Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Income Tax Scams – WABI-TV

Russ and Joy talk about scammers that take advantage of the income tax season to gain personal information from you.

Tuesday’s deadline for filing income taxes has the scam artists in high gear. They’ll email, and sometimes call, saying they are Internal Revenue Service officials and that you owe taxes. They will demand payment, often by wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or by giving your credit card number, threatening jail-time, revoking your driver’s license and more if you don’t pay up.

Russ says not to fall for any of these ploys. The IRS will not email or call you, they will use regular mail as a primary means of communication. Russ also warns you to be wary of any phone calls, as these scammers may know such information as the last four numbers of your social security number, they may use fake phone numbers and badge numbers to appear more legitimate, and the may even go as far as calling back with threats posing as the police or the department of motor vehicles.

The Federal Trade Commission is warning businesses that emails with the subject line “Pending consumer complaint” are NOT from the FTC. They are from scammers claiming that someone has filed a complaint with the FTC about their company. Clicking on attachments could download a virus or other malware onto your computer, just delete them.

For more on malicious emails, visit http://www.onguardonline.gov/malware.

“Pending FTC complaint” emails are fakes – FTC

FTC Warns Small Businesses: Don’t Open Email Falsely Claiming to be From FTC‏

“Pending FTC complaint” emails are fakes | Consumer Information.

Have you gotten an email with the subject line “Pending consumer complaint” that looks like it came from the FTC? The email warns that a complaint against you has been filed with the FTC. It asks you to click on a link or attachment for more information or to contact the FTC.

These emails pull out all the stops to look official: They have an FTC seal, references to the “Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)” and a “formal investigation,” and what look like real FTC links. The truth is that they’re fakes.

We’ve heard from many people that emails like this are making the rounds. If you get one, don’t open it. Don’t click on the links. If you click on the link, it may install malware on your computer. Malware can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity, steal your personal information, send spam, and commit fraud. You can forward the email to spam@uce.gov, but then delete as soon as you do.

Competitive Electricity Pricing – WABI-TV

VIDEO 

Russ and Joy continue a discussion of competitive electric pricing offers.

The Maine Public Advocate last week advised consumers to be wary of competitive electric pricing offers that start out as a fixed rate, but may change to a variable rate after the introductory period.

If you have any questions or would like some more information about competitive electric pricing offers you can visit their website at this link Office of the Public Advocate Website

New Maine tax credit replaces ‘Circuit Breaker’ program

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT Posted March 30, 2014, at 5:42 p.m.

A friend approached me recently, saying he was concerned that some seniors may have thrown away paperwork that they could have used to save some money.

At issue is Maine’s new Property Tax Fairness Credit, passed by the Legislature to take the place of the Maine Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund “Circuit Breaker” program. Lawmakers repealed that statute last year and put the PTFC in its place.

Qualifying for the credit are consumers who were Maine residents for any part of tax year 2013 and who lived in a home they owned or rented here for that part of the year. They must have had a Maine adjusted gross income of not more than $40,000 and paid property tax of at least 10 percent of that amount or paid rent on an apartment that was over 40 percent of their Maine adjusted gross income.

The credit of up to $300 (or $400 for those age 70 or older) became available in January and is claimed on the state individual Income Tax Form 1040ME.

To get the credit, eligible people must complete a worksheet that accompanies the form. And that’s where the confusion may have started.

Worksheets were mailed to all Mainers who filed a Circuit Breaker application on or after Aug. 1, 2012, whether they paid state income tax or not. My friend had said some seniors he knew had received the mailing from Maine Revenue Services and discarded it; since they were not liable for any Maine income tax, they reasoned, there was no need to concern themselves with whatever was in the envelope.

That’s not a problem, according to state officials and representatives of seniors groups we’ve spoken with. The forms can be downloaded from Maine Revenue Services’ website (www.maine.gov/revenue/forms) or by calling 1-207-624-7894 to request that a form be mailed. The credit is available for three years for Mainers who do not have to pay any income tax.

Volunteers from AARP will be at various area Agencies on Aging until April 15. Dyan Walsh, director of community services at the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, says the volunteers have received special training on the PTFC.

Walsh says a number of seniors have called since Jan. 1, expecting to sign up for the Circuit Breaker program and not realizing that it had been replaced by the PTFC. Walsh says if seniors cannot travel to the EAAA office, they can call Maine Revenue Services at 207-626-8475 for help. They may also seek assistance by emailing income.tax@maine.gov or by visiting in person at 51 Commerce Drive, Augusta.

Low- and moderate-income earners may qualify for free help in preparing their state and federal income taxes through a program called Ca$h Maine. You can call 211 for details or read about it online at www.211maine.org/cah-maine-2013/.

AARP also offers free tax help at the Bangor Public Library. Until April 10, help will be available Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the small conference room near the reading room.

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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Wal-Mart Recalls Dolls Due to Burn Hazard | CPSC.gov

Hazard: The circuit board in the chest of the doll can overheat, causing the surface of the doll to get hot, posing a burn hazard to the consumer.

About 174,000

Description

The My Sweet Love / My Sweet Baby electronic baby doll comes in pink floral clothing and matching knit hat. The 16 inch doll is packaged with a toy medical check-up kit including a stethoscope, feeding spoon, thermometer and syringe. The doll’s electronics cause her to babble when she gets “sick,” her cheeks turn red and she starts coughing. Using the medical kit pieces cause the symptoms to stop. “My Sweet Baby” is printed on the front of the clear plastic and cardboard packaging. The doll is identified by UPC 6-04576-16800-5 and a date code which begins with WM. The date code is printed on the stuffed article label sewn into the bottom of the doll.

Incidents/Injuries

Wal-Mart has received 12 reports of incidents, including two reports of burns or blisters to the thumb.

Remedy

Consumers should immediately take the dolls from children, remove the batteries and return the doll to any Walmart store for a full refund.

Sold exclusively at

Walmart stores nationwide from August 2012 through March 2014 for $20.

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What you need to know about electricity pricing

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted March 16, 2014, at 9:13 a.m.

We received questions from a couple of consumers recently regarding electricity prices. Now that companies other than generating utilities can sell electricity, they’re competing for customers.

And while competition is often a good thing, it can create confusion. Here are a few tips from the Maine Public Advocate — the office that represents consumers in utility-related matters — to consider when mulling over competing offers.

Consumers who take no action will continue to pay what’s called the Standard Offer price. This rate is set by competitive auction and changes each year on March 1. Changes in the Standard Offer price are generally announced about three months before the effective date. The Standard Offer price is posted on the website of the Public Utilities Commission,

Other rates are offered by competitive electricity providers, or CEPs. The basic rate — what you pay per kilowatt hour — may be lower than the Standard Offer price. But that may not be the whole story.

A CEP price may be fixed or variable. If it is fixed, find out the term so you’ll know whether it lasts beyond the next Standard Offer price change next March 1.

If it’s variable, be aware that what appears to be a savings today may turn into higher prices in a few months. One of our consumers found that a “bundled” rate, while representing a saving initially, reflected nearly a doubling of the basic rate a few months into the contract.

There’s a five-day “buyer’s remorse” period mandated on all these contracts. Should you change your mind after that period, you may be hit with an early termination fee. Find out before signing up what the terms of the contract are and how large a fee is involved if you terminate early.

The public advocate lists the basics of each CEP’s offer on its website . While that’s a good reference, you should know that a CEP’s rates can change at any time. If you’re shopping around, call the provider to make sure you’re aware of the current terms.

You have a number of consumer rights in dealing with CEPs, in addition to the five-day void provision mentioned above. A CEP must:

— Offer at least 30 days of service.

— Have a customer’s authorization for service (no “slamming”).

— Give at least 30 days’ notice before terminating service.

— Not use unfair or deceptive business practices.

— Not release a customer’s information, unless allowed by law or with a customer’s consent.

If a CEP drops a customer and the customer doesn’t make another choice, the customer goes back on the Standard Offer service. If a consumer feels the CEP has used “slamming” practices to obtain customers, the consumer may file a complaint with the PUC.

Finally, we heartily concur with the public advocate’s advice that consumers know and understand all terms and conditions before signing up for any plan. You can call the PUC’s Customer Assistance line toll-free, 800-452-4699 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with questions about CEPs.

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.

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WABI-TV appearance

Work-at-home scams — WABI-TV

Video Link

Russ and Joy discuss work-at-home scams.
The State of Wisconsin published a guide detailing work-at-home scams. You can find this guide online at http://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Consumer/pdf/WorkAtHome189.pdf

State’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection Issues Comprehensive Home Mortgage Guide

GARDINER — Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, an agency within the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, announces the release of a new, comprehensive mortgage guide, titled The Downeaster Common Sense Guide to Finding, Buying and Keeping Your Maine Home. Free to Maine residents, this 32-page booklet provides information for those contemplating the purchase and financing of a home. Covered topics include:

  • How to evaluate whether renting or buying makes the most sense, given income and future plans;

  • How to use current income, debt load and credit reports to predict if a loan may be approved;
  • How to select a mortgage lender or loan broker;
  • How to choose the type of loan product that best fits your needs; and
  • Understanding your obligations after the loan closes

Governor Paul R. LePage commented on the timeliness of the guide and the information it offers. “With interest rates near historically low levels and the Maine economy improving, this is an excellent time to purchase a home,” Governor LePage said.  “But it’s important to know if you’re in a good position to make a significant purchase of this kind and to fully understand the home-buying process.  This new booklet provides thorough, step-by-step guidance.”

“This publication will help Maine residents to become better-informed mortgage borrowers,” David Leach, principal examiner with the Bureau and one of the booklet’s co-authors, said. “One thing we’ve learned from assisting hundreds of homeowners avoid foreclosure is that some did not know the right questions to ask when they were deciding to get a mortgage.”

An online copy can be found at www.Credit.Maine.gov by clicking “Publications” or “Consumer Guides” (directly at www.maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/documents/MortgageGuide_RevisedOnline.pdf). Printed copies are available free of charge by calling the Bureau at 1-800-332-8529 (toll-free in Maine).

“With federal regulators setting tougher borrowing standards this year for so-called ‘qualified mortgages’ (QMs), it’s more important than ever that potential borrowers understand how lenders calculate debt-to-income ratios,” Edward Myslik, Bureau senior consumer credit examiner and co-author of the guide, said. “This booklet demystifies the process. Understanding how current debt loads factor into lenders’ decisions will help consumers make prudent decisions, such as avoiding taking on additional financial obligations if they plan to apply for a mortgage.”

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The Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, which is part of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, was established in 1975 to administer the state’s consumer financial services laws.  The agency investigates consumer complaints, conducts compliance examinations, licenses companies that offer financial products to Maine residents, and performs outreach to advise consumers and creditors of their legal rights and responsibilities.

 

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Elder Financial Abuse – WABI-TV

Monday, February 17th, 2014 at 8:38 am.

Russ and Joy talk about elder financial abuse.  VIDEO

Senior$afe will be training bank and credit union employees to spot signs of elder financial abuse when elderly people are making transactions.

If you suspect a senior is being abused, financially or otherwise you can call Maine Adult Protective Services at 1-800-624-8404.

 

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Vacation essentials: What you need to know when renting a car

Consumer Forum

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 08, 2014, at 1:42 p.m.

With school vacation week fast approaching, many families are thinking about getting away. For some, that might mean renting a car. Here are some factors consumers should consider.

Rental car companies are joining the “fee-ing frenzy” and adding fees onto the damages you have to pay if you damage their vehicle in an accident. They’ll likely press you to buy collision damage waiver insurance. Your auto insurance policy may cover the rental car as if it were your own, and paying with a credit card may fill any gaps.

So, the question is, should you take out extra insurance when you rent a car or truck? The answer is, it depends. As with many consumer issues, easy answers are hard to come by. That’s true, even when you call and ask directly.

Major credit cards offer some protection for customers who rent vehicles. Let’s say you call with a question about coverage; a customer service representative assures you that, if you pay the full cost of the rental with their card, you’re all set. However, the fine print in the card contract might say otherwise.

While their damaged vehicle is being repaired, rental companies typically charge loss-of-use fees and administrative fees. A case that went to the Colorado Supreme Court in 2012 upheld companies’ rights to charge such fees. That ruling applies only in Colorado, and many insurers and credit card companies refuse to pay the fees.

Some consumer advocates say car rental companies should be forced to turn over “fleet utilization logs,” to prove they had no other cars available to rent and were therefore entitled to loss-of-use fees. The rental companies generally disagree; one company spokesman called those logs “proprietary and confidential.” Without seeing those logs, it’s hard for consumers to dispute a rental company’s claim of lost use.

Then there are the diminution-in-value charges. A car that’s been damaged in an accident will have a lower resale value, and rental companies may seek to have someone else pay the tab. That might be your insurance company, or it might be you.

Visit the website http://www.creditcards.com, and search “car rental insurance” for the ins and outs of buying added protection. The site offers a side-by-side comparison chart for coverage offered by the major credit cards.

Before signing your rental agreement, find out how tolls are paid. Some rental vehicles are equipped to have tolls paid electronically, and companies might charge a few dollars per day for the convenience of not having to fish around for change at toll booths. However, some companies may apply the charge every day, whether the car is in use or not. Find out before you sign.

Rental companies offer the option of prepaying for gas; this saves you the hassle of heading for a gas station when you’re anxious to begin your drive. It may be convenient, but you may end up paying for gas you haven’t used. You might also find a better deal yourself than the rental company employee who filled the tank.

You might also be charged for a GPS device, satellite radio and child safety seats. If you think you’ve been charged a fee that wasn’t disclosed, fight it. Paying with a credit card gives you time to do that.

Check out a top ten list of car rental tips at www.edmunds.com.

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.

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