Bamboozled: Wary consumers, I’m here to help

Bamboozled [bam-boo-zuhld]BB branding

1) Being deceived by underhanded methods. Duped. Hoodwinked. 2) Confused, frustrated or thrown off thoroughly or completely.

Indeed, bamboozled is a state in which we consumers find ourselves somewhat regularly these days. It’s no wonder. We’ve got a lot on our minds.

Times are lean, and families are trying to make every dollar count. So, when we come across a business that doesn’t treat us fairly, we want to fight, even for a few bucks — just because it’s the right thing to do. Too often these battles are met with dead ends.

We see lenders stingy about consumer credit, and they’re cutting credit lines to reduce risk to their bottom lines. Lower credit lines means less buying power for consumers, and worse, it also means an unavoidable drop in your credit score, even if you’ve never been late or missed a payment. That doesn’t seem fair.

We get tangled up in the seemingly endless procedures of big bureaucracies. Like the large company that insists you owe $25 more on your bill, yet can’t provide a customer service representative who can explain why. Or the government agency that won’t pay the benefits you think you’re owed, even though you properly and promptly filled out the reams of paperwork required.

There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated when your efforts are thwarted at every turn.

Yup. We’ve got a lot on our minds. Bamboozled is here to help.

Bamboozled will cut through the red tape and try to get answers. We’ll find the right people to talk to, ask them to help fix your problems, and if necessary, we might embarrass them or shame them into doing the right thing.

Like you, I come across consumer issues that can make me pretty snarky. (Just ask my editors …) If something happens to me as a consumer, or as an employee, or as a mom to three kids and the family money manager, heck, you could be next. I’ll let you know what I see along the way.

Thank goodness, there also will be times when companies do it right or when governments go above and beyond to protect you, dear consumer. I’m going to let you know about that, too.

(While we’d like to help every reader, we know we won’t be able to help everyone with every problem. But we sure are going to try.)

What’s raising my hackles this week? Insurance for your paycheck: I came across PaycheckGuardian.com, a website that offers what amounts to insurance on your income — with limits. (You can find this same offer under several different web- site names.) With so many people afraid of losing jobs, I can see the attraction.

If you purchase the most expensive option — the ‘‘Gold membership’’ — for a mere $69.95 a month (plus a $10 set-up fee), the company will pay you up to $1,500 a month for four months if you’re ‘‘involuntarily unemployed’’ or ‘‘accidentally disabled.’’

To receive benefits, you must be a ‘‘member’’ for at least four months and meet the four-month ‘‘actively at work’’ requirement, as defined in the policy. There’s also an elimination period of 30 days before benefits are paid, so your first 30 days of unemployment are not covered.

The policies are available in several states, including New Jersey, and are underwritten by Florida’s Lyndon Southern Insurance Company.

Terry Watterson, who heads up the insurer’s special products division, doesn’t have exact numbers of how many consumers have purchased the product, but he says it’s at least ‘‘several hundred.’’ Because the product is new, and because of the four-month membership requirement and the 30-day elimination period, Watterson also doesn’t know how many people, if any, are currently receiving benefits.

‘‘We have had several claims and I’m sure we will get more claims,’’ he said. ‘‘This is a real product that’s going to have real benefits.’’

Not in my opinion. This is a perfect example of a company preying on people in a time of fear and economic uncertainty. You’d pay more than $350 before being eligible for the first $1,500 monthly benefit, with a maximum benefit of $6,000. If you don’t lose your job, 12 months of premiums would cost about $850, with no benefit.

To be fair, PaycheckGuardian.com also provides other services, such as debt relief help and credit counseling as part of mem- bership, and this product’s dollar payouts are higher than those offered by similar products.

‘‘You get what you pay for, and there are people who will use it,’’ Watterson said.

I just hope they don’t include readers of this column. Don’t waste your money. Instead, spend your cash on job training, computer classes or something else to improve your résumé.