Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

CFA Petitions the FCC to block the Comcast-Time Warner merger

Consumer Federation of America believes “Online Video Competition is the Last and Only Hope to Break the Stranglehold of Cable.”

Information posted in press release:

Washington, DC (August 25, 2014) – The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and its member groups today filed a petition calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable and the swap of additional systems with Charter Communications.  The petition shows that the Comcast-Time Warner merger poses a much greater threat to competition, consumers and the public interest than the Comcast-NBCU merger, which has not benefited the public.

“The inevitable result of this merger will be higher prices, worse service, and less innovation,” Mark Cooper, CFA’s director of research said. “Just four years ago the FCC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that Comcast has market power, as the nation’s largest buyer of professional video content and the largest provider of both multichannel video programming and broadband Internet access service.

“The acquisition of Time Warner would increase Comcast’s market power by at least 50% and create a Goliath that would tower over the industry.  Comcast would be:

  • 1.5 times as large as the next largest multichannel video program distributor (MVPD),
  • 2 times as large as the next largest Internet access service provider,
  • 3 times as large as the next largest service provider with the capacity to deliver an integrated bundle of video and broadband,
  • the dominant cable and broadband operator in 24 of the nation’s largest 25 video markets, including the addition of the most important media markets, New York and Los Angeles.”

Flooded Vehicle Resale – WABI-TV

Posted Monday, August 18th, 2014 at 9:02 am.

VIDEO Russ and Joy discussed the precautionary measures you can take when looking at used cars, especially due to all of the recent flash flooding.

Some hints to look out for when purchasing a new vehicle to see if it was ever flooded include:

  • Pull out the seat belts. The portion of the belt that’s been retracted inside the seat may be muddy, mildewed or water-spotted if it has been flood-damaged.
  • Check for water rings on the engine block or radiator, mud and dirt under the dashboard, and corrosion, rust or flaking metal on the undercarriage.
  • Smell for mildew; lift carpets and floor mats, check inside the glove box, and look for dew or droplets in instrument clusters on the dashboard, as well as the inside and outside lights.
  • Look for water stains, silt or mud, mineral deposits, even sticks and twigs.
  • Feel the wiring – check for stiffness.

 

You can get a vehicle history for a fee from Carfax (www.carfax.com), Auto Check (www.autocheck.com) and Consumer Guide (www.auto.consumerguide.com).

On the home page of the National Insurance Crime Bureau website (www.ncib.org), VINCheck lets you check a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if a vehicle has been reported as salvage by its member insurance companies.

For more information on titles and title searches, including applicable fees, contact Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles at (207)624-9000 or visit http://www.maine.gov/sos/bmv

VIZIO Recalls to Repair 39- and 42-Inch E-Series Flat Panel Televisions Due to Risk of Tip Over | CPSC.gov

Safety Warning

Click screen for list of models

Recall Details

Units — About 245,000

Sold at:  Best Buy, Meijer, Target, Walmart and other retail stores nationwide , online at Amazon.com, Costco.com, Meijer.com, Sams.com and other internet retailers from December 2013 through June 2014 for between $370 and $450.

Description

This recall involves Vizio E-series 39- and 42-inch Full-Array LED flat panel televisions. The flat panel televisions are black with “VIZIO” printed in the lower right corner of the television front and the VIZIO logo in the center of the back.

Incidents/Injuries

VIZIO has received 51 reports of the recalled televisions tipping over. No injuries have been reported.

Remedy

Consumers using the stand assembly should immediately detach the stand, place the television in a safe location and contact VIZIO for a replacement stand assembly. Consumers with wall-mounted televisions should request the replacement stand assembly in case the stand is needed for future use.

Timeshare resellers & quick-money promises – Federal Trade Commission

 

Con artists are adept at selling — or selling you on  — just about anything. When it comes to timeshare resale services, they may claim to have a buyer for your property. Or that they can sell your place quickly and for a good price. But first, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee.

As part of an international crackdown on timeshare resale scams, the FTC and state law enforcement officials are going after timeshare resellers who took thousands of dollars in upfront fees from consumers after falsely claiming they could sell or rent the timeshares quickly. Today, the FTC announced settlements with Universal Timeshare, Resort Property Depot, and Resort Resolution Trust.

These companies violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by making false claims about their services in telephone pitches to timeshare owners. Universal Timeshare also called people whose phone numbers were on the Do Not Call Registry. Some consumers paid as much as $4,000 in so-called taxes, closing costs, and processing fees to these companies — and got nothing in return.

Before you allow someone to sell your timeshare:

  1. Check them out before you agree to pay them any money. See if the state Attorney General, local consumer protection agencies, or the Better Business Bureau in the company’s home state have complaints about them on file. Then, search online by entering the company name and the word “complaints” or “scam.”
  1. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers or agents. Check with the Real Estate Commission in the state where your timeshare is located to make sure the company has a current license.
  1. Get all terms in writing before you agree to anything. That includes services the company will perform; timing of the sale; fees and commissions; and cancellation and refund policies. If a company says you have to act now or you might miss out on a buyer, it’s not a company you want to do business with.
  1. Consider doing business only with a company that gets paid after the timeshare is sold. And don’t wire money or pay in cash.
  1. Be alert to a repeat scam. If a company offers to help get your money back from a timeshare resale scam  but wants you to pay them before they do anything for you, walk away. This is a classic setup for another scam.

Read about timeshare vacation plans and selling a timeshare through a reseller to learn more. And be sure to report these and other scams to the FTC.

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.

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