Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling


senior man answering a scam phone call

Think you are too smart to fall for phone scams? Not so fast. In 2018, American consumers lost more than $488 million to a type of fraud that the Federal Trade Commission (FRC) calls “imposter scams.”

One particularly common and effective type of imposter scam is the fraudster posing as a government official. In fact, the FTC says that fake government calls now top the list of imposter scams. We’ve frequently posted about IRS tax season scams. In the Washington Post, Michelle Singletary warns that the latest hoax calls  tell you that your Social Security number is being suspended. There re several variations to the scam, often elaborate stories about how your Social Security number turned up in crimes.  The end goal is to either get you to reveal your number or to pay a fee to “reinstate it.” Some scenarios even threaten arrest. She quotes an FTC official:

“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Check out the tips and advice she offers for how to spot and avoid this scam. And here’s an FTC infographic for a typical telephone IRS scam – it’s a pattern that is common for SS# and other governmental scams, too.

IRS phone scam infographic

Retired car features that people miss


vintage car interior

Hey – why doesn’t my car turn signal make a sound anymore? Audible turn signals are just one of the new car features you may overlook on a test drive, but later look back on nostalgically. New car advances are great – we’re all driving safer, more fuel efficient vehicles than our parents did – or even than we did, a decade ago. Safety features like air bags, seat belts, anti-lock brakes, cars designed to hold up under crash criteria, rear cameras and other innovations are now fairly standard in new cars. But despite the innovation, many car buyers wax nostalgic for standard features that have all but disappeared or are on the way out. One of the most surprising car features that is going the way of the dinosaurs in many new cars are spare tires, a topic we’ve discussed before (See Does your new car have a spare tire? Don’t count on it!)

AAA features a fun article that talks about 10 Car Features That No Longer Exist in New Vehicles. Some features like front bench seats have been gone or scarce for so long that it’s doubtful if most young people even recall them. Others, like the disappearance of ashtrays, are largely a feature of changing consumer habits. Check out the list – hand-cranked windows, audible turn signals, simple controls and more. Plus, the comments are fun – people list even more bygone favorite features. The most frequently mentioned missing convenience is a Hi/Lo foot-operated dimmer switch that used to be on the floor of the car. Other people said they miss clutches, air vents in the floor, light bulbs that are easy to replace and rear windows that go all the way down. And even though the older, heavier cars were less safe, many people miss the large bodies and the heft and feeling of security that metal and steel offered.

Before you get too sad about bygone Happy Days-era car features, check out this list of what you can look forward to for the future. Consumer Reports offers a preview of up-and-coming vehicle features: Must-Have Features to Get in Your Next New Car, ranging from safety features to convenience. They break both categories down into “must have” and “nice to have” features, as well as a few that they suggest taking a pass on. Here’s their clip on some of the safety features in action.

Remember, whether you are looking for auto insurance  for a vintage classic car or a high-tech new vehicle with all the bells and whistles, your local independent insurance agent can scour the market for the best options.

Spring-Ahead Reminder: Annual “check & change” chores


This weekend, it’s time to spring forward with your clocks. We offer suggestions for some other spring safety chores to put on your weekend home maintenance list, too! 

In the Fall, there’s a collective groan when we set our clocks back and the world gets darker, but most people welcome gaining that hour of daylight back in the Spring – it’s a harbinger of better weather, more sunlight and greenery and leaving winter behind. But what we gain in daylight we lose in sleep and even though it’s only one hour, the change can have bigger impact on us that we would think on first glance. The one-hour loss of sleep can wreak havoc with out body clocks. Some studies even say that the time change is killing us – incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and fatal car accidents all spike around the start of daylight-saving time each year. Employers have long noted that right after the time change, there is also a jump in on-the-job injuries and accidents.

Yikes. If it is so risky, why do we keep doing it? We’ve been observing Daylight Savings since 1918, but there is a lot of controversy about whether it is something we should continue observing. John Oliver has an amusing segment on how this ritual started.

Your check & change weekend to-do list

Whether we like it or hate it, as long as long as the time change is something we observe twice a year, it’s a handy reminder for household safety checks. For years, fire safety professionals have urged us to use the biannual ritual as a good time to remember to update batteries in our smoke and C)2 detectors. Here’s a list of other maintenance things that should be checked periodically for safety — you may want to put them on your weekend “to-do” list:

  • Change smoke alarm and CO2 alarm batteries
  • Check pressure / expiration date on any fire extinguishers
  • Replace furnace filters
  • Clean your dryer filter, hoses and vents
  • Throw away any expired medications
  • Reverse your ceiling fan direction

Cool tools for drivers


toy car on an interstate map

Are you planning a summer road trip? Does your work take you on the road for frequent state-to-state travel? Do you regularly visit family that live in another part of the country? If so, you might find this tool handy: The AAA Digest of Motor Laws. It’s an online compendium of laws and rules related to driving and owning a motor vehicle in the 50 U.S. states, territories, and the provinces of Canada. AAA began producing this digest in paper form in 1930. In 2011, it eliminated the paper version and brought it online.

The online version allows you to search by location or by law. You can view laws by specific topics, such as accident reporting, distracted driving, window tinting, “move over” laws, headlight use, impaired driving, licensing requirements, seat belt use and much more.

AAA says that it sources its content by compiling statutes and regulations and submissions from local and state jurisdictions. The digest principally covers general interest subjects on private passenger vehicles, but some limited coverage of laws governing commercial vehicles is included, as are some special laws relating to motorcycles, mopeds, and trailers. AAA also offers a note of caution: “The state laws reflected on this website do not necessarily reflect traffic safety best practices.”

If you’ll be living in another state for a period of time or you have an out-of-state student on your auto policy, you might want to talk insurance implications over with your independent insurance agent.

More useful driver tools

AAA has other handy tools for drivers such as Gas Prices, which monitors pricing nationally and by state, and offers a gas cost calculator to help you gauge the cost of a planned trip. They also sponsor the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which offers information, research and tools on a variety of road safety issues. Here are three that we think are very useful:

  • Keys2Drive – tools to help parents and teens throughout the whole learning-to-drive process.
  • Senior Driver Licensing Policies and Practices – “one stop shopping” for information on state driver licensing policies and practices affecting older and medically-at-risk drivers.
  • RoadwiseRx – a tool for understanding how medications may affect you and your driving. Type a name of a prescribed or over-the-counter medication you are taking to learn about any potential driver warnings.

Get rid of that junk: where and how to recycle your stuff


couch loaded with junk

Maybe you’ve recently jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon and decided to get rid of all your stuff. Or maybe your closets, cellars and attics are bursting at the seams and you are afraid you’ll be anonymously reported to your local fire department as a hoarder. Having a build-up of unwanted stuff is not only unsightly, it can also be a fire hazard – particularly with chemicals, cleaners and paints.

Sometimes we hang on to junk for sentimental reasons or because we think we may someday find a use for the article again. News flash: You may never fit in that beloved college sweater again. If you haven’t used it or worn in in the last few years, why not give it a second life somewhere?

Often, it’s simply because we don’t know how to get rid of it. We hang on to old phones and computers because we don’t know where to get rid of them or how to clean them of our personal data.

Consumer Reports to the rescue: They have a very useful article about How to Get Rid of Practically Anything – from bicycles and books to tools and appliances. They offer ideas for how to recycle, sell or donate your goods, along with handy links.

It’s great when you can give something a second life. Here are a few of our favorite “get rid of stuff” links, which might duplicate a few in the above article:

Earth911.com – Learn where to recycle and how to recycle. Look up almost anything, from hazardous waste to electronics, enter your zip code and find out where and how to recycle or dispose at a location near you. Very handy!

call2recycle.com – recycling batteries and cell phones. Also see state battery recycling laws and safety information.

Electronics Donation and Recycling – The EPA lists 17 retailers where you can donate or recycle TVs, mobile devices and PCs.

7 Retailers with impressive recycling programs for consumers

Free recycling programs

It’s a win-win when your old stuff can actually be repurposed for someone in need. Many people need help getting back on their feet and setting up a new home: victims of fires or natural disasters, people fleeing domestic abuse, immigrants, homeless veterans or the disabled, for example. Research to see if there are charities or organizations near you that accept donations. Household Goods (Acton MA) and Habitat for Humanity ReStore (nationwide) are great examples. See charities that will pick up various household goods from your house.

If all else fails and you just need to get rid of your stuff expeditiously, you can always use Bagster – Buy the Bagster bag at your local home improvement retailer. Fill it. Bags are strong enough to hold up to 3,300 lb of debris or waste. Schedule your collection online or by phone, and it’s gone!

An alternative that we haven’t tried yet but intent to is Grunts Move Junk – this service is owned and staffed by vets to haul your junk. They do everything from from removing all unwanted junk – big and small – to loading it on trailers, cleaning your vacant spaces, and disposing of goods. They also offer moving services.