Dear Readers: Today's SOUND OFF is about phone scammers. -- Heloise

"Dear Heloise: I'm sick of phone scammers! Things have gotten so bad, and the scammers have gotten so sophisticated, that I'm afraid to answer the phone if it's a number I don't recognize. So now, even if a charity calls, I simply say, 'I take no solicitations by telephone.' Then I hang up.

"The other day, I received an email that looked legitimate from my internet carrier, but something cautioned me to phone and inquire whether or not they had actually asked for my Social Security number, along with banking information (which I NEVER give out). They hadn't sent me an email and told me to report this to the state consumer protection office or to the Federal Trade Commission's online Complaint Assistant. I've been cautious, and I hope others will be as well." -- Marla S. in San Diego

FAST FACTS

Dear Readers: Here are some early holiday hints:


Start making your own holiday traditions.
Make some new dishes that will become holiday favorites.
Do as much as you can in advance so you can enjoy the holiday, too.
Have the whole family involved in the decorations, food and music.

-- Heloise

FILE FOR LIFE

Dear Heloise: As a retired member of the fire department, I keep a "File for Life" in case anything should happen to me. I also update all my medications, and I keep one list on my refrigerator and one in my vehicle glove compartment. This is so paramedics can locate it to see what medications I am currently taking to treat my medical issues. -- Bill B., Mingo Junction, Ohio

Bill, that's an excellent idea. Everyone should also take the time to attend to the paperwork needed for a living will, as well as any other important wishes you have. Don't assume anyone will automatically know what you want. Tell them. -- Heloise

SEND A GREAT HINT TO:

Heloise

P.O. Box 795001

San Antonio, TX 78279-5001

Fax: 1-210-HELOISE

Email: Heloise@Heloise.com

BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

Dear Heloise: I live in a very warm climate, and we have a problem with insects. No matter how clean a home is, water bugs find a way in. To help keep them out of my pantry, I put all cereals, flour, staples and spices in airtight plastic containers rather than leave these items in their original packages. Not only does it keep my foods fresher, it also keeps the bugs out. I do the switch-out from package to plastic container as soon as I get home from the grocery store. -- Malia K., Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii

SIMPLE GARDEN LANTERNS

Dear Heloise: You can take any jar, even a baby-food jar, and place a votive candle in it to use as a lantern in your garden. Either place them around the patio or among the plants, or suspend them by wire or ribbon from tree branches to provide a soft, romantic light for the evening. -- Rae-Ann R., Leesville, La.