The “computer services” refund scam

A new sort of scam call has been infesting my phone in the last week or so. The number calling is 405-493-8251.

If you answer, you hear a recorded voice with a heavy female India accent telling you that “our company is closing and you are due a refund for computer services. Please press 1 to speak to an executive.” If you call back, the ringtone changes to an international-sounding one, and you are put in touch with someone in an Indian boiler room who asks you how much you paid for computer support last year.

Following the scam down the rabbit hole, I told the individual that I had paid $495.00. I was told, “I will refund you that amount right away.” I was then given step-by-step instructions to download and run either Supremo or TeamViewer, which would give them complete access to my computer.

It goes without saying, never do this! If you allow criminals to have total access to your computer, they would steal information or upload malware or ransomware to your machine. Any legitimate organization would not need remote access to issue a refund for something.

These drones are targeting anyone gullible or uninformed, but specifically people who were scammed by a previous con for fake computer assistance.

Be careful out there. Protect your elderly or vulnerable loved ones, and make sure they understand that things like this are the worst kind of scam.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Auto Repair: Don’t believe everything they tell you

It pays to shop around, and to do your research. There are a lot good, honest repair shops out there, and probably even a few dealerships – but it always pays to take what you’re told by a mechanic with a grain of salt until you’ve done your homework.

Here are a few examples taken from personal experience.

AAMCO Transmissions, California – 1987

Hopping on the freeway in San Diego after a lovely vacation to Disneyland and Sea World with our little family of 5 in our Buick Skylark, whZZZzzzz, the transmission goes out. On the strength of a robust advertising campaign, we had our car towed to a local “Double A – beep beep! – M C O” dealer, where we were told that the entire transmission needed to be replaced: $2400.00, please. In 1987, that was not chump change by any means. Oh, and since they had already pulled the transmission, they wanted $750.00 to put it back in if we didn’t like their estimate.

Results of research: After a bit of digging in the local Yellow Pages – alas, the Internet didn’t exist back then – we found Interstate Transmissions who came and towed our car, plus the transmission and appurtenant bits and pieces in a box – and put us back on the road for $1,200 with a lifetime warranty as well. A couple of years later the transmission failed again, and an equivalent shop in Utah honored the warranty, repairing the transmission at no cost. I also learned why AAMCO stands for “All Automatics Must Come Out,” and never gave them the time of day again. Savings: $1,200 or $2,400, depending on how you look at it.

The following examples are all based on my 2007 Prius, which has been a good and faithful workhorse but which is now coming to the end of her economically viable life. At 240,000 miles, I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Good Molly.¹

Big O Tires, Utah – around 2015

Took the car in for a snow-tire changeover. Technician takes me over to the car and does “Grampa’s bounce test” on the back bumper. “Struts are shot, you should replace them. The parts aren’t cheap, it will be about $1,200.00 for each side.”

The price alone would have been enough to make me go do some research, even if my “BS-Meter” hadn’t already redlined.

Results of research: Average 2019 prices for strut replacement on both sides runs about $700.00, including alignment. I never had the work done. At 235,000 miles in 2019, the suspension is still just fine. According to a good article at MarketWatch, “At some service places, staffers (service writers, techs, even managers) are paid partly on commission,” so that could explain the stratospheric and unnecessary quote. In the interest of fairness, on other occasions that I went there I got quick work at a fair price. Savings: $2,400.00

Toyota dealership, Maine – 2018

My hybrid battery finally gave up the ghost after 11 years. Toyota quoted me $3500.00 for a new hybrid battery.

Results of Research: Most local shops wouldn’t touch it. Found a rebuilt battery for around $900.00 at Hometown Hybrids in Texas, free shipping both ways (returning the core) and some great YouTube videos showing step-by-step on replacing the battery. Took me about 4 hours, in and out. Runs like new. Savings: $2,500.00

VIP Tires and Service, Maine, 2018

I developed an exhaust leak and thought my manifold gasket had gone bad. Technician at VIP told me I had a bad manifold gasket and a crack in the exhaust system near the heat shield. “Need to replace the whole muffler, we can do both jobs for $649.00.”

Results of research: Muffler was just fine, thank you, and there was no crack in the pipe. Savings: $649.00

Meineke, Maine, 2018

Meineke replaced the manifold gasket for me without charging me for parts because I had had it done last year there as well. That was good. Replacing the gasket didn’t solve the problem, though, and I was still getting a lot of noise and exhaust from up front. After some more analysis, technician says “Here’s where we start,” and shows me an estimate to replace my catalytic converter for $810.82.

Results of Research:  Just out of curiosity, I checked with the dealership. I had been throwing a P0420 code (“catalytic converter operating below threshold”)² for a long time:

At this point, I figured that it was probably time to have it replaced, especially if I was considering selling the car. Toyota dealership quoted me around $2,600 for the job. Found a direct-fit converter online for $104.00, and a local mechanic installed it for me for $176.00. Savings: $2,320 or $530, depending.

The takeaway from these experiences is always get a second opinion, and if you don’t like that one, get a third. Research parts and labor costs online, do what you can by yourself, and keep poking away at the issue for as much time as you have until you’re satisfied you’re getting an honest solution.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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¹ Although, for the sake of reddit karma, I was really hoping I could get her to 280085.

² Some free advertising for the FIXD OBD-II Active Car Health Monitor: This little plug-in device monitors your car’s health continually and transmits information to an app on your phone. You can clear any codes with the tap of a button, and keep track of what may actually be wrong in your engine or exhaust system, saving you a lot of money for diagnostic charges (although a lot of auto parts stores will check your codes for free as well.) Best $60.00 I ever spent.

Dear Beneficiary

I often post scam emails that I get, but this one came to a friend and I saw it show up at his virtual home on Facebook. Posting it here just as a reference in case anyone gets something similar and wonders if it’s real.

It’s not. It’s a scam. Don’t answer. Serously. You could lose every penny you have.

Dear Beneficiary,

I hope that this correspondence is received with the urgency and expediency required.It has come to the notice of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Reserve Bank here in Washington, D.C. that your present inheritance claims application being handled by the Remitting Bank in Nigeria is experiencing some man made irregularities. To this effect, it has become necessary for the Board of Trustees to assign trained Fund Transfer Specialists from the United States to resolve and regularize your fund release with immediate effect.

We at Deborah L. Hayes & Corporate Affairs have been duly consulted by the FRB Board of Trustees. We have been fully informed about how the staffs of the remitting bank has been taking advantage of you by telling you to pay unnecessarily exorbitant charges which will only make your fund payment a long drawn out process.
Due to this development, we have been assigned to step into the immediate processing of your fund transfer to enable your funds to be transferred to you within the shortest possible time. To implement this, you are to get back to us immediately without needing to pay all the huge sums of monies that are being demanded from you by the previous handlers at the remitting bank.
All processes to have your funds paid to you immediately through the CBN’s Liaison Remittance Office in New York have been initiated to cut out unnecessary costs.
You are advised to treat this communication with the urgency and seriousness required as the Board of Trustees of the Federal Reserve Bank has mandated us to resolve this fund payment within the next three working days independent of the office of the Remitting Bank in Africa.

Furthermore,you are hereby advised to pay no further fees or charges to the Remitting Bank in Nigeria as they shall no longer be handling your payment process.
We shall await your immediate correspondence with your direct telephone numbers to my private email address at (deborahhayes11111@gmail.com) for re-confirmation so that we may conclude your payment immediately.
Yours Sincerely,
Deborah L. Hayes
Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs

It surprises me that scam emails of this nature continue to be a thing. The only reason they continue is that they must, somehow, inexplicably, be profitable. I guess if there are people stupid and evil enough to make a living this way, there must be people stupid and gullible enough to send them money. But if posting things like this can save even one person from being taken advantage of, the effort is worth it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The fads I’ve known

You know, those things that everyone is doing or everyone has to have.
My wife and I were talking about this the other day, and it got me thinking about those fads or trends that had touched my life since the 1950s. I can’t think of anything that I ever went crazy for in terms of “gotta catch em’ all,” but I know there were many that I crossed paths with over time. There are far more than these listed in various places, but these are some of the ones that crossed my path in some way or other.

The Coonskin Cap

Had to have one of these when I was around three. Davy Crockett was my hero

Silly Putty

Lifting the ink off comics was fun. Getting yelled at when it melted into my clothes or the carpet was not.

Slinky

1950’s slinky

We lived in a 5-floor walkup in New York City. I loved sending one of these down the stairs. The problem was, when I was 7, I foolishly attended a double-feature horror show with my cousins, and for longer than I’m proud to admit I was terrified that this lady lurked in the shadows under the stairwells. It sort of dampened the enthusiasm for spending more time than I had to on the stairs.

Hula Hoop

Well, he finally got one. Why does Alvin look so conflicted?

In 1959, I learned the Chipmunks’ Christmas song by heart, and of course I had to have a hula hoop. It was fun for a day or two. But they’re still a thing, apparently.

Super Ball

I got one of the early ones, and the Super Ball really did bounce, but mine started flaking apart after a while. I guess they got the kinks worked out eventually. These were very hot when they came out; peak production reached over 170,000 Super Balls per day, but the maker knew it was a passing fad. “Each Super Ball bounce is 92% as high as the last,” said Wham-O VP Richard P. Knerr. “If our sales don’t come down any faster than that, we’ve got it made.”

The Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo

I was mad for these in 5th grade

Yoyos are a very old toy, but Duncan really hit the nail on the head when they came up with these shiny, premium units with a metal spindle that allowed the toy to spin freely. I remember mine was red, and I had one of the butterfly versions as well. These are still pretty hot in some sectors; watch the absolute masters go at it.

Clack Balls

Noisy and dangerous, but fun when you got the hang of it.

These were probably the bane of parents and K-12 teachers when they came out. When you really got them going, they made a racket that sounded like a machine gun. Apparently they were prone to shattering, which I never experienced, but they should have come with wrist guards because when you did it wrong, you’d get whacked and it hurt. These were taken off the market in the 1970s. Wikipedia has some interesting history behind these.

POW-MIA bracelets

Many of these are still to be found on people’s wrists

These were created in 1970, during the Vietnam War. Those who wore one pledged to continue doing so until the person they represented came home. They were very popular on the campus of the University of Utah; I wore mine for years until it was almost devoid of chrome plating, and it ultimately fell apart from metal fatigue. There are still many military personnel missing, and they deserve to be remembered.

Bell-bottoms

In the 1970s I had a couple of these (in the most hideous polyester faux-tartan imaginable) just because they were cheap, if I recall correctly.

This cartoon appeared in 1994, by which time bell-bottoms had become an icon for ridiculous fashion.

Cabbage Patch Kids

These toys, still available, are the first ones that really became a nationwide madness, as far as I can recollect. They were so hot they spawned the Cabbage Patch Riots, a precursor of later Black Friday rampages. I only know of them because I had a young daughter at the time, and of course she wanted one. Fortunately, the madness had subsided (mostly) by the time she was old enough to appreciate one.

Pogs

These once had a practical use

Pogs, or milk caps, used to be found sealing returnable glass bottles of milk, often delivered from the dairy. When the paper or foil cap was removed, the “pog” was taken out to unseal the bottle.

In the 1990s, the game of Pogs was commercialized, but it had become an entertainment for the young before that. Not unlike marbles, pogs were placed face down and the player would toss a heavy disk at the stack, causing them to scatter. Any pogs that landed face up belonged to the player.

My oldest son was very good at the game and had quite a collection.

There were as many designs for pogs and slammers as one could imagine.

Tamagotchi

The Tamagotchi, or “little egg” from Japan

I had one. The object was to feed and care for your little blob until it grew into an adult. You’d give it food, clean up its poop, and basically take care of it with needs and attention. It would beep at you when it wanted something. Mine “died.” Enough said.

Lawn Darts

Imagine playing horseshoes with deadly weapons. That’s what lawn darts were.

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

These things were lethal. In 1987, a young girl was killed, and between 1980 and 1988, 6,100 people had been sent to the emergency room. They were banned in 1988.

Beanie Babies

“Peace”, currently selling at around $30K

Ty made a lot of money on these little understuffed animals, but almost nobody else did. People collected them like crazy, hoping that the “discontinued” ones would increase in value and make them rich. Only a very few actually became worth anything, and only to die-hard collectors (although during the height of the craze, people were flipping Beanies for ten times their purchase price, and at one point almost 10% of sales on eBay were linked to Beanie Babies. Like anything else, an item is worth only what some s̶u̶c̶k̶e̶r̶ collector will pay for it. Like most others, the fad crashed, and today, surviving Beanie Babies are worth about 50 cents apiece. A few of these ended up in our kid’s stockings at Christmas time because they were cute.

Nehru Jackets, Beatle Boots, and Madras clothing.

These were items that were popular when I was at a prep school in New England in the ’60s. A lot of kids had them.

The Nehru Jacket

The original Beatle boot. The Fab Four spawned a number of fashion fads in their day. I almost got thrown out of school because I tried to grow my hair in the “mop” style popularized by the early Beatles look.
Madras jackets are aparently still available in some places. I thought they were cool then, they look pretty garish now.

Furbies

Furby-24
Dah-boo!

The interactive toy that scared the pee out of the NSA. These little critters came with an infrared port that allowed them to recognize the presence of another Furby; they would, at that point, hold conversations in “Furbish,” a language of agglomerated nonsense syllables. As time went on, however, Furbies began to start speaking English, and as time went on, the amount of English increased. Authorities in certain government agencies decided that these little critters could act as spies, but Tiger Electronics, the maker, said,

Furbies didn’t have recording devices at all. Rather, the manufacturer had pre-programmed some English into the toy’s memory, and as the Furby “aged,” it began to use those words more and more — but there was no way for it to add new, “heard” words to its vocabulary. A Tiger executive told the media that “the NSA did not do their homework” and exclaimed that “Furby is not a spy!” (Now I Know)

We had a few of these scattered around the house. They could be quite startling if they began to talk without provocation.

I could go on. Invisible dogs, pet rocks, psychedelic posters, lava lamps, you name it. If you’re interested in a long walk down memory lane, here is a pretty comprehensive list of fads and trends from the 1830s to present. And it’s a given that in the very near future, there will be another “hot new thing.”

Edit: How could I have forgotten Care Bears? Here’s my little buddy with his Weighted Companion Cube (don’t talk to me about mixed metaphors), wishing all my friends and family a wonderful 2019. We had a lot of Care Bears over time, and most of them came back to me as my children grew up. (Fortunately, I never did.) The vast majority were sold to collectors on eBay, but Tenderheart, a 1986 original, is mine forever.

Postscript

This was not a fad, really, but it was a fairly intriguing item for propellerheads in the mid ’60s. I wanted one, but at the time $25.00 seemed a bit too much for something that would die in a year.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The many faces of Dr Pepper

I touched upon brand imitation in a previous post, but a recent image posted on Facebook by an acquaintance of mine made me want to revisit one such example in detail.

55 Dr Pepper clones. There are more.

While Wikipedia relates many details about the brand and its history, apparently the original owners failed to trademark the “Dr.” part of its name, and as a result there are almost more doctors in grocery stores than you can find at an AMA convention.

Hannaford’s version of Dr Pepper. Not bad, actually, and half as expensive as the real thing. Sadly, the diet version has recently disappeared from shelves in the 12-pack form, and can only be found in 2-liter bottles. Hannaford was both obscure and uninformative when I pressed local management and national customer service as to reasons why.

I have found two fairly complete lists of Dr Pepper clones out there.

I never dreamed that there could be so many.

The origins of Dr Pepper are fraught with rumors; what is known is that the formula was originated by pharmacist Charles Alderton of Brooklyn, NY in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. The Dr Pepper FAQ reports that “Dr Pepper is a unique blend of 23 flavors.” Prune juice, despite popular opinion, is not one of them. There is a suggestion that Alderton wanted to come up with a soda that had the smell of walking into an old soda shop. Its formula is as closely guarded as that of CocaCola™.

Whether these alignments are based on the names or on one person’s assessment of the relative accuracy of the flavor, I have not been able to determine, but I thought it was funny at any rate.

As for who owns Dr Pepper, that is also a tale of the ages. It’s now marketed by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a business unit of the conglomerate Keurig Dr Pepper. (You can see Dr Pepper on the far left in the image at this post – it was at that time still a part of Cadbury Schweppes.)

But regardless of who owns it, or who distributes it (sometimes it’s the local Coke distributor, sometimes it’s the Pepsi people), as long as it continues to be available in some form or other I’ll be happy.

My poison of choice

The Old Wolf has spoken.