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Stamp prices jump, AT&T Cellular in Cotton Bowl, ERCOT open records and more

Let me announce in this Watchdog shorts column that the era of stupid scammers is over. We have entered the era of sophisticated scammers.

It used to be that if you looked closely enough at most of the messages that came in the form of text messages or emails to your phone, you could easily spot fakes.

But that was before Ann Snyder Reece from Dallas sent me a photo of a text message supposedly from the US Postal Service announcing the delivery of a package. It looks so real it’s stunning.

She became suspicious when the text asked for her date of birth, and the drop-down menu showed all the peoples of the world.

It is also strange that he asked for a credit card for delivery. To check its authenticity, I sent it to USPS.

US Postal Inspector Paul Ecker confirmed it was a scam. “A fake website can be difficult to distinguish from a real website,” he said.

Best advice: Don’t click on the link.

This should become our national motto.

Stamp prices are on the rise

I have a secret. Did you know that postal rates will go up on Sunday, January 22nd?

I couldn’t find news on USPS.gov. Of course, there is a note about this, but it is from November.

Even the nice people at my local post office said they didn’t know.

Surely Forever stamps go from 60 cents to 63 cents. Postcards jumped from 44 cents to 48 cents.

Some Priority Mail flat-rate mailboxes may be discounted. For example, a regular fixed rate envelope drops from $9.90 to $9.65. However, we cannot be sure because new retail prices are not published.

USPS needs to better communicate price changes.

ERCOT open records

There has been some confusion as to whether the Texas power grid operator ERCOT is a government agency covered by the state’s open records law, or is more of a private entity.

I double checked this by submitting a record open request for all emails sent to ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas on his first day of work as a test.

ERCOT delivered the documents to me.

This is good news because it means the ERCOT records are public under the Texas Public Information Act.

Any Texas resident can request public records.

Electricity robbery

Here we go again.

As if the electricity bills aren’t already high.

We are already saddled with $6.3 billion in bonds that consumers must repay over the next few decades. The money is being used to help power companies recover losses from the February 2021 frost.

And here’s the Public Utilities Commission’s plan to remake the electricity market in Texas. (p)UC wants to add another 2% to your electricity bill.


The legislature must cancel the plan.

Cellular at major events

Am I the only one who notices that at some mass events, cellular communication may not work as it should? It’s even worse when AT&T sponsors the event.

Jim Welch from Dallas complained to me that this happened in October at the annual Red River Showdown between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl.

“Mobile connectivity during the game was terrible,” Welch said. “Sending messages during the game was almost impossible. Tried to use YouTube TV to watch reruns. No chance.”

Asked about this, AT&T issued a statement: “We are actively preparing our network for events like the Red River Showdown to keep customers, their families, and the public safety community connected. Overall, our network performed well at the event, with more than three terabytes of data transferred over our network during the game, which was attended by over 90,000 fans.”

Happiness is…

Charlie Brown says that happiness is a warm puppy.

True, but happiness for The Watchdog is when you think you’ve been robbed by a corporation, and years later you get a postcard in the mail saying you’ve been identified as a victim and eligible for a class action lawsuit.

If you rented a car from Avis or Budget between 2007 and 2015 and paid an electronic fee to the company in addition to the actual toll, you have until the end of February to file a claim at www.eTollsettlement.com.

That’s what happened to me six years ago. I sent a letter of complaint to the CEO of Dollar Car Rental after the company charged me $59 in administration fees because I paid $1 in cash for an out-of-state toll road.

What a gap.

My mistake

In a recent column about trackers in your car, I incorrectly reported that if you use the GoCarma app, you can qualify for a 50% discount with a second passenger in your car on Interstate 635 at any time of the day or night.

In fact, the discount on 635 and other TEXpress lanes is available during peak hours from 6:30 am to 9:00 am and from 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm Monday to Friday. I apologize for the mistake.

A $1.2 billion police academy?

Retired Navy Capt. Shep Stahel of Plano read that Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw is asking the Legislature to include money in its next budget to begin building a $1.2 billion active shooter training center and police academy.

It sounds like a monument to himself to me, so I’ll call it the Stephen S. McCraw Police Academy.

“Instead,” writes Stahel, “I suggest that the DPS contact an army base 50 miles north of Austin, where the US Army has been actively training marksmen for decades. Also in Quantico, Virginia, the FBI Academy and the US Marine Corps are actively training shooters. For police training, I suggest that local departments send new recruits to existing institutions. I see no need for the state to duplicate existing taxpayer-funded facilities.”

King of Consumers

Forty-three years ago, I met one of America’s greatest consumer fighters, but I didn’t know it.

As an aspiring reporter, I was assigned to interview Mikhail Perchuk, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC was under attack in Congress and funding was not guaranteed in the new budget.

He explained to me how the Congress really works.

“Lobbyists held closed meetings with congressmen,” he said. “Only one side is represented. What this man got is a clever tale of bureaucratic turmoil as industry is needlessly suppressed by government regulation. …

“Congressmen are under tremendous pressure to respond to business because of the need for campaign funding,” he added.

It looks like it’s more applicable than ever.

Perchuk died in November at the age of 89. From his obituaries, I learned more about his life. He was so powerful in Congress on the consumer side that he was nicknamed the 101st Senator. He had “an impact on the lives of every citizen of the United States.” Washington Post wrote.

He is considered the driving force behind warning labels on cigarettes, the banning of tobacco advertising on television and radio, and the requirement for seat belts in cars. New York Times.

As a Senate lawyer and later Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, he helped develop laws governing pipeline safety, pleasure craft, railroad safety, consumer products, toxic substances, and drinking water. Big Tobacco named him Public Enemy No. 1.

The essence of his death is that no one with his height, position and abilities followed his path.

Michael Perchuk (left), Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, speaks with T. Boone Pickens, Jr., president and chairman of the board of Mesa Petroleum Co., prior to a Senate merger hearing in Washington, D.C., in 1984.(Ron Bennett/UPI/UPI)
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Dallas Morning News The Watchdog column won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Grand Prize for Column in 2019. The competition judge called his winning entries “exemplars of disturbing storytelling and public service.”

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