To my youngest son, dear Austin, this coming week is the biggest week of your life. You depart your college town and move to your first true job in the business world.
Wow, I’m prouder of you than I thought possible. But I worry, too, because I gotta let you go. For the first time, you’ll truly be on your own. I’ll no longer watch your back; you’re going to have to become your own watchdog.
I can’t believe 22 years have passed since you popped out right there in front of me. In that first hour of life, I held you tight and told you why I named you Austin (you’re the first native Texan in the family).
Then I read you the Ten Commandments because I wanted to give you a proper start in life.
Now I’ve decided to send you off with an update. For you, I’ve created The Watchdog’s 10 Commandments. You’re going to be earning real money, lots of it, and I don’t want anyone taking it from you. So here goes.
1. Beware of all points of entry. Be on alert whenever anyone approaches you without you seeking them out. I no longer trust door-to-door sales people, anyone who calls me with sales pitches, or anyone who uses postal mail or email to solicit.
As part of that, if someone pressures you to buy today, but not tomorrow before the “deal” goes away, run away. That’s a huge red flag.
2. Watch the words. Be on alert for certain words and phrases designed to draw you in: deep discount, high rate of return, promotional gift, prize — and the most dangerous word of all — free. Don’t trust them.
3. Follow the asterisk. The asterisk in sales offers should never be ignored. The asterisk usually leads to the tiny print that tells you the real deal, as opposed to the sounds-too-good offer in the big headline. It’s never as good.
Similarly, you should try to do a quick skim of “terms and conditions” on anything you buy or sign up for. If you’re signing a written agreement and it contains something you don’t like, cross it out and initial it, then get the other party to do the same.
4. Use your phone’s camera as a record keeper. Take photos and video of sketchy situations. For example, take video after a car accident. If you’re in a public place or difficult situation, use the recording function.
5. Search, search and search. Before doing anything that involves your money and your time, check it out. God bless Google and all the other search engines.
But when using Google, always look at the web address because it’s easy to end up on fake sites. For example, when getting a driver’s license, make sure you’re on the state’s official website and not a private one that looks like the state site.
Same goes for buying event tickets. Secondary sellers’ websites usually show up higher than a theater’s box office website on searches because they pay for top placement. Result? You’ll often pay more.
6. Keep files. I love you, my boy. You’re smart, handsome and charming. But you lose stuff. Keys, tax documents, a wallet here and there. Keep a file system of important papers. Stay organized from the start. I won’t be there to help anymore.
7. Lowest price is not always better. Ask yourself why that product is cheaper at one particular store than all the others. Is it authentic or a knockoff? (Which reminds me, don’t buy anything from City Toner in Miami.)
8. Check credit status. I know you like to follow your high credit score, but as part of that you should keep an eye on your credit report — and the only place to get your free report is this website: www.annualcreditreport.com. The rest are knockoffs. The three reporting agencies are Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. When you get a report from one of them you look it over, make sure nothing is incorrect and then either file it or shred it.
9. Don’t click on it. People send me attachments all the time in emails, and I don’t open them. If I didn’t ask for it, I’m not going to risk it. Even if an email looks like it comes from your bank, your boss or your friends, don’t click. Ask them about it first.
10. Ask a bunch of questions. Don’t be shy. Ask questions, difficult ones, when you are in a situation that requires you to understand what you’re getting into. Don’t let people bamboozle you. Pin them down. Keep track. Don’t be a sucker. Pretend you’re like me, a journalist, who keeps digging. And don’t assume anything.
OK, son, that’s my 10. I’ll throw in a bonus one.
Wear clean underwear. I toss this one in as an homage to my mom, your grandmother whom you never met. She always said that you need to wear clean underwear because — get this — you might one day be in a car accident and the paramedics or the doctors might have to cut off your clothes. No kidding.
Watchdog Junior, go out into the world. Chase your dreams. Throw long. Hit hard. Take chances.
Just watch your back.