Viking Plaza needs improvements

Thumbs Down: The Viking Plaza mall is in dire need of improvement. We received an email from a reader that sums up what many mall-goers are thinking: “There are wonderful stores in the mall now and would love to see more tenants,” the reader said. “The outside of the building is so poorly maintained, along with the parking lot.” The reader added that the mall needs fresh paint, the signs of stores that are longer in business should be removed and some signs for the businesses that are there are missing letters. “Not very inviting for tenants or shopping customers,” the reader said. The Echo Press has left several phone messages and emails with the mall owners over the last few months asking for updates about the mall and its future but we haven’t received a response.

Helping kids at lemonade stand

Thumbs Up: Sometimes it’s the small things that leave a lasting impression. An Alexandria woman sends a thumbs up to the Waste Management crew who took time out of their busy day on July 12 to stop at a lemonade stand on Browns Point Road run by a young brother-sister team. “I'm sure the crew was glad they stopped – the ‘top shelf’ fresh squeezed lemonade with strawberry mint puree was great! What a great thing for the crew to do.”

Driveway scams

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Thumbs Down: If your driveway needs paving or repairs, don’t trust just anyone to do the job. That’s the advice from the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. In an alert sent out early this month, the bureau noted that summer is prime time of the year for unscrupulous contractors to trick homeowners with supposedly good deals that result in shoddy pavement or overpayment. Here’s how the scam works: A contractor leaves a pamphlet or shows up at the door. They claim they’ve been doing work in the area and just happened to notice the condition of your driveway or sidewalk. Since they're already working nearby, they can give you a discount. If the price is agreeable, they will then ask for a large percentage of the fee up front. Once the transaction is complete, the scam contractor may disappear completely. The contact number or email may not work, quickly helping you realize that the contact information was a sham. If you protest, the contractor may use intimidation tactics, such as threatening a lawsuit, to convince you to pay up. In other cases, the contractor work, once complete, is shoddy and unprofessional, but the full payment has been made. In any of these scenarios, the chances of getting a refund or the work fixed are slim. Tips to avoid contractor scams: 1. Be wary of unsolicited offers. 2. Get everything in writing. Ask for an estimate in writing before payment is even discussed. Don’t let a contractor start working on a project until a written, signed contract outlining start and complete dates, a detailed description of the work to be provided, material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information is provided. 3. Use safe payment methods. Paying with a credit card provides some peace of mind, since the credit card company will help you if the company is fraudulent.

Progress against robocalls

Thumbs Up: If you've noticed a recent drop in spam calls, you can thank the Federal Communications Commission. As of June 30, major U.S. phone providers must use caller ID authentication meant to block spoofed robocalls, which cost Americans some $10 billion annually. The new authentication system is designed to help law enforcement track bad actors. "We believe this is the most meaningful regulatory action ever taken to attack robocalls," Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. To cut down on spoof calls claiming to be from a government agency, bank, or business, carriers must verify a customer and phone number before an outgoing call goes through. Verizon, which implemented the technology by December, says it blocked more than 10 billion calls by late June. Wireless companies that don't comply may face penalties.

If you have a suggestion for a Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down, email it to or mail it to Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308.