By Janet Groene, F47166
As full-timers, you can always get away from noisy neighbors simply by starting up the coach engine and driving someplace else. But it’s just about impossible anymore to outrun deception, quasi-legal hassles, and outright crime. Here are some of the methods that today’s scofflaws are using to make life more difficult for us all.
The work-at-home scam. This isn’t a new ploy. Remember being a kid and answering the magazine ads that promised a bicycle or some other reward in exchange for selling candy bars or salve? Now the same come-on has gone high-tech and is being peddled to adults. Many people dream of hitting the road and earning a living on the go, but there is much to be learned about how to start a business. It’s unlikely you’ll learn how to do this from people who charge enormous fees for a computer program, designs for a can’t-miss craft, or training materials that instruct you how to do this or that.
If you have an idea for a home business, first do some market research to determine whether there is a need for the product or service. Many fields are already overcrowded. Second, acquire the skills necessary to be successful in such a business through a legitimate school or course. Then get a free small-business start-up kit from the Small Business Administration by calling (800) 827-5722 or the number of your local Small Business Administration office (found in the U.S. Government section of your Yellow Pages) or by visiting www.sba.gov.
Pre-approved credit card offers. Picture this scenario. A credit card company sends you a pre-approved credit card. The packet also contains checks with your name and address, ready to be made out and signed. The credit card might come in handy and, if you need money, you can write a check now and worry about the repayment — at high interest rates — later. However, what would happen if that letter were stolen or misdirected into the hands of a crook? Now that person, without your knowledge, has a credit card and checks in your name and a line of credit worth thousands of dollars. What’s worse, it may be weeks or months before you realize the problem, one that will take months to repair.
Since 1997, an “opt-out” hotline has been available for people to have their names removed from mailing lists obtained from the main consumer credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Experian, Equifax, and Innovis. By calling (888) 567-8688, your name will no longer appear on direct marketing lists — used by companies to send “pre-approved” credit offers, catalogs, and junk mail — obtained from these four credit reporting agencies. However, even if you choose to opt out by calling the number above, you may still receive commercial mailings based on lists from other sources, such as your bank, insurance company, or other financial institutions with which you do business. To completely opt out, contact every financial institution you do business with and have them remove your name from their marketing lists.
Identity theft. This is a growing problem, and it can happen in many ways. A current scam being perpetrated is a two-part routine that begins with a letter or e-mail informing you that your credit card has been cancelled. You’re told that an investigator will soon contact you to verify your customer information. It all sounds very official, so when called you willingly reveal your bank account numbers, mother’s maiden name, and other private information. That’s all the bad guy needs to clean you out. If someone claims to represent your bank, your credit card company, your Internet service provider, or the government, check them out before divulging any information.
Taxes and reparations. If someone arrives at your campsite claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service and informs you that your taxes are past due, be wary. If the agent recommends writing a check to him or her on the spot to avoid legal action, be assured that this is a scam. It works best against people whose conscience tells them they are in arrears.
Another scam, according to the Internal Revenue Service, involves “advisers” who deceive African-Americans into paying for advice on how to file slavery reparation claims on their taxes. There is no tax law provision that gives tax credits or refunds related to slavery reparation.
Internet scams. These have been around as long as we’ve been able to go online. A current offer, spammed far and wide, is that you’ll receive a gift certificate to the national restaurant chain Applebee’s by supplying the names and addresses of several friends who might become Applebee’s customers. The restaurant has no connection with this hoax. While this and other “offers” may seem harmless, they can be a way of collecting information about you and your friends.
Campground ploys. One scam is being perpetrated by groups that appear to be family campers in a travel trailer. They get an “emergency” call that they say requires them to race home, leaving the travel trailer behind. The story they share with you is heartrending, especially when women and children are involved. Fellow campers are only too willing to buy their travel trailer at a fire-sale price, or to lend them money with the trailer or mother’s “pearl necklace” left as collateral. After several days, the good Samaritans realize that the family isn’t going to return; the trailer is a lemon, stolen, or both; and/or the jewelry is worthless.
Robbers also can catch you in the long alleys that form in truck stops when groups of motorhomes and trailers fill the overnight slots. Surrounded by other RVers, you feel you’re among family. So, when someone asks for help or advice, you’re more than happy to oblige. That is until you’re mugged by the perpetrator and his buddies, whose getaway car is warmed up and waiting.
Books for travelers. South Carolina’s Revolutionary War Battlefields ($12.95, Pelican Publishing) is a slim volume of only 128 pages, but it’s packed with little-known facts about South Carolina’s role in America’s fight for independence. This is just the book for travelers who like insider information about historic spots, because many of the battlefields are mere memories with only a marker. The book can be ordered in bookstores, by calling (800) 843-1724, or by visiting www.epelican.com/store and clicking on “Browse.”
Kevin Michalowski’s book, 15 Minutes To A Great Dog ($12.95, Krause Publications), can help you and your pet be more popular in campgrounds. Call (800) 258?0929 or visit www.krausebooks.com.
Brent Peterson is a familiar name in RV publications and now he has written a comprehensive introduction to RVing. The Complete Idiot’s Guide To RVing ($16.95, Alpha Books) is packed with information for the newbie or old hand. It’s brightly presented with plenty of graphics and hot tips, and is the perfect gift to yourself or to anyone who is shopping for their first motor coach. The book is available in bookstores, at Web site booksellers, including www.idiotsguides.com.
Be Alert, Be Aware, Have A Plan ($14.95, The Lyons Press) by Neal Rawls is fascinating armchair reading as well as a sensible guide to being prepared. The author is a former police officer whose experience ranges from fraud and burglary cases to mopping up after natural disasters. The book is packed with tips for protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your coach.
Here are a few of Mr. Rawls’ gems:
- Most safety advisers tell you to sit near the driver on a bus. The reason it’s safer, they say, is because the driver is in radio contact with a dispatcher. But Mr. Rawls states that bus drivers are second only to convenience store clerks as targets for criminals. He suggests you don’t sit too close.
- Put a rubber band around your wallet to make it harder for a pickpocket to lift it without your knowledge.
- A spring-loaded center punch is no larger than a screwdriver, but Mr. Rawls says it will shatter automotive glass if you need to create an emergency escape route.
- If you stop at a convenience store or restaurant late at night, look around before you go in. If you don’t see the clerk, don’t enter. A robbery may be in progress in the back room.
- Whenever you stop for a night or more at a campground, learn the location of the nearest hospital, police station, fire station, and all-night store with security. It takes only a few minutes to get this information as you check in.
- One of the most valuable instincts you can develop, says Mr. Rawls, is to become aware of the environment you are in and the one you are about to enter, such as exiting a store and going to your vehicle.
- As a former police officer, Mr. Rawls reveals that cops wear clip-on ties for good reason — they detach from the shirt when pulled. Don’t wear garments that can make it easy for a mugger to grab you (a loose vest or scarf, for instance) and keep you from fleeing.
- Don’t park in an area that will become deserted before you leave.
- If an evacuation order is issued (for an approaching hurricane, for example) call your out-of-town contact as soon as possible and explain where you’re going and how to contact you. When instructed to do so by evacuation authorities, lock up your coach and leave. Most of the time, you’ll have plenty of notice before a hurricane arrives, but not for a tornado.
- Don’t eat, drink, or use the cell phone when you’re at the wheel. Crooks planning a carjacking or a fender-bender accident for the purpose of insurance fraud look for drivers who are distracted.
Show business. Even if you aren’t shopping for a new coach, RV shows are great places to get ideas for better space utilization and new gear, and the accompanying partying and pageantry are often great fun for a weekend getaway. For a list of upcoming shows, check www.rvia.org/rvshows.
Freebies. The next time you’re in the Philadelphia area, take a free tour of Asher’s, a fourth-generation candy maker that’s been producing mouth-watering chocolates for 110 years. Asher’s is located at 80 Wambold Road in Souderton, Pennsylvania. Visitors are welcome to tour the facility Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Groups should schedule ahead by calling (800) 438-8882 or (215) 721-3276.