The Watchdog: The Watchdog on bitcoin machines, retired teacher pensions, property tax reform, roofers, robocalls | The Watchdog

When Bud Cawyer of East Texas, an 80-year-old scam victim who lost $295,000 to fake federal agents, told me how he put $20,000 in $100 bills into a bitcoin machine at a gas station to pay his crooks, he said me: “Wait, what?!”

Did you know that there are now bitcoin ATMs in gas stations and convenience stores? I certainly don’t.

Bitcoin or cryptocurrency, as it is also called, is becoming more and more accepted. For example, you can buy Dallas Mavericks tickets using cryptocurrency.

I played a game this week. I went to a bitcoin machine near a gas station and pretended 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 would own 0.00112 of a coin.

I stood by that machine for 20 minutes to get it to work. But between providing all my personal information, copying 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 do my to accept money.

Two credit cards and one debit card were rejected. My bank later emailed me that the refusal was for security reasons.

I imagined my fictitious con artist getting enraged at 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. The warnings are loud and clear: “You could be the target of a scam if you were sent to this kiosk by a third party, lawyer or law enforcement officer that you did not meet in person.”

After more warnings (“the IRS and the 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. Are you taking a personal check?

Stuck in the middle

Among the many Texans caught in the crossfire of the House Democrats’ flight to Washington, DC are real estate taxpayers seeking reform. The same goes for retired teachers who say they desperately need an increase in the cost of living from their state pension.

Accounts related to both issues will be stalled with no action from the House. Of course, both issues should have been addressed in the legislature’s regular session.

Teachers who retired after 2004 have never received a raise.

As for the property taxes, the state Senate has passed a bill designed to eliminate the property tax shock for homebuyers for their first year in a new home. Under current law, a new homeowner cannot claim a discount on the home exemption until January 1 of the following year.

Senate Bill 8 would allow buyers to claim their home exemption for the year they bought instead of waiting until the following year. This can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in property taxes.

Too bad state leaders aren’t looking at lowering the 10% annual cap on a home’s appraised value. That would be a real tax saving.

Stop selling our data

Now that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the 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’ve heard from Senator 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 tries to make the practice illegal for the rest of the state government.

Nichols told me that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick offered to expand the bill’s scope to more departments, but Nichols said he wanted to focus on the biggest fish this time around.

Improve Robocalls? haha!

My favorite stupid headline recently appeared on cnet.com: “Robocalls are getting out of hand. But that could all change today.”

The story appeared on June 30, the deadline for major phone companies to start using new technology to stop spam calls.

For the past two weeks, phone companies are said to have been tracking spam calls and determining where they come from. From now on, the caller ID should match the actual sender.

How are you? I celebrated this development by answering multiple spam calls. So much for the headline “that could all change today”.

Check the industry association

“Any suggestions for an honest roofer?” I was recently asked.

It is on the minds of many of my neighbors who were struck by a spring hailstorm.

I have received 28 postcards in the mail advertising roofers. Billboards for roofers have also risen. One just knocked on my door even though I put up a ‘don’t ask’ sign.

Hire who? I would contact the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association. Logic dictates that if a company joins its local trade association, it wants to be a longtime player in this market, as opposed to an overnight scammer.

And if something goes wrong, you can seek help from the association. In a state with no roofing license, that’s the best The Watchdog has to offer.

Keeping it in perspective

Did you happen to notice the news last month that astronomers first witnessed a black hole gobbling up a neutron star?

Ten days later, they saw the same thing “the other side of the universe,” The Associated Press reported.

Did you even know that there is “the other side of the universe”?

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