When Bud Cawyer of East Texas, an 80-year-old scam victim who lost $295,000 to fake federal agents, told me how he fed $20,000 in $100 bills into a bitcoin machine at a gas station to pay his scammers, I said, “Wait, what?!”
Did you know there are now bitcoin ATMs in gas stations and convenience stores? I sure didn’t.
Bitcoin or cryptocurrency, as it’s also called, is gaining wider acceptance. You can buy Dallas Mavericks tickets with cryptocurrency, for instance.
But like so much else, scammers have glommed on to the new currency, too. Scammers like to get paid two different ways: either with gift cards or by bitcoin because both are harder to trace.
I played a little game this week. I went to a neighborhood bitcoin machine at a gas station and pretended I needed to send money to a scammer. How does this work?
On the day I did this, one bitcoin was worth $33,000. But in my test I only wanted to buy the $50 minimum. For that amount, I’d own 0.00112 of a coin.
I stood at that machine for 20 minutes trying to get it to work. But between providing all my personal information, copying down my 12 “recovery words,” along with password and phone identity verifications and even uploading a photo of my driver’s license (front and back), I still couldn’t get it to accept my money.
Two credit cards and one debit card were rejected. My bank later sent me an email that the rejection was for security reasons.
I imagined my fictitious scammer growing irate about my incompetence.
CoinCloud, the machine I was on, does an admirable job of warning customers not to fall for scams with both screen warnings and even a permanent sticker affixed. The warnings are loud and clear: “You may be the target of a scam if you were sent to this kiosk by a third party, attorney or law enforcement you have not met in person.”
After more warnings (“the IRS and Social Security Administration will NOT call to demand payment”), it adds, “Stay vigilant and buy responsibly.”
I never bought my 0.00112 of a coin.
Sorry scammers. Will you take a personal check?
Stuck in the middle
Among the many Texans caught in the crossfire of the House Democrats’ flight to Washington, D.C. are residential property taxpayers seeking reforms. Same goes for retired teachers who say they desperately need a cost-of-living increase in their state pensions.
Bills dealing with both of those problems are stalled without House action. Of course, both issues should have been handled during the legislature’s regular session.
Teachers who retired after 2004 have never received an increase.
On property tax, the state senate passed a bill designed to eliminate homebuyers’ property tax sticker shock for their first year in a new home. Under current law, a new homeowner can’t claim a homestead exemption discount until Jan. 1 of the next year.
Senate Bill 8 would let buyers claim their homestead exemption for the year they purchased rather than wait until the next year. This could save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in property taxes.
Too bad state leaders aren’t looking at lowering the annual 10% cap on the appraised value of a home. That would result in true tax savings.
Stop selling our data
Now that the Texas Department of Public Safety and Department of Motor Vehicles are no longer allowed to sell our personal information to marketing companies, why aren’t more state departments banned from selling our data?
The answer I heard from bill sponsor state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is that his new law is called the Texas Consumer Privacy Act (Phase 1). Phase 2, he says, will come in 2022 when he attempts to make the practice illegal for the rest of state government.
Nichols told me Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to widen the scope of the bill to more departments, but Nichols said he wanted to concentrate on the biggest fish this first time around.
Robocalls improving? Ha!
My favorite dumb headline appeared recently on cnet.com: “Robocalls are out of control. But that could all change today.”
The story appeared on June 30, the deadline for when major phone companies were required to start using a new technology to stop spam calls.
For the past two weeks, phone companies supposedly have been tracking spam calls and determining where they come from. From now on, Caller ID must match the actual sender.
How’s it going? I celebrated this development by answering multiple spam calls. So much for the “that could all change today” headline.
Check the trade association
“Any suggestions for an honest roofer?” I was asked recently.
It’s on the minds of a lot of my neighbors who were hit with a spring hailstorm.
I have received 28 postcards in the mail promoting roofers. Billboards have gone up advertising roofers, too. One just knocked on my door even though I have posted a “no soliciting” sign.
Who to hire? I’d check with the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association. Logic dictates that if a company is joining its local trade association, it seeks to be a longtime player in this market, as opposed to a fly-by-night scammer.
Plus, if something goes wrong, you can seek help from the association. In a state without a roofer’s license, that’s the best The Watchdog can offer.
Keeping it in perspective
Did you happen to notice the news last month that for the first time astronomers witnessed a black hole swallowing a neutron star?
Ten days later, they saw the same thing on “the other side of the universe,” the Associated Press reported.
Did you even know there is “the other side of the universe?”
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