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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Caveat Emptor...

Posted 5/06/14 (Tue)

Am I missing something? Have I been living under a rock for the past 30 years? Did I get my journalism degree at the wrong university?

It seems every time that I contact a public agency, I get the run-around no matter what the question, or what the agency.

Case in point, several weeks ago a local business owner alerted me to the fact there was a telephone scam going on in Kenmare.

This kind of stuff, although creepy and illegal, is incredibly intriguing to me so I began the process of tracking it down.

And after spending upwards of a week when I had opportunities, I made phone calls and sent e-mails. It became a source of great frustration because people who are supposed to be in the know, continued to pass the buck.

This surfaced a couple of months ago when a fire burned part of a vacant house in Kenmare. Each time I called who I thought was the appropriate office, I was referred to someone else until a woman on the street told me it was arson.

The same kind of thing happened with this telephone scam. I made numerous contacts to numerous agencies and essentially all I got was yet another referral.

Since I was able to track the telephone number down to a Provo, Utah exchange, I contacted the Utah Attorney General’s Office. They referred me to the Provo Police Department.

I contacted the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office’s consumer fraud division, they referred me to the securities division, who in turn, referred me to the public information officer.

When I finally tracked down the public information officer, I was immediately referred to the Federal Communications Commission.

So let’s recap this. The Utah Attorney General’s Office refers me to a local police department and the N.D. Attorney General’s Office refers me to the federal government.

By this time I am incredibly frustrated, so I contacted the telephone company in Provo. You guessed it. One receptionist referred me to another, who referred me to another, who referred me to corporate headquarters in Portland, Ore. When I called Portland, the second referral answered the phone.

Sometimes I wish I had a job like that where I could sit by the phone and pass the buck while earning corporate wages compliments of the taxpayers.

Had I done that in the military I would have never been promoted into a leadership position.

These high-level people really need to be accountable or they shouldn’t be in those offices. I understand the receptionist referring me to someone, but my goodness, when the PIO shirks the responsibility, I instantly lose respect for that individual.

When I was trained as an Army journalist, one of the basic line items we dealt with, that remains the most important, is to provide maximum disclosure with minimum delay.

Sometimes we had to deal with families whose Soldiers were killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.

No, it’s not a pleasant experience, but the message has to be delivered to the family first, then the media. Maximum disclosure with minimum delay.

With this telephone scam, however, there is a bigger issue and maybe my mistake was to identify myself as a journalist.

What happens when people actually get scammed out of money on the telephone. The Attorney General’s Office obviously doesn’t take responsibility so who do you go to?

Through phone calls and e-mails during this assignment, what became understood was caveat emptor, which is let the buyer beware in Latin. The increasing complexity of modern commerce has placed the buyer at a disadvantage. We are forced to rely more and more upon the skill, judgment, and honesty of the seller and manufacturer.

Unfortunately, in this case, there is no honesty so there is really no legal recourse. Bottom line, it’s your money, protect  it.

But, there are too many trusting people out there and when you get a caller who is so clever he can sell ice to an Eskimo, too many times people will get duped. But you can be assured that your tax dollars are at work, passing the buck from a state agency to the federal government.

When you have agencies like this that are afraid to say something, in my opinion, that just gives the shyster a license to operate in Utah and North Dakota.

Caveat Emptor!