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Give out SS number judiciously


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000

I recently received my new Visa card. It came with a toll-free number to call to activate it. I have have been a Visa card holder with this bank since 1969, and I have already paid my $20 annual membership fee.

My concern is that Visa is asking for my Social Security number, which I feel is private information, as do many others. The issuing bank refuses to activate my Visa card, and the old one expired at the end of May. I would appreciate your help. Martha Dyess

Response: Since the issuing bank is extending credit to you, it has the right to ask for identifying information. You do not have to provide it, of course, but neither does it have to provide you with a Visa card.

We certainly urge people to be cautious about giving out their Social Security numbers, even though it's nearly impossible to keep them secret anymore. Just think of all the times you are asked for your Social Security number, by banks, credit card and mortgage companies, credit bureaus, school systems, state driver's license divisions and so on. Those 10 digits have become a universal identifier, and, whether you like it or not, your number is out there.

Also, bear in mind that you cannot withhold your Social Security number from your employer or any bank, brokerage or other firm with which you have an account that earns income that is reportable to the Internal Revenue Service.

When it comes to giving out your Social Security number, make sure you know to whom you are giving it and that the reason for requesting it is legitimate.

Refunds unlikely

Last October our church in Lutz offered a group trip to Orlando to see the Jan. 22 performance of Ben-Hur: the Musical, which was publicized as being "the wonder of the world."

I received my tickets, but, by the time of our performance, the show had closed. I drove to Orlando to try for my refund, and on that day furniture was being taken out of the office.

I was given a notice about how to apply for a refund. I followed all the instructions and sent my request and the original tickets to Global Impact Concepts in Orlando on Jan. 24. To date I have heard nothing.

Rumors are that the company is in bankruptcy, but I don't know that for sure. Perhaps you can shed light on this, but in the meantime I am out $65. John A. Charles

Response: An item in the St. Petersburg Times on Feb. 2 reported that Global Impact Concepts Inc., the production company behind the flop Ben-Hur: the Musical, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Jan. 28.

Given the amount of money invested in the production, $9-million, it is unlikely that ticket holders will be given refunds. The show closed on Jan. 16, two months into its planned, four-year run.

Reimbursement issued

I recently tried a weight-loss product from Natura Medicina Laboratories in Keene, Texas, that was a failure.

In March I sent all the information that the company required for its guaranteed refund. In fact, I have sent it twice but still have not received the refund. Can you help? Nicolina Rhoads

Response: The company sent you a reimbursement check for $57.95 on or about May 23. You should have it by now. Let us know if you don't.

Although we can understand the lure of a claim for a product that promises to help you lose an average of one pound every 24 hours, remember that the key to most successful weight loss is simple, although that doesn't mean that it is easy: Eat less and exercise more.

Class action lawsuit

Is it too late to get my name on the Publishers Clearing House class-action lawsuit? I have given it about $3,000 in the last six years. Virginia McCollum

Response: According to information on the Publisher's Clearing House Web site,, if you have not already filed a claim in the class-action lawsuit filed in Illinois, you're too late.

However, you are still a part of the lawsuit that Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth filed against Publishers Clearing House in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on Sept. 22, accusing it of using deceptive marketing tactics in its sweepstakes mailings that led at least 42 Pinellas residents to believe that they had won the grand prize.

The lawsuit is seeking more than $40-million in restitution and penalties. Given the number of states that have separate lawsuits pending against the company, it is uncertain how much, if any, money will be available to Florida residents. Also, keep in mind that litigation is a lengthy process, so it can be a while before you hear anything.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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