Hot line helps seniors make smart choices

Posted Jan. 31, 2010, at 11:40 p.m.

At Northeast CONTACT, we always have urged consumers to do whatever they can to educate themselves on matters such as spending, saving and credit.

For many of us, a key resource is the Internet. People who have grown up with computers use them like an extra hand — it’s second nature.

But many of us who are older may find comfort in doing things in other ways. Picking up the phone and talking with someone who has experience or knowledge in a certain area can be very reassuring. That approach also adds a human element many of us find missing in most of our computer interactions.

Which brings me to the point of this week’s column. Older people can find help and advice as nearby as their phones when they’re thinking about making a major purchase, signing a contract, or doing any kind of deal that involves laying out a chunk of cash.

The shorthand for the effort is “Check It Out.” It’s a partnership between the five Area Agencies on Aging in Maine and TRIAD, a joint effort of seniors’ groups and law enforcement agencies.

By dialing a toll-free number, 877-ELDERS-1, you can be connected with someone who has insight into a number of financial deals, good and otherwise. That person can give you unbiased advice to help you decide whether to go for it or walk away.

It’s worth a call if for no other reason than to take a few extra minutes to think things over. In our hurry-up world, it seems that more and more people expect snap decisions on matters that could stand a little reflection first.

Prime examples are home improvements or renovations offered door to door. Most people in the know advise shying away from these “only if you act now” types of offers. These include driveway pavers and roofers with “just enough material left over from another job” to give you a “great” deal. In fact, real contractors estimate jobs so carefully that there are seldom any leftover materials.

One also might be tempted by investment “opportunities” that promise returns too high to be believable. As with any offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts and turn down anything your common sense tells you can’t be real; for offers that prompt you to think twice, pick up the phone and call to “Check It Out.”

For questions needing legal answers, you may be referred to others with special knowledge or expertise. Referrals may be made to such agencies as the Consumer Protection Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office and Legal Services for the Elderly.

You may dial the local number for your nearest Area Agency on Aging, or call toll-free 877-353-3771.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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