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Personal finance tips: How to avoid hotel scams, and more
Three top pieces of financial advice — from how to prioritize your bills to how debt collectors track you
 
In debt? Don't post photos like this to Facebook: Collectors could be watching.
In debt? Don't post photos like this to Facebook: Collectors could be watching. (Thinkstock)

Avoiding hotel scams
Beware of hotel booking sites bearing deals, said Alina Tugend at The New York Times. In what travel experts label "a systemic industry problem," a growing number of customers are being duped "by promises of great deals" on official-looking websites. But in reality, they are being pushed to affiliate sites, incurring unwanted charges, and getting lost in a maze of fine print and Byzantine booking policies. Customers looking to book online should be "careful of what you click," avoiding third-party sites and, whenever possible, booking directly from the hotel website. And if you need another reason to "always pay online with a credit card," here it is: Unlike debit cards or money orders, you can dispute unwanted credit card charges before paying up.

How debt collectors track their prey
There's nowhere to hide from debt collectors, said Gerri Detweiler at Credit.com. While it's hard for just about anyone to get off the grid these days, if you're behind on a debt, it's all but impossible. Debt collection agencies "have many tools at their disposal" to track you down, starting with information you provided to the original lender. When that fails, debt collectors might turn to your credit report and public databases, which can provide information about other accounts, address histories, and name variations. And forget Facebook. Collectors can comb through your social media postings to get information about your income, assets, spending patterns, location, employer, even banking habits. Some firms steer clear of this tactic, "but for the moment it's probably safe to say that anything you post is fair game."

Time to prioritize your bills
When it comes to paying your bills, you're probably doing it all wrong, said Catey Hill at MarketWatch. While paying your mortgage before your credit card is always smart, many Americans are still putting their car loans ahead of those debts, "a trend that's been happening for at least a decade." Financial planners say that's plain backward, in part because most Americans have access to public transportation. But even when paying all your bills on time isn't possible, savvy consumers should always put the mortgage first. When you do need a break, "call the company and ask for a payment extension." If the first person says no dice, "ask to speak to a supervisor," who may be able to exercise some discretion.

 
Sergio Hernandez is business editor of The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for The DailyProPublica, the Village Voice, and Gawker.

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