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The Watchdog: 15 tips to keep young people safe

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Dave Lieber, The Dallas Morning News

I have three grown children ages 20 to 35. I understand they react differently than I do to confrontations. I'm a baby boomer from New York; you get in my face, I get in yours.

But my young adult kiddos do not like confrontation. I've been watching them. Everybody talks about the elderly getting ripped off by scams and sophisticated corporate marketing tricks. Young adults are victims, too.

For this Christmas Eve story, The Watchdog gives my best gift to young adults everywhere. Here are a few tips and strategies designed to keep them out of harm's way.

The Watchdog wants to keep members of this bright generation on the offensive. I want them to understand an uncomfortable concept. Sometimes, you must stand up for yourself.

Please cut this out or print the online version, and throw it in as stocking stuffers for your favorite young adults.

1. Cars are a big problem. When The Watchdog hears from young adults, it's often about a bad experience buying a used car or getting one repaired. My single best advice: Do an Internet search for complaints and history about a dealer or a repair shop before going in. People say later, "I wish I had done that." So do it.

2. Having said that, don't trust all reviews. Remember that the online reviews you rely on are often tarnished by algorithms. I don't trust Yelp because Yelp buries reviews. Isn't it a bit unfair that three anonymous comments from a year ago can keep you from trying a restaurant?

3. First results of a Google search are now ads. I wonder how many people realize that in most Google search results, the first hits at the top are paid ads, not true search results. That's how others hijack your search terms and steer you to their websites instead of where you want to go.

4. Craigslist is a haven for criminals. I know consumers get good deals on Craigslist, but whenever anyone tells me about a Craigslist rip-off, I'm like, "What did you expect?"

5. Towing signs are keys to happiness. My goal in life is not to get my car towed. I read towing warning signs the way a pastor reads the Bible. It's a predatory world out there. So read and obey every word of those warning signs.

6. Don't trust auto-debits from a bank account. Avoid them if you can. But on businesses where you have no choice, like for a TollTag, check that the debits are accurate. And if you get rid of a car, don't forget to deactivate the TollTag.

7. Open your mail. Stamps and mail. Ugh. I know, right? You probably don't receive much physical mail and don't check the box every day, but occasionally there are people sending you letters you probably need to see. Sign up for "Informed Delivery" at USPS.com and have photos of your envelopes emailed to you every day before delivery.

8. Pepper spray. Comes in little tubes that can attach to a key chain. You don't need a concealed license for that.

9. Vote. If you vote, you can make a difference. But you must re-register every time you change your address (same goes for your driver's license, too). Texas may have as many as six elections in a year (party primary, runoff, city and school election and runoff, water district and school bond). Too many, but they're counting on you feeling overwhelmed so they keep control.

10. Deposit your checks. Bank checks are so 20th century, but if you receive one, cash it or deposit it because they do expire. Use your phone app to avoid a bank visit. And don't forget to call Grandma and thank her.

11. Make a record. Use your phone to take pictures of important documents or situations. If you're in a car accident, for example, first make sure you, your passengers and the other vehicle's drivers are safe. Then take quick photos of the scene and the license plates of the cars. It's legal and you protect yourself. People lie about accidents.

12. Don't forget the homestead exemption. If you own a home in Texas, make sure you applied for a homestead exemption at your county appraisal district. It's a tax discount that's worth thousands of dollars, but they're not going to remind you.

13. Beware of forgeries. Emails and letters that look like they come from your boss or your bank or your favorite store may be easily made forgeries. Assume the worst. If you hear a little voice in your head questioning something, turn up the volume. That little voice is trying to protect you.

14. Know your numbers. If you take out a car loan, what is the interest rate? If you're buying electricity, how much are you paying for a kilowatt-hour and when does your contract expire so you can shop for a better deal?

15. Traps. If you ever need a garage door repair company or a roofer, please do a search for The Watchdog's prior stories. You'll save thousands of dollars.

I have so much more, but you've probably read enough. Thank you for getting this far. Oh, and if you know how I can speed up my older iPhone that clunks along with the new operating system, please let me know at watchdog@dallasnews.com, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Hope you enjoyed The Watchdog's gift. Remember: offense, not defense.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

The Watchdog Desk works for you to shine light on questionable practices in business and government. We welcome your story ideas and tips.

Contact The Watchdog

Email: watchdog@dallasnews.com

Call: 214-977-2952

Write: Dave Lieber, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265