Beware what passes through the mailbox

Helena Rodriquez

How stupid do they think I am?

That’s what I ask myself when I get these annoying $5 or $10 checks in the mail from credit card companies, when I get e-mails saying I’ve won dinners at restaurants or gift certificates from department stores. And then there’s the e-mail I got this week that takes the cake. It’s not from the typical prince of Nigeria with all this wealth to give away. This one sinks to a new low as it targets Christians.

This latest scam is from a so-called “born-again Christian” who says her husband died in Kuwait and left her childless and with a $10 million inheritance. Now she’s dying of cancer and since she doesn’t want her non-Christian relatives to squander the money, she wants to donate the wealth to an American church to start a ministry to help orphans, widows and the poor.

The e-mail is laden with Scripture aimed at inspiring me to give out my bank account information.

How stupid do they think I am?

I mean, I may be one taco shy of a combination plate, a few fries short of a Happy Meal, not the spiciest buffalo wing in the box, not the coolest Diet Dr Pepper in the six pack (it’s almost lunchtime) and certainly not the brightest crayon in the box, but some things are just an insult to my intelligence.

Credit card companies are like predators stalking us unsuspecting college students, thinking we will automatically think “free six pack” and cash these small cash giveaways, only to find out later that we’re locked into a service we did not want or need, something that is harder to get out of than into, and something in which our credit card is suddenly being billed for every month.

No way, Jose.

Credit card companies try to trap you anyway they can, especially now that it’s harder to file for bankruptcy. When I called my credit card company to pay off my balance the other day, they asked if I needed my car refinanced? And I’m thinking, “I’m trying to get out of debt, not further into it.”

Then there are those annoying pop-up ads saying you’ve won dinner for two at a nice restaurant. I figured out right away it was a scam. You click on the ad, only to be asked for personal information and be offered products and services for which you were not in the market.

What really bothers me is how many of these money-hungry businesses target the young and the poor, like payday and income-tax loan places. They charge outrageous fees to people they know are living paycheck to paycheck.

I’ve been in those shoes, where I needed the money right now, and so I got rapid-refund loans. Finally I said no more this year.

I knew the cost of rapid-refund loans had gone up and decided I would wait for my income-tax refund this year. But then a good friend of mine told me about a service through the Internal Revenue Service. You can file your taxes online, get your income-tax refund in as little as two weeks and even have it directly deposited into your bank account, all free of charge if you make below a certain amount.

This is not the kind of information they are likely to share with you at those rapid-refund loan places, which can charge $200 to $300 or more for the service.

So even someone like me, who hates working with numbers and always gives my income-tax forms to my mom to do for me, was able to file my income-tax return online and I expect my refund in only two weeks.

The lesson I learned here is that it helps to ask around. I was inclined at first to go to the rapid-loan places like I’ve done for many years. But then I started thinking about what I could do with the money I saved, and I realized there were other options.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at:
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com