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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teen Work Permits Available Online
06/11/2014 10:32 AM EDT
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
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.