Sunday, November 15, 2009

To buy a car over the internet - Craigslist and EBAY

I recently encountered a scam as I set out to find a bargain on Craig's List. We all have heard that there are scams and we all hear there are bargains out there. To determine the difference, we have to research the "bargains". Generally, if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.

Here is the scam. Someone advertises a car for sale on EBAY. They have taken all measures to legitimately sell their car electronically. There are services available to do just about anything you want. One thing a seller does is to take plenty of photos. Another is to list the vin# or provide it to the potential buyer on request.

The scamer captures the photographs and the VIN# from the EBAY seller, then advertises that the car is his car to sell. He does this to see if someone is in dire need of a great bargain. The car is priced to get rid of it in a hurry to speed up the process. There is a good excuse to sell it, mostly because the person is going overseas in a few days, or it is property from a divorce. The scamer needs money from the sale quickly so she (that seems to work better for a scamer. A female is trusted more). The scamer then says that she will either use a service of EBAY where a seller can use another means of actually making a sale (Craig's List), or  she will ask for money upfront through Western Union or some other means. He will tell the buyer that the transaction is risk free, because EBAY will refund your money after 5-10 days if you do not like the automobile you have purchased. The transaction will of course look like it is official from EBAY with logos and everything, but it will not be EBAY. In fact it is probably someone from out of country. 

To be cautious and diligent, you as a consumer might go and purchase a report or several reports from a  third party such as Carfax. The report on the vin# will show excellent information including that the automobile is for sale! The scam is well thought out. The next day, you get to follow their process, which includes completing a transaction with a guarantee that you have 5-10 days to try the car and if disatisfied, you can tell the financial company that you reject the purchase and you will be refunded. Of course, after sending in the $5000 or so, there is no way to track the person, email address or anything else. Your money is gone. The car was never theirs to begin with, so you have just fallen for a crafty scam.

Fortunately I chased this for a few hours and uncovered the scam from searching on internet and my family had caught onto it as well, so I was getting advice from them. What is strange is that these people are allowed to operate. Craig's list is free and unmonitored, so you get what you pay for when using that service. People have been known to find bargains there, but perhaps as many as 2 out of 3 car transactions might very well be scams.  I knew there was something awry when the person on the other end could not or would not answer my specific questions. 

Advice? If you are compelled to use that means or EBAY, make sure you have a telephone number, not an email address. Deal directly with the person. and never buy anything from an individual without touching it. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Woodlands Township Moves Forward passing another major milestone. What next?

Now, as a new milestone is in the rear view mirror, The Woodlands Texas is positioned to launch its five year infrastructure plan with the construction of three fire stations, additional parks and pathways, and execute a long term financial strategy with insured fixed rate bonds. Tax payers can rest at ease for while as we enter this final era to complete the resident infrastructure of this master planned community in partnership with the development company of The Woodlands. Creekside Park will complete it's build-out and we will begin to plan ahead for maintaining our community. Our future may yield a full municipality as we consider the future government in the days ahead, but the urgency of a decision still remains on the horizon. We don't have to deal with that right now. It will be complex, full of financial and operating issues.

We will be looking forward to reaching a class "1"  ISO rating after achieving full coverage of emergency services throughout all villages. That will be another milestone we hope to achieve within the next 5 years. Along with that , the CERT teams are being formed where citizens expect to be able to respond to emergencies such as tornadoes, hurricanes and major disasters within our own neighborhoods. The support of that capability will also be associated with the emergency services of the fire department, but not dependent on the fire department. Hopefully we can reach a 4-minute average response for EMS services in The Woodlands as we get our major roads upgraded to mitigate local traffic congestion and when the additional fire stations have been constructed. Then we should be fully positioned to handle emergencies. We will have the medical facilities and the response infrastructure to care of those sick and injured within our community.

As we move forward, we must remember that there remain significant issues that have not been addressed yet. Our roads need maintenance. The county is reluctant to have a bond election in this economy so we wait, and it might be a long wait at that.

An interesting thing happened in this election. The Woodlands accounted for nearly 50% of the voters in Montgomery County.  That means we may have a chance of getting voter support for road bonds in an off-year election.  We rallied considerable more votes with the Woodlands Bond issue than we would normally expect. So there is hope that we can pull enough votes in the county to get a bond issue passed, if we support it ourselves. Otherwise, we may have to incorporate and maintain the roads ourselves. That would be a localized tax burden that we do not want, yet it may be a necessary strategy in our future. We also face significant water issues. That is a local issue and can be managed through our water districts, but this is something tax payers will be very  sensitive about in the long run. The cost of building transportation systems from Lake Conroe and delivery systems locally will be huge, and it will come from our pockets through bond funds.  Another issue facing The Woodlands Township is how to provide office space for our new government. Government office building(s) will be needed, and we will need to decide what that looks like - with water district personnel or not, one office building for all administrative personnel, whether we will have a separate police station or consolidate that with the government offices, and more.  That will likely require a bond proposal as well.

So we move forward, one step at a time towards a mature master planned community that is maintained well and where property valuations hold or increase. As we become embedded and surrounded by other small communities, we may have no place to extend our boundaries. That in itself will drive strategies for maintenance that needs attention within the next five years. We have to know how we will maintain our assets and have a clear vision of what that will cost and what income we can generate without raising taxes. In fact, we need the tax rate to be lowered after five years. Residents do not want taxes to be indexed against house inflation! Residents are tired of experiencing that phenomena.  It is time to plan holding down cash flow instead of holding down tax rates. We do that by reducing the tax rate. We have many people on fixed income, and if home inflation continues to out-pace living inflation, people will be forced to exit and move elsewhere. We do not want that in our community.

Look to May 2010 when we will be voting for additional Township leaders. Taxes and Township will be a major issue. Seniors want help and so far have not received any financial assistance. We spend money to attract businesses and build upon the attraction of our community. That puts pressure on the cost of housing by those who wish to move here, and therefore prices rise. We need to put a lid on the tax burden and distribute the load appropriately. Those considering running for election should be thinking about this now, so should residents.