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File complaint against business

I paid $4,800 for hearing aids I purchased from Steve Alexander at the Hearing Care Center in Belleair Bluffs. The aids were adjusted and remade, but I could still not use them, so I returned them. I have been waiting since Nov. 5 for the refund I was promised. I was supposed to get it within 60 days of that date.

Joanne Willis

Response: Hearing Care Center has moved and left no forwarding address. The phones are no longer in service. We could also not find a state license for Steve Alexander at the Web site of the Florida Department of Health.

The Pinellas County Department of Consumer Protection has received five complaints against the business, of which two have been resolved. The remaining three were filed in February. We suggest you add your complaint to the roster. Call (727) 464-6200, or write to Department of Consumer Protection, 15251 Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 209, Clearwater, FL 33760.

Logic and identity theft

I read the columns on identity theft in February. I already follow most of the suggestions for prevention of identity theft. However, I am concerned at how often I am asked for a Social Security number, as in the following situations:

1. When making out-patient hospital appointments for my 93-year-old mother, I'm always asked for her Social Security number.

2. I fell in a store recently and my Social Security number was required to file a claim.

3. I requested help using an ATM at a bank branch in a supermarket and was asked for my Social Security number. There were people standing around me, so I refused and walked away.

I take my outgoing mail to the post office and shred personal/financial information, but I wonder about the risk in the examples I cite. Fred Holder

Response: There is a fine line between being careful and overly cautious. While we urge readers to treat all requests for their Social Security numbers, mother's maiden name, account numbers and other identifying information as red flags, many times the requests are legitimate. The key is to know who is asking for the information and why.

Keeping this in mind, we find nothing wrong with the requests for your, or your mother's, Social Security number in the examples you cite. For instance, if the hospital has another patient with the same name as your mother's, their Social Security numbers should prevent the two from being mixed up. In the case of the bank, what if your ATM card had been stolen and the bank had helped the thief access your account without checking? Let common sense prevail.

Sewer claim pending

On Dec. 8, my sewer line backed up. I called five plumbers before finding a company that would come out on a Saturday. On Jan. 11, the line backed up again. The plumbers worked for hours without finding the problem. Finally, someone with a camera was brought in. The camera showed that the city sewer was blocked with roots, while my sewer line was free of obstruction, so the city of St. Petersburg was called.

I asked the city for reimbursement of the two plumbing bills of $185 and $950, the $75 I paid two friends to help me clean up, and $15.47 plus tax for 13 gallons of bleach. This is only the monetary cost and does not take into account the stress of seeing my sunken tub and two toilets filled to the top with sewage as well as the shower stall and the floors in both baths, the hall and kitchen.

The city's response was that I would not be reimbursed because its work represented an improvement on my property. I had no problem until the city sewer caused the backup. My backyard is now full of holes and my plants ruined. The repairs have not even been completed, and I have a huge hole in my back yard with plywood and a city sign over it. I hope you can help. Jewell Miller

Response: Cathryn Bernoskie with the city of St. Petersburg risk management division said that since this is a pending claim she could not discuss it with Action. However, she said the city had been in touch with you regarding this and would continue to keep you informed. Let us know what happens.

Illness postpones flight

In February 2001, my wife and I had to cancel a flight from Tampa to New York because she was admitted to the hospital. We rescheduled the trip twice but had to cancel both times. She is still under doctors' care.

Each time I tried to reschedule the flights I asked for a waiver of the $50 a ticket penalty because of the circumstances. I was told that everyone canceling a flight has a reason and the airline refused to budge. The last conversation got ugly and, in frustration, I hung up.

I am not asking for a refund of the tickets, only a waiver of the $50 penalty on each ticket. Surely there must be conditions where an airline's management would show compassion and understanding for its customers. Fortunato Serrano

Response: Airlines sell tickets in various price ranges and the least expensive are nonrefundable. Tickets that can be changed or refunded are available, but they can cost significantly more. No one buys nonrefundable tickets expecting not to use them, but if the airlines made exceptions for everyone, they would not be able to offer the lower price. In other words, you get what you pay for.

We're sorry we couldn't help. You may want to consider purchasing travel insurance for future trips.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request. Names will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.