In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher.
At WTVD-TV in Raleigh/Durham, N.C., the equivalent of Elizabeth and her “Helping Out” consumer advocate beat is Diane Wilson, whose team is called Troubleshooter (great name!). In March, Diane reported on an auto registration scam that also made the rounds in Kentucky this winter.
Car owners were mailed an official-looking letter containing a “voucher” for $199 that looked like a bank check the resident could apply to his or her vehicle registration fees. Here is a Logan County, Ky., version of that letter, and, yes, the fine print at the bottom does state “THIS IS NOT A CHECK.”
The letter, from a nonexistent Vehicle Services Division, also contains red-flag language, such as a “FINAL NOTICE” heading, a request for an “immediate response” and a warning that the vehicle’s insurance coverage could lapse by a fast-approaching expiration date. It does contain the owner’s vehicle type and ID, information that is available in certain databases.
Wilson called the number listed and learned that the mailings were from a third party that sells car warranties. The North Carolina DMV, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and county agencies, have issued alerts concerning these misleading mailings. As noted in previous Consumer Tips, ignore letters, email or phone calls that urge you to take “immediate action.” Look for typos or odd language, read fine print, go directly to the agency, bank or retailer that appears to be contacting you. You most likely are not in any danger of a fee or penalty, utilities cutoff or even arrest, as some have been threatened.
Many of us can see who’s calling (on a cellphone) and some have voice mail that announces basic caller information. I also have a throwback landline, and when I answer, I wait a few seconds before saying “hello.” Friends or legitimate business callers will fill in that gap with a “Kay?” or a friendly “hello?” back. Robocalls will drop almost immediately. Marketers will often pick up during that silence, and I can hear call center chatter in the background — my signal to hang up with no interaction. Or better yet, to set down the phone receiver to tie up their operation for a few more seconds. My little gift to mankind.