Want to live debt free? 4 signs you might be getting ripped off

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
If you’re a regular reader of my consumer advocacy columns, you probably already know that the word “free” should trip all kinds of alarms.

If not, don’t worry, I’ll get you up to speed: If you see the word “free” in a product offer, run!

But “free” can be used in another equally important context. Promises to make you “debt free,” for example, can leave you even deeper in the hole. There, too, my advice is identical — don’t walk, flee.

Debt-free, or “last dollar” scams, are, after identity theft, among the most complained-about swindles in America, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These scams are part of a broad group of cons that can involve selling you promises of a job, a government grant or some other money-making opportunity.
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5 warning signs you’re about to receive bad customer service

Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
It’s been decades and my father still hasn’t forgotten: Threatened with arrest, his wife in tears, their anniversary ruined. And to top it all off, he was still hungry.

Every time I hear the story, I ask him how it came to that. My father replies, “I never saw it coming.”

For their anniversary, my parents had gone to a well-known eatery north of Boston. Always a popular place, this night it was particularly crowded.

They waited a long time to be seated. They waited a long time for menus, and for a server. They waited a particularly long time for the meals.
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Would you eat at this restaurant?

This is the sign that greets would-be patrons at a restaurant in a Midwestern tourist town.

I’m not going to reveal the name of the establishment — at least not yet.

Here’s a transcript.

No strollers [image] please.

To Our Valued Customers:

We are NOT a fast food restaurant.

Our kitchen is smaller than yours.

We are working hard to prepare and deliver your food.

It is possible, depending on what you and others in your party have ordered that your food may take up to on our to prepare.

If you are grumpy, inpatient, having a bad vacation, don’t like your family, can’t control your children, … etc.

There are dining options for fast food approximately 10 miles north of here.

Would you eat here?

And bonus points if you can guess the name of the restaurant and city in which it’s located.

Update: No one guessed the name of the restaurant (although a few came close). It is Wally’s Bar and Grill in Saugatuck, Mich. The reviews are pretty good.

Are new warning and tracking systems enough to make us forget about TSA agents’ misdeeds?

It’s been a “good news” kind of week for observers of our nation’s security apparatus. At least that’s how the government is spinning it.

But there’s plenty of bad news for travelers, too. More on that in a minute.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had scrapped the color-coded terrorism alerts and was moving to a more “robust” two-tiered system called the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS).

The feds also issued a helpful guide (PDF) that explains NTAS. It’s an interesting read. It promises to only issue alerts “when credible information is available” and to include “a clear statement that there is an imminent threat or elevated threat.”

The implication, of course, is that under the previous system, there was sometimes no imminent threat and the warnings were vague. The guide also contains DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s favorite saying, which gives a lot of travelers the creeps: the Orwellian, “If you see something, say something.”
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Is this enough compensation? Here’s a refund for your airline tickets, but there’s this little fee …

Karlin Lissa and her family planned to return to Sudan for the first time in more than a decade. But their plans were foiled when the State Department issued a travel warning in October, advising US citizens to defer all travel.

The Lissas wanted to go to Sudan — still want to go — but they can’t put their children in harm’s way. The government warning is anything but ambiguous:

U.S. citizens and citizens of European countries have been victims of kidnappings, carjackings, and armed robberies while travelling in Sudan. Armed militias have instigated sporadic violence and attacked locations in Southern Sudan. Threats have been made against foreigners working in the oil industry in Upper Nile state. Land travel at night should be avoided.

Why go to Sudan in the first place, let alone with four young kids?
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Warning! Scammers don’t take a break after your trip is over

Neither should you. And while there are more than enough scams that await travelers when booking their trips — covered in excruciating detail on this site — the’s also danger on the ground.

Ask Steve Berger, who just returned from Paris.

We were approached by women who claimed that they just found a gold ring and had no need for it. Would we be willing to buy it for a few euros?

The rings looked like a man’s gold wedding band, with “18K” stamped on the inside. The ring looked very authentic, but was most assuredly a fake.

She was willing to take 10 euros for the ring. I refused.

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