Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Military consumers face special challenges

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted July 13, 2014, at 10:39 a.m.

This Wednesday marks the second annual Military Consumer Protection Day.

We wrote about the first one last July, and the news flash this year involves several simultaneous efforts to help members of the military and their families become smart, informed and protected consumers.

This year’s observance features a 2 p.m. Wednesday Town Hall/Twitter chat on identity theft and a range of issues relating to credit. The hashtag to take part is #MCPD2014.

Close to home, the state of Maine has been removing barriers to employment opportunities for veterans. Some time ago, state officials announced they were streamlining processes through which veterans can apply for jobs involving technical skills.

The state credits a veteran’s military service and experience when that veteran applies for an occupational license. You can read more at http://www.maine.gov/pfr/military.html.

The state has a number of benefits available to veterans, alongside those benefits guaranteed by the federal government. You can read or download the Veterans Benefit and Resource Guide at http://maine.gov/dvem/bvs/Veteran%20Benefit%20and%20Resource%20Guide_2014APR11.pdf.

The really good news about consumer protection is that regulators are realizing that the need is ongoing. Just as private citizens need to have their rights as consumers safeguarded, so do members of the military and their families.

Federal and state governments plus a number of nonprofit organizations have set up a comprehensive website aimed at service people at http://www.military.ncpw.gov/.

“Military Consumer, Your First Line of Defense” has lots of information about credit, debt, fraud, identity theft and many other topics. You can download materials for free to help spread the word.

The website also includes links to other helpful places. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recognizes that military families face special monetary challenges; they may be approached by both good and bad lenders. The bureau has some advice for meeting those challenges at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/servicemembers/.

We could never cover all topics of interest to consumer-veterans here. The Military One Source website maintained by the Department of Defense offers individual, confidential consultation on health matters. There also is advice on virtually all aspects of military life. Read more at http://www.militaryonesource.mil/ or call 800-342-9647.

Many businesses offer special deals for members of the military and their families. Scam artists offer what may appear to be “deals” but are in fact veiled attempts to rip people off. Other crooks might pose as VA officials in an effort to obtain your personal and financial information. They might try to make you pay for records that should be free.

Don’t be fooled; know the person you’re speaking with, and be sure that any information you divulge won’t be used to defraud you.

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, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Summer Employment Tips for Minors – Maine Department of Labor

Teen Work Permits Available Online

PRESS RELEASE
06/11/2014 10:32 AM EDT

AUGUSTA

As school gets out for the summer, the Maine Department of Labor reminds youth looking for summer jobs that the work-permit application is available online. All minors under the age of 16 must have a work permit before they start a job, whether or not they attend school.”Summer jobs introduce teenagers to potential careers while teaching them important work-related skills, not to mention how to manage a paycheck,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “Young people between the ages of 16 and 20 have the highest unemployment rate of any age group, so jobs that help teens gain work skills will make them more employable as they finish high school and consider their next steps.”There are some restrictions based on age and type of work. For teens under the age of 16, restrictions limit the kinds of jobs and the hours they can work. Minors cannot work jobs considered “hazardous.” Some of the jobs Maine teens under 18 years of age cannot do include operating most mechanical equipment, driving for work and working alone in a cash-based business.
During non-school weeks in the summer, minors can work more hours than they can when school is in session, although hazardous duties protections still apply. Minors ages 14 and 15 can work 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, but no more than six days a week; minors 16 and 17 can work 50 hours a week, 10 hours a day, but no more than six days a week.

“Before going to work, however, there are several steps teens must take to obtain a work permit,” advised Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “First, they must look for work and receive a job offer. They then must apply for a work permit at the superintendent’s office of the school district in which they live.”

Teens or parents can download the work-permit application at http://www.maine.gov/labor/laborlaws/publications/mainework_permit.pdf , and drop off the completed form, which must include a parent’s signature, at the superintendent’s office. Blank forms are available at superintendent’s offices for pick up as well.

Parents and employers can expedite the approval process by making sure the work permit request includes both proof of age and parental/guardian approval. The application must contain the specific job duties (e.g., “dishwasher”). The name of the business on the permit must be the actual business name, which may be different from what people commonly call it.

The school district sends the completed application to the Maine Department of Labor for approval. Teens can have two active work permits in the summer but only one permit during the school year.

A copy of the Guide to Maine Laws Governing the Employment of Minors is posted on the Maine Department of Labor website and is available by request by calling (207) 623-7900. Additional forms and information about employment law in Maine are available at the Bureau of Labor Standards’ website at http://www.maine.gov/labor/bls/index.shtml .

Businesses with questions about employment rules, wage and hour law and unemployment taxes can call the Maine Department of Labor’s customer service line at (207) 623-7900. Our staff will connect you with experts in the area of the law that addresses your question or concern. For more information, visit http://www.maine.gov/labor/bls .

No, child, you don’t need it just because the guy on the screen says you do

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted June 01, 2014, at 11:51 a.m.

Click for reviews

The conversation, though fictional, could easily go like this:

“Mom, can I have that (whatever was just advertised on TV)?”

“Do you need it?”

“No, but I have to have it.”

“Why?”

“The guy on TV said so.”

From there, the conversation might go in any number of directions. As members of the consuming public, we’re all subject to a barrage of advertising. The younger consumers in our society are increasingly targeted by those ads; both we and they need to understand what the messages of the ads are all about.

Research by the National Institute on Media and Family shows young people spend more time in front of screens than on any other activity, other than sleeping. The average is 53 hours per week, and that’s enough screen time to absorb a pile of ad messages.

Do we need to say that many of those ads are designed for adult consumption?

The advertisers may well say with straight faces that they don’t try to influence children inappropriately. Critics argue that the ads are conditioning young people for lives of fast food, luxurious yet economical cars and a cosmetic or pharmaceutical for all occasions.

The merchants of these goods know the power of electronic media. They’re all too aware of the best intentions of concerned parents, carting children from one activity to the next until all are spent. Finally alone before their respective screens, the consumers of all ages log on, kick back and take it all in.

Most advertisers hope they take it in without question.

And so, parents have a huge obligation to provide guidance. Teach youngsters to think critically about the messages they see and hear — product-related or otherwise — and you’ve taught one of the most important lessons they’ll ever receive.

Cigarettes may be a prime example. Tobacco companies were barred from buying time on TV many years ago, but today electronic cigarette ads abound. Some health officials worry that a whole generation will become addicted to nicotine through a new delivery system. It’s worth a conversation, about both the health effects and the messages e-cigarette ads convey.

A hidden message in a lot of advertising is defiance. Researchers from the Annenberg School of Communications wrote in 1980 that not much study had yet been done on the role of TV commercials in ramping up family conflict. However, the authors said, “One implication from these studies is that by third grade, children become less accepting of parents’ refusals to purchase a product and more likely to respond to their frustration in an aggressive manner (Sheikh and Moleski, 1977).”

Finding the “truth” in advertising is likely another discussion entirely. But helping youngsters to look critically at ads and everything else that comes across their electronic screens is well worth the time and effort.

We recommend a great little book titled Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know by Shari Graydon. Writing for teens and tweens, Graydon sorts wheat from chaff in showing how ads target young people and how young people can be ready.

Talk about ads with a young person you know. You could both learn a lot.

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, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Home Improvement Scams – WABI-TV

Russ spoke with Joy about keeping an eye out for scammers when looking to find some home improvement workers.

There are three Maine laws that deal with transient sales and home repairs. They are explained in detail in the Consumer Law Guide published by the Attorney General’s office (visit www.maine.gov/ag. See chapter 17 of the Guide for laws relating to construction. Chapter 13 deals with transient sales).

Among the key pieces of advice are these.

Always have a written contract for any job costing more than $3,000. There’s a three-day cooling off period before work starts; if you decide you don’t want the job done within those three days, you can cancel the deal. You and the contractor may–but you don’t have to–agree to settle any disputes that might arise through mediation or arbitration.

Don’t sign a contract that includes any blank spaces (to be filled in later). And Maine law says the contractor cannot ask for more than one-third of the total contract amount as a down payment. The Attorney General has a model contract for home construction (see chapter 18 of the Guide).

You’ll likely want to check out a number of contractors before hiring one. Ask each of them how many jobs like yours they’ve done in the past year, and ask for references. Find out what kinds of insurance they carry. Beware of those who demand more than the one-third up-front payment or insist on cash. Also, be wary if the contractor asks you to get the building permit.Transient sellers must be licensed by the state, and an unlicensed contractor may not want to show up at your town hall.

For information on professions requiring a state license, visit www.maine.gov/pfr.

Be extra wary of transient repair “pros” who “spot a problem” you had not noticed. Once inside your home, they may break something and then point out that it “needs fixing.” The shady contractor may insist you come with him to inspect something, while one of his associates steals your valuables.

Those last few points are among the National Consumers League’s top 10 red flags of home repair scams. Read more at www.nclnet.org.

See the Federal Trade Commission’s reminder at www.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

***Scam Alert***AG Mills Warns of Phone Scam Claiming to be from Maine Office of Tourism

Press Release

05/21/2014 03:15 PM EDT

(AUGUSTA) Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills is warning Maine businesses to be aware of a phone scam that claims to be from the Maine Office of Tourism. The callers claim to be selling advertising in a publication of the Maine Office of Tourism and then demand an upfront, cash payment be paid over the phone immediately. These calls are not from the Maine Office of Tourism or any of their sub-contractors and do not appear to be legitimate.

“Beware cold calls that pressure you to make an immediate payment,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “A legitimate business will give you the time to think about your purchase and won’t require cash or a pre-paid debit card transaction based on a phone conversation. If you receive one of these calls – hang up. If you have questions, call the Maine Office of Tourism in Augusta. Never give personal or financial information out over the phone on calls you did not initiate. If someone calls you and asks you to make payment by money order or pre-paid debit card, that is very big red flag that you are about to be scammed.”

The Maine Office of Tourism can be reached at: (207) 624-7483

If you have questions about these or other consumer matters, please contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at 1(800) 436-2131 or consumer.mediation@maine.gov.

Make smart choices and educate yourselves about student loans

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted May 18, 2014, at 12:01 p.m.

The Bangor Daily News recently ran a story about a young man who slept in his car to help manage his student debt. Clearly, he took his education and financial situation seriously.

Here are some figures from the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit that tracks debt load nationwide. In 2012, the average debt that a Maine student racked up was $29,352, seventh highest in the country. Just over two-thirds of all students at four-year institutions in Maine carried some debt.

The total debt for higher education in the United States was recently reported to be more than $1 trillion; that’s larger than all U.S. credit card debt. It’s taken on by young adults who may have had no formal instruction in financial planning, and many of them take many years to pay off their debt.

downeasterguidestudentloans-copyGet help in planning your borrowing from agencies that will help because they want to, not because they want you to pay them. The Downeaster Common Sense Guide to Student Loans is a great place to start. Find it online at www.maine.gov/pfr and click on “consumer guides.” Maine residents also may call 800-332-8529 to have a free copy sent by mail.

The guide is filled with solid advice about types of loans — read carefully the part about private versus government-backed loans — plus finding free money for college and repayment options. It also gives some guidance on what you can expect to earn by choosing different majors and whether an advance degree is worth considering.

Your choice of a school can greatly influence the amount of debt you may need to incur. The guide offers some side-by-side comparisons of in-state, four-year institutions; the amount of debt an average student carries at some of those schools may surprise you.

Another source of information is the Finance Authority of Maine. FAME’s website (www.famemaine.com/education) features tips on scholarships, financial aid and help for nontraditional students. Students pursuing careers in education and health fields may be eligible for forgiveness of some of their loan debt if they serve in Maine after completing their studies.

Most education technicians do not qualify for loan forgiveness. However, those working in Chapter One programs may qualify; check with FAME for more information and call 623-3263 or 800-228-3734.

Once in school, there are many ways to reduce the total amount needed to borrow. Living at home, working part-time and staying alert for scholarship opportunities are just three possibilities.

The nonprofit National Consumer Law Center operates what it calls the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project. Its website ( www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org/) includes a step-by-step guide to dealing with your student loan program. It also tackles tough issues such as bankruptcy and getting out of default.

Last month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fired a warning shot at many lenders in the private student loan market. The bureau objects to a widespread policy termed “auto default,” under which a borrower is place in default if a loan co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy. This can happen regardless of a borrower’s track record of making payments on time. For more information, visit www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org/?s.

In bottom-line terms, most student debts follow long after graduation. If you feel overwhelmed, get advice from a financial planner.

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, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Be on the lookout for timeshare resale phonies – Federal Trade Commission

The FTC and state consumer protection agencies have shut down dishonest timeshare resellers for bilking timeshare owners out of millions of dollars. If you’re selling a timeshare, listen carefully for the promise of lots of money quickly and a request for an upfront fee. Those are two key signs of timeshare resale scam — and someone you don’t want to do business with.

In one recent case, Vacation Property Services claimed to represent big-name companies eager to buy timeshares for business travel and events. The company guaranteed timeshare owners hefty returns if they moved quickly on the offer. But first, the company said the owner had to pay from $500 to $2,000, via credit card, in “registration” and other fees to seal the deal.

Timeshare Resale Scams Infographic

Timeshare Resale Scams
Infographic

The company’s promises of ready buyers, fast sales, big profits and money-back guarantees turned out to be lies. What’s more, the timeshare owners were stuck with debt on their credit cards from paying the “fee” after the company told them that the sale would be complete — and that they’d have their money — by the time the credit card bill came.

If you own a timeshare, question any offers to help you resell it. Be skeptical of companies that:

  • claim the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re “overwhelmed” with buyer requests
  • say they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare — or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time
  • guarantee you’ll get big returns on your resale
  • require you to pay fees upfront — even if there’s the promise of a “money-back guarantee”
  • don’t provide a contract — or provide a contract that doesn’t accurately reflect conversations you had

Read about buying and selling a timeshare, or check out our infographic to see how timeshare resale scams typically work.

Job Advertising Fraud — WABI-TV

Russ Van Arsdale and Joy talk about a recent trend in job advertising fraud.

The Maine Department of Labor issued an alert on Friday on a scam attempt in the form of a posting on the Maine Job Bank. The posting used Central Maine Medical Center’s name and federal ID number to advertise for a bookkeeper and an administrative assistant. Job seekers who replied were told to set up a Yahoo e-mail account – as correspondence went on, applicants were asked to give their financial information.

 The DOL urges people to keep using the Maine Job Bank, but ignore any posts that ask for new e-mail set-ups or interviews by way of instant messaging system. The scammer’s use of a public e-mail system is a tip-off, as if a request to set up any account.

Maine Career Center (www.mainecareercenter.com) has the warning on its web page.

Be Wary of “Autism-Treating” Products – WABI-TV Morning News

Video of Russ and Joy talking about several products that the FDA warns claim to offer treatment or prevention for Autism, however, more often than not, the products simply do not live up to their descriptions.   FDA warning.

BOTTOM LINE: If it is an unproven or little-known treatment, no matter who endorses it, talk with your healthcare professional before using.

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To save money, stop flushing the wrong things down the toilet

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted April 27, 2014, at 11:12 a.m.

Which approach would make Maine consumers stop flushing things down their toilets and instead put them in the trash where they belong:

— Tell them it’s good for the environment, or

— Tell them it will save them money?

Officials concerned with keeping Maine’s water clean are trying to find out what prompts consumers to do the right thing. Their findings may have nationwide implications.

A public awareness effort known as the “Save Your Pipes: Don’t Flush Baby Wipes” campaign was cited last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an EPA Environmental Merit Award. The campaign pointed out that disposing of things such as baby wipes — even those products touted as “disposable” — can clog filters and screens and damage equipment in wastewater treatment systems.

The campaign was a joint effort of the Maine Water Environment Association (until recently known as the Maine Wastewater Control Association), the Portland Water District and INDA, a global trade association representing hundreds of makers of nonwoven fabrics.

INDA paid the lion’s share — $113,000 — with the Maine Water Environment Association contributing $15,000 toward the cost of the public education effort.

It’s money well spent, says Aubrey Strause, president of the water environment group. She’s part of a group of volunteers that has been checking a pumping station in Westbrook, separating the stuff that clogs the system into piles of “baby wipes” — identified by industry-supplied product patterns and weaves — and other “nondispersibles” (things that don’t break down).

Strause estimates the cost of clearing municipal waste systems at $800 per pound of flushed baby wipes. She cites a survey of association members in 2010; other than the Portland Water District, those that responded spent an average of $40,500 dealing with clogs caused by wipes. Many reported dealing with clogs as often as every other day.

For that reason, the recent eight-week campaign was aimed at curbing the flushing of baby wipes. In fact, Strause says a range of products can cause clogging problems. Among the more mentionable items are “disposable” diapers, other personal wipes, paper towels and cat litter along with a range of household and personal items that people mistakenly or intentionally flush.

“You can’t just flush anything,” Strause says, adding that just because something can go down a toilet doesn’t mean it should. “When in doubt, don’t flush it.”

If you do and your plumbing gets clogged, your homeowner’s insurance might not pay for repairs.

The baby wipes campaign was not meant to condemn the items or those who use them. The message was simply: Dispose of them as trash, not as flushable waste.

In December, Consumer Reports tested “flushable” baby wipes. Consumer Reports couldn’t break them down in a small whirlpool (which shredded toilet paper), and even a 10-minute beating in an electric food mixer left the wipe intact.

Consumer Reports advised consumers not to flush baby wipes.

The industry wants to police itself, rather than be regulated by lawmakers. INDA has issued a series of “guidance documents” on flushability of woven products; these offer a multistep process to determine which products might or might not be flushed safely.

Strause says her association is looking ahead to a series of facilitated meetings that she hopes will result in warnings on some packages saying “Do Not Flush.”

Manufacturers are firmly against such labeling, saying it would hurt sales.

“Clear labeling and clear packaging is education,” Strause said.

Until better labeling happens, members of her group will look at consumer education efforts to date, analyzing what messages work and which ones don’t. They plan to share that information freely with water quality professionals across the country.

To learn more, visit www.SaveYourPipes.org.

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, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

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