Archive for the ‘Legislative actions’ Category

It’s a fine line between targeted marketing, cellphone stalking

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted June 08, 2014, at 12:43 p.m.

Here’s a quick question relating to your privacy: How much and what kinds of geotracking do you think are acceptable?

Geotracking is the science (some would say art) of finding a person by way of his or her cellphone or other electronic device. It could provide an answer to that nagging question, “Do you know where your teenager is right now?”

It could also be the means to all kinds of mischief.

The apps included with many of today’s smartphones — or available for purchase — can track those phones’ locations. Advertisers pay to know where phone users are in the lightning round of modern commerce; walk into some stores and almost instantly your phone receives info about products that someone knows you’ll want to buy there.

Knowing someone’s location in real time could be a lifesaver. Consider the aging parent diagnosed with dementia who wanders away from home. Tracking that individual might be critical. However, as with all technological advances, it can be abused.

That worries U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, who has introduced what he calls the Location Privacy Protection Bill. It would ban what amount to “stalking” apps that people might use to keep too close an eye on a loved one. That part of the bill has strong support from opponents of domestic violence.

The second part of Franken’s bill would require companies to get a person’s permission before collecting location data from the person’s phone or other device and sharing the data with anyone. That’s a huge concern for corporations, whose executives see big profit potential in “geolocation marketing” of their products.

The Franken bill first appeared in 2012. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee but never reached the Senate floor. While concern over privacy and cybersecurity may bolster support in some quarters, observers seem split on whether it has a chance to pass during the current session of Congress.

Meanwhile, companies are making trackers available and affordable. One of them — designed with the daredevil in mind — includes an emergency button to be pressed only in case of life-threatening situations. Its maker says it can trigger a search-and-rescue operation.

Businesses have legitimate reasons for upping the geolocation ante, especially in web-based trade. Examples might include making special offers to consumers in specific locales, complying with varying state or local laws and trying to detect cyber criminals posing as clients.

MasterCard began testing a system in February aimed at reducing fraudulent card transactions abroad. A cardholder’s mobile phone needs to be switched on and be nearby when a card transaction occurs.

MasterCard says the procedure — which requires cardholders to opt in if they want it — should also reduce the number of legitimate charges that are denied.

Then there’s the profit motive. MasterCard said in one promotional piece that the new system would allow retailers with geolocation technology to ping your phone offering a special deal as you drive by, or upping your rewards points based on your location.

Look for such targeted offers for people carrying phones to increase. If other companies use the MasterCard model of asking consumers to opt in, we should get a clearer picture of just how much personal information we’re willing to divulge.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visithttp://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Move over law – WABI-TV

Russ and Joy talk about and remind people of Maine’s Move Over Law. VIDEO

This law was put in place in 2007, and requires drivers to be cautious when passing emergency responders on the roadway. Drivers are to move over if possible or slow down when going by emergency responders.

Get a check from the federal government? Watch out for scams

CONSUMER FORUM
By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted Jan. 13, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.

Ever since the federal government said it would stop sending paper checks in favor of using direct deposit, scam artists have been hard at work. With a March 1 deadline for the switch coming, expect crooks to ramp up their illegal efforts.

Scammers call, write or email to phish for personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers. Once they have enough information, the crooks can claim a false identity and set up an account to receive federal payments.

The U.S. Treasury Department is getting the word out that the switch to direct deposit will be complete as of March 1. Everyone who receives Social Security, veterans’ or other federal benefits should be aware that many such payments will no longer be made by paper checks.

There are two basic reasons for the change, which has been under way for a number of months. Right now, about 93 percent of all federal payments are directly deposited. The Eastern Area Agency on Aging, or EAAA, estimates 3,200 recipients in Hancock, Washington, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties are still receiving paper checks. Fully implementing direct deposit is expected to save the government $4.6 million a month, or a billion dollars over the next decade.

It’s also intended to make those federal payments more secure. Federal statistics show that more than 440,000 Social Security checks were stolen in 2011, and $70 million in checks were fraudulently endorsed. Direct deposit is expected to cut those figures dramatically.

Dyan Walsh, EAAA’s director of community services, says about 300,000 Mainers use direct deposit. “It’s a safety issue,” Walsh says, “to reduce the chance of anything happening to those payments.”

However, there are still risks. Those scammers are already on the phones, claiming to be government officials and asking people for the information that will help the crooks steal their money. Be aware: Governments don’t call or email and ask personal questions; if someone calls you claiming to be a federal official and wants personal information, just hang up.

Instead, you should take the initiative to make sure your payments are secure. The Treasury Department has launched the Go Direct campaign, explaining and promoting the change at www.GoDirect.org. Information is also available through a toll-free call to 800-333-1795, from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday-Friday.

You can arrange for direct deposit to your bank or credit union account, either by phone or online. Christopher Pinkham, president of the Maine Bankers Association, says people in the industry are ready to answer customers’ concerns, especially about safety.

“It’s remarkable how well [direct deposit] works,” he told me.

Visit your bank or credit union and ask questions directly, if using the phone or email makes you uneasy.

You may opt to receive your payments by way of what’s called Direct Express Debit Mastercard. There’s no charge to sign up for the prepaid debit card, and most services are free. Those who have not arranged direct deposit by March 1 will receive their payments this way.

When making the switch you’ll need your Social Security number or claim number; 12-digit federal benefit check number; amount of most recent federal benefit check; financial institution’s routing transit number, and your account number and type — checking or savings. Work with a trusted friend or relative if you need help.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Consumer Forum: Oil dependence is a hard habit to break

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Oct. 23, 2011, at 11:35 a.m.

Every consumer in Maine has noticed the fluctuation in oil prices lately. In a tough economy, those changes have prompted a lot of conversation about the topic.

It’s easy to talk about the need to reduce our dependence on oil. Actually doing it will require more determination, resolve and effort than most of us have expended to date. The hard fact is, it’s a difficult habit to break.

About 10 days ago, a group called Environment Maine released a report calling for a 40 percent reduction in oil use in the state by 2030. Based on the Pine Tree State’s consumption of 37 million gallons of oil in 2008, that would project total oil use in 2030 around 23 million gallons.

That assumes aggressive measures to conserve, using alternatives and otherwise beginning to quench our insatiable thirst for petroleum products. The report said a “business-as-usual approach” would result in lower savings and a total consumption figure closer to 30 million gallons.

The authors admit all projections are just that; our actual results certainly will vary. The hard truth is for all the talk about the need to reduce consumption, the consuming public is all over the map in cutting use.

It’s a hard sell in Maine, for a variety of reasons. The biggest is our climate; long, tough winters require us to generate a lot of heat. More than 400,000 households — about 75 percent of all Maine homes — rely on oil for warmth. Some homeowners have turned to pellets and other biofuels for heat.

The last session of the Maine Legislature saw passage of LD 553, An Act to Improve Maine’s Energy Security. The law calls for cutting oil consumption statewide by 30 percent by 2030 and by 50 percent by 2050. The governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security has until Dec. 1, 2012, to figure out how to meet those goals. The bill became law without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage, who wants to ramp up use of natural gas, calling it plentiful and efficient.

Critics argue that trading one fossil fuel for another just delays inevitable shortages and invites higher costs by profit-hungry energy companies. Environment Maine and like-minded groups call for a laundry list of better practices, including electric vehicles, doubling mass transit ridership, promoting high-speed rail and bicycling, and retrofitting homes and businesses to save energy.

Our responses as consumers likely fall into one of two categories: “We’ve heard it all before” and “It won’t work here.” The first group has caulked, weatherstripped and insulated everywhere; they doubt the cost-effectiveness of further steps, which many can’t afford without government-sponsored incentives. The second group notes our geography, which discourages transport options geared to more populous regions. Some of us resent the carrot of electric cars dangled before us by makers who offer them only “in select markets.”

As a society, we’re conditioned to expect simple answers to most problems; we’re frustrated when geography and geopolitical realities defy easy solutions. So let’s think about making some hard decisions. Let’s let Maine’s policymakers know our feelings as they make the rules that will shape our energy policy for the future.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to necontact.wordpress.com, or email contacexdir@live.com.

Check phone bill for illegal charges – Bangor Daily News

CONSUMER FORUM
By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted June 25, 2011, at 5:20 p.m.

Here’s a request for a little of your time that could save you quite a bit of money. All you have to do is read carefully when you receive your phone bill.

Careful scrutiny can detect “cramming,” an illegal practice of adding charges to your bill for services you do not receive. The fake charges likely will have misleading or meaningless labels, such as “service fee,” “calling plan” or “membership.” They might be for products or services unrelated to telephones, including diet plans, travel clubs or yoga classes.

Sometimes small checks are included with your bill. These may appear to be customer appreciation promotions, when in fact the small print tells you you’re signing up for something, and will be billed monthly thereafter. Again, read carefully.

The fees are often small: $1.99 or $2.99 charges are not uncommon. The crammers count on the multiplier effect, tacking the bogus charges onto tens of thousands of bills.

The Federal Communications Commission fired a warning shot at crammers last week. The FCC released a tip sheet for consumers to help them root out the phony fees, including ways to dispute the fake charges.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said the release builds on what his agency is calling the consumer empowerment agenda. It’s aimed at helping consumers use communications technology to its fullest without frivolous charges.

“We want to send a clear message: If you charge consumers unauthorized fees, you will be discovered and you will be punished,” Genachowski said.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued what are called Notices of Apparent Liability recently to four companies for allegedly charging customers for long distance services they had not requested. The notices named companies whose unauthorized billing appears to have gone on for months. Those named were Main Street Telephone at $4.2 million; VoiceNet Telephone, $3 million; Cheap2Digital Telephone, $3 million; and Norristown Telephone, $1.5 million.

The FCC tip sheet for consumers is worth a look. It contains useful advice such as the following:

  • Read promotional materials and forms carefully before signing anything. Be extra careful of offers you receive by phone.
  • Review your monthly phone bill carefully, looking for the sudden appearance of charges for new services. Make sure you’ve really ordered those services before paying, and don’t ignore small charges.
  • If you suspect you’re a victim of cramming, call and ask for an explanation of unclear charges. If you’re not satisfied with the explanation, call your phone company and ask to have incorrect charges deleted. If that doesn’t work, you can file a complaint with the FCC for interstate or international calls. For problems with in-state calls, the Maine Public Advocate’s office can help. Contact the Federal Trade Commission for nontelephone-related charges on your bill.

As with many consumer issues, attention to detail is critical. Cramming is an ongoing problem, despite officials’ enforcement efforts; crooks will use all manners of deception and technological trickery to try to steal your money. Don’t let them succeed.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and NortheastCONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or email atcontacexdir@live.com.

Senate showdown over limiting debit card fees

FairPoint – News channel – Top stories – Senate showdown over limiting debit card fees.

WASHINGTON – A top senator mounted a populist-style attack on banks on Wednesday with a vote pending on whether to block a Federal Reserve plan to lower debit card fees.

Financial institutions and their supporters on Capitol Hill have been fighting a Fed proposal to cap, at 12 cents, the fee stores must pay banks each time a shopper swipes a debit card. Those fees currently average about 44 cents per swipe, transactions that earns banks and credit card companies $16 billion a year, the Fed says.

The battle has pitted banks against merchants, two industries that lawmakers hate to cross because of their influence back home and their campaign contributions.

With a showdown voted slated for later Wednesday, the Senate’s chief proponent of lowering the swipe fees, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said that taxpayers had helped banks “in their darkest hour,” a reference to the $700 billion financial industry bailout of 2008. He said banks showed their gratitude by showering huge bonuses on their executives.

“Honestly, are we going to stand here and say we can’t protect small businesses across America struggling to survive?” said Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democratic leader.

In debate on Tuesday, a leader of the drive to prevent the Fed from capping the fees also sought to appeal to everyday Americans, saying he was fighting for jobs and rural America.

“Hard-working folks will get stuck with higher fees” by banks that will have to offset lost revenue by boosting their charges for things like checking accounts, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. He also warned about more consolidation by the banking industry. Continue reading

Consumers should be aware of legislative proposals

Environment needs our vigilance

Kid-Safe Products Act not as secure as one would think.

L.D. 1129, H.P. 841
An Act To Provide the Department of Environmental Protection with Regulatory Flexibility Regarding the Listing of Priority Chemicals. (Presented by Representative HAMPER of Oxford)

Summary

This bill makes a number of changes to the priority chemical program, including:

1. Amending the Maine Administrative Procedure Act to require that the Legislature receive notification through the regulatory agenda process of any proposals to regulate chemicals pursuant to the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 38, chapter 16D before rulemaking may be initiated;

2. Providing the Department of Environmental Protection with a process by which it can respond to developments in science to remove the designation of and de-list a chemical that is ultimately found to not pose a risk to human health;

3. Designating rules adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection that designate chemicals of high concern as priority chemicals to be major substantive rules;

4. Establishing de minimus levels of chemical concentrations in children’s products;

5. Establishing clear exposure criteria for designation of priority chemicals;

6. Removing the presumptions regarding safer alternatives to a priority chemical;

7. Reducing regulatory duplication with other state or federal programs; and

8. Increasing from 10 to 45 days the amount of time a manufacturer or distributor of a product offered for sale in violation of the priority chemical requirements has to provide evidence that the product is not in violation or notify persons who sell the product.

Status In Committee Referred to Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Mar 15, 2011.
Latest Committee Action: WORK SESSION, Apr 12, 2011, Tabled
Committee Report: Not Reported Out

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