’s what the cell phone is for) or other variable charges affecting the total.  Today, however, I noticed immediately that my bill had jumped up by an even $20.  A little digging revealed that I was getting hit with a charge from a 3rd-party called Headwind Media — with my account getting charged a CMI Exclusive Monthly Fee of $20.  Who’s Headwind Media and what services was I getting for that $20?  I had never heard of them — and was 100% certain that I hadn’t signed up for anything — so I quickly made a call to AT&T. They were able to put a hold on the charge, pending further investigation that I had to do (since, according to them, this other company wouldn’t talk about the issue to anyone other than me, since I was the one who had “ordered” the service).

What are companies like Headwind Media looking for? An all-day one of these who's not paying attention to their bills.

As it turns out, Headwind Media is something called a “Social Celebrity Network” — what that means, your guess is as good as mine — and they claimed that I had ordered their service and committed to a contract online.  They also claimed that they had gotten personal information from me at that time to verify the order.  When I pressed them on what information they could have possibly had other than the public info which would be easily obtainable with even the slightest bit of digging (e-mail address and home phone, just for examples), they weren’t able to give me anything — in fact, the person I talked to actually tried to get me to tell him other personal information (which, if I had been gullible enough to give to him, they then presumably would have claimed they had already in order to hold me to this supposed contract).

It took a few minutes of my life that I’ll never get back, but I got the service canceled, a credit posted to my phone bill, and I now have a block on the company with AT&T so they can’t do it again.   I had a similar situation crop up with the company three or four months ago (I got a “order confirmation” from them in my inbox on that occasion, but I had stopped that occurrence before it ever hit my phone bill).

After searching online, I saw that this is apparently a popular scam, with stories of other people suffering similar aggravation pretty commonplace.  The advice, as always, is that a struggling economy leads to more and more instances of rip-off/scam artists practicing their tricks.  It’s always a wise idea to read through all of your bills closely, to scrutinize every charge, and to make sure that whatever you’re being charged for, it’s something you actually are receiving — and that it’s something that you actually authorized.  Stopping fraudulent charges beforehand is far less of a headache than trying to recoup the money after they’ve already gotten it.

— Snow is falling everywhere it seems.  Even those of us who’re living in the South aren’t immune to the white stuff — my wife saw snow flurries driving to work this morning, and there was snowfall in parts of Texas (including more than a foot in the Dallas area), Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and Alabama.

Meanwhile, many cities on the East Coast saw record-breaking amounts of snowfall themselves.  This is now the snowiest winter on record for the cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. — which was essentially shut down for the 4th day in a row.  People across the Eastern States have been faced with the loss of power and difficulty in traveling.  Thankfully, with the exception of some isolated occurrences, it never turned particularly deadly.

My own memories of blizzard conditions comes from living in the Chicago Metropolitan Area as a young boy, where I witnessed firsthand the great Chicago Blizzard of 1979.  The one thing I remember best from that year (besides the days I didn’t have to go to school) was that the response by the city to the storm was underwhelming, and the perception that the city government — particularly the mayor’s office — had been ill-prepared for such an event played a large part in the upset election of Jane Byrne as mayor over incumbent Michael Bilandic (who had taken over after the death of Richard Daley), making her the only female mayor in the city’s history.  With many local officials in the snow-affected areas feeling the heat (particularly Washington mayor Adrian Fenty), there’s a chance that history might repeat itself in the form of voter discontent in the future over storm response.

Beware: Idiots Ahead

— And finally, a new feature on the blog will be the Idiot Alert — where we’ll look at massive idiocy wherever it can be found.  Unlike the attempts to hand out Ro-Sham-Bo and Le Boo Coaching Awards on a semi-regular schedule, the Idiot Alerts will be given purely at random and when the situation arises.   With that in mind, anyone wanting to contribute a nominee is more than welcome — send your Idiot-worthy note to thelasthonestman@ymail.com and you may get a shout-out here.

Today’s Idiot Alert is for a guy masquerading as a sports journalist on some site called the Bleacher Report (which according to some, is no more than a site allowing random posts by pretty much anyone and often featuring the dedicated ramblings of biased homers).  Which might explain the suggestion by someone with the suspiciously-sounding name of Steve Montana — who claims that the gutsy call by New Orleans head coach Sean Payton to open up the 2nd half of the Super Bowl was little more than a “cheap and dirty” play and an example of poor sportsmanship.  In his piece, Montana goes on to claim others head-scratching gems — such as the fact that the Saints outplayed the Colts only “for the most part”, and that an NFL rule should be enacted banning a team from attempting an onside kick to start a half.

Other than the fact that Montana is likely the owner of a phone number with a 317 area code (Hey, Headwind Media — why don’t you sign him up for your great service?), I would have normally marveled at his complete ignorance of the NFL rules in general, as well as what constitutes “fair play”, as well as the ridiculous bias that could only come from someone who was a Colts fan — or at least a close relative of someone in the organization — if I hadn’t realized that he only intended to be funny and that he wasn’t serious.

So, he was trying to be funny, right?  Definitely sarcastic, no?  Uh …. err …  you mean, he’s wasn’t — he’s … he’s actually serious?

Fail.

Congratulations, Steve Montana — you’re responsible for our first-ever Idiot Alert!  For your own safety, in the future make sure to stay away from any sharp objects — as well as your computer keyboard!

— With that, I hope everyone enjoys the weekend and stays safe in you’re in part of the country that’s experiencing a winter wonderland.   I had hoped to have another piece up for yesterday, but time constraints (and having a plumber all day at the house) has forced me to push that back to Monday.  Join me then for a look back at the Greatest Upset In Boxing History.  What was it?  If you don’t already know, come back then to find out!

What Part Of “Do Not Call” Do These People Not Understand?

Posted in News/Current Events, Personal, Rants with tags , on May 13, 2009 by thelasthonestman

do-not-callSo is anyone else out there getting these phone calls?

The other day my home phone rang.  When I answered, the voice on the other end of the line was an automated one, telling me that my “warranty on my vehicle was about to expire”, and that I needed to “press 1 to speak to an operator in order to renew your warranty”.

This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten this call; rather, I’ve fielded this particular call maybe four or five times in the last month or so.  The first time I’d heard this, I’d naively figured that somehow my phone number had been innocently mixed up with someone else’s — someone who presumably did have a car warranty about to expire.  Being a responsible, well-meaning citizen, I clicked over to the operator and calmly explained that neither my car nor my wife’s was under any sort of warranty at this point, alerting them to their error.  Which should have been the end of it.

Except for the fact that they called back again.  And again.  And again.  The last time I got the call, I clicked over and started to tell the operator that I was tired of dealing with this waste of my time — when the operator simply hung up on me in mid-sentence.  Pretty pissed at that point, I tried to call the number back — but the call couldn’t get through as dialed.

As it turns out, the whole enterprise is apparently a scam, targeting people in an attempt to get them to take out new car warranties.  Apparently, these companies have been going after helpless consumers nationwide, whether they have a relatively new car or not (both of the cars in my household are 10 years old or older and haven’t been under a warranty in a long, long time) — or in some cases, whether they even own a car (like my cousin’s girlfriend, who got a similar call even though she’s never owned a car before.  The offenders is this case are thankfully starting to garner the attention of federal regulators for their actions, and deservedly so.  I’m on the National Do Not Call List for a reason — and it’s not to have to waste my time with these phone spammers.  I hope the hammer gets dropped — and dropped hard — on these clowns.

Ranking right up there in garnering my annoyance are the other calls I’ve been getting offering me “great rates on my credit card debts”, calls that sound at first like they might be coming from a company you actually do business with — but are merely attempts from some credit company to shift debts over to them in what they claim will provide you all kinds of savings in interest payments.

Again, this is an example of a company I have no prior business with trying to solicit my business via the telephone — an act that, like the car warranty crap, I can’t believe isn’t a violation of the Do Not Call laws.  What’s obvious to me is that the struggling economy and the reality of a number of troubled financial households around the country have led a new wave of opportunists to boldly attempt to circumvent or even break the law in their attempts to take advantage of people’s situations — actions I can only hope will get brought to a quick halt in the near future.  If not, what’s the point of having created the Do Not Call Registry in the first place?