Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

Phony phone cops bullied US consumers out of millions in bogus debt

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 24, 2014, at 9:21 a.m.

Click image to learn more about phantom debt collectors

They make harassing phone calls, claiming that they are law enforcement agents. They threaten to revoke your driver’s license, prosecute you and lock you up. All for debts that aren’t yours.

The National Consumers League says on its website ( www.fraud.org) that thousands of consumers are being bullied into paying debts they don’t owe.

There are many variations, but all scams boil down to one harsh message: wire us money or be in big trouble.

The perpetrator of one such scam received a harsh message last week. A complaint filed by a U.S. attorney in New York charged Williams Scott and Associates of Georgia with scamming $4 million from 6,000 consumers in all 50 states. The complaint charges that over a five-year period, the company had employees pose as police officers, Justice Department officials or FBI agents.

An affidavit filed by a real FBI agent says callers claimed falsely that people owed money for payday loans or had committed fraud.

The affidavit says the scheme involved up to 87 different phone numbers, changing when the scammers realized there were too many complaints. One script seized in an FBI raid includes this exchange between a caller and a frightened woman.

“You think an eight months pregnant woman wants to go to jail?”

“I don’t care if you’re nine months pregnant. I have a job to do.”

When I called Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, principal examiner David Leach was helping a woman whom scammers had tried to dupe.

The scammer had claimed to be from the “Kennebec County Private Locating Service” and said there was legal action pending. When the consumer called the Kennebec County court clerk’s office, she found nothing pending and no record of the “locating service.”

“Scam collectors will do anything to collect money,” Leach told me. He said the fake phone calls “started in Maine sometime in the summer of 2014 and may have peaked somewhere in October.”

However, Leach said this is the most frequent consumer complaint his office deals with.

In some cases, people have taken out payday loans from illegal, unlicensed lenders and repaid the money. The lenders sell their names and other personal information to illegal, unlicensed collectors who then put their defrauding machinery to work.

Consumers may believe these calls are real because the scammers have some personal details about them. If you get such a call, ask for the caller’s name and address, company name and original creditor, if you do have an outstanding loan.

If the caller demands a lot more than you owe, it’s likely a scam. If you have questions about the status of a real loan, hang up and call the number on your loan paperwork.

If you get a call and are uncertain, ask the caller to send a written notice of the debt; then say you don’t want to be called again. That request must be honored, according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

You can find sample letters drafted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the “self-help/action letters” tab on our blog ( necontact.wordpress.com).

Some consumers hire an attorney. Giving callers the attorney’s name and number usually stop such calls, when scammers realize the person isn’t an easy target. Report suspicious calls to the Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, 1-800-436-2131 or email consumer.mediation@Maine.gov.

Advise the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

The federal prosecutor says it’s likely that more cases will be brought in the future. He says payday lenders may be among those prosecuted.

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 necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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WABI Interview w/ Wayne Harvey

Lock the door against “work at home” scams that promise big bucks but deliver grief

Posted Nov. 02, 2014, at 10:15 a.m.

Click for FTC Consumer Information

Maybe you’ve been laid off, or maybe you just decided you would rather work from home than commute to a job.

You went to Monster.com to find the perfect job you could land while staying at home. The only problem is, all that’s available is a job helping people troubleshoot problems with their handheld computing gizmos. You’ve ruled yourself out, since your technical ability stops at turning the computer on.

So now for the answer, you turn to the source of all knowledge: the Internet. Your search for “work at home jobs” returns 29.2 million possibilities. A lot of them promise weekly earnings of “hundreds or thousands of dollars.” For every website warning you of possible scams, 10 more promise “easy earnings” with “minimal” outlay of time and effort.

A federal judge last month threw the book at one of these outfits, Zaken Corp. The company and its principal officer, Tiran Zaken, were ordered to pay more than $25 million to consumers who had been promised “substantial income” by working from home. The Federal Trade Commission had opened an investigation in 2012 and found that more than 99 percent of the 110,000 consumers who invested in the “Quicksell” program got no income at all in return.

The Justice Department probe was labeled “Operation Lost Opportunity.” Investigators found that consumers had been promised that they could earn $4,000 or more in their first 30 days, or an average of $4,280 per deal. After signing up for an average fee of $148, they were typically bombarded with ads to buy more “business tools” for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The FTC doesn’t have much of a sense of humor about such things. When companies advertise business opportunities, the agency says the ads should be clear about what markets exist and what an investor’s potential income truly is.

There are some legitimate careers that allow you to work from home. Do some serious research before investing:

— Know who you’re dealing with; find out if the offer is a job or just a way to sell overpriced supplies.

— Get all details before you pay; a real company will give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.

— Don’t believe claims of big rewards for little work (wouldn’t they do it themselves?).

— Be sure there’s a market first. There must be a real market, not a perpetuation of the scam in which you hoodwink others into investing.

— Know the refund policy.

— Talk with people who have been successful — real people, not those a scammer might refer to you.

Once you’ve responded to an offer, you’re likely to be targeted by other scammers. Several years ago, a client of Northeast CONTACT complained that her husband — whose disabilities prompted him to seek home-based work — complained that he was receiving shady-sounding offers virtually every day. Our caseworker suggested (only half kiddingly) that she keep a blowtorch with her while she checked their mailbox.

The FTC warns consumers not to believe any ad about stuffing envelopes; they’re virtually always ripoffs. Read the FTC’s advice at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0175-work-home-businesses.

The Maine attorney general’s Consumer Law Guide also offers tips on work-at-home offers online at http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/consumer_law_guide.shtml (chapter 12, section 14).

You can also call the AG’s Consumer Mediation Service at 800-436-2131.

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.

My Maine Ride owner agrees to 7-year license suspension, reimburse consumers up to $30,000

Posted July 30, 2014, at 12:46 p.m.
Last modified July 30, 2014, at 8:54 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The used car dealer sued by the Maine attorney general’s office earlier this year for unfair and deceptive trade practices has agreed to the suspension of his license to own a used car business for seven years and to reimburse consumers up to $30,000 for repairs to cars purchased from Bumper2Bumper Inc. and My Maine Ride.

Glenn A. Geiser Jr., 48, of Brewer signed the consent agreement July 11 along with Assistant Attorney General Carolyn A. Silsby, whose office filed a lawsuit against the longtime used car dealer on Jan. 31 in Penobscot County Superior Court.

“There is separate litigation continuing against Bangor Car Care, Inc., which is owned by Geiser’s mother,” according to a statement issued by the Maine attorney general’s office.

The provisions of the agreement — a copy of which was obtained by the Bangor Daily News — allow Geiser to work for someone else who is licensed to sell used cars, as long as that individual is not a member of his household. It also prevents him from seeking payment for money owed his firms after the repossession of a vehicle and filing an adverse report on a consumer’s credit report concerning funds owed for a repossessed car or truck.

Geiser will not be ordered to pay any fines, according to the agreement. If he violates any of its provisions, he would be found in contempt of court and fined up to $10,000 per violation under Maine law.

The agreement will not go into effect until it is signed by a judge. Superior Court Justice Ann Murray is handling the case.

“I am greatly humbled by the experience,” Geiser said in statement issued by his attorney, Joseph Baldacci of Bangor. “I tried the best that I could, and though I made mistakes, we sold almost 19,000 cars and employed 40 people at any given time.

“We all worked very hard to help, and although we as well as I made mistakes, we tried very hard to provide affordable transportation,” he continued. “Despite the publicity, I have been contacted by many customers who have thanked the business for providing the services and choices to them.

“My family and I look forward to continuing to be productive, caring, positive, and helpful citizens in our community,” Geiser concluded. “We love the State of Maine, the school system our children attend, and the community we live in.”

Under the terms of the proposed consent judgment, Geiser and his used car dealerships, My Maine Ride and Bumper2Bumper Inc., will be out of business until 2021, Attorney General Janet Mills said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. Additionally, several consumers will be eligible for partial restitution for repair costs and may be eligible for forgiveness of loan balances on repossessed cars.

“The companies Mr. Geiser relied on to exploit consumers will not do business with him in the future,” she said. “This should stand as a warning to any business that thinks it can cut corners and abuse Maine consumers.”

The companies that provided financing for Geiser’s customers, Persian Acceptance Corp., Westlake Services, LLC, Mid-Atlantic Finance Co., Source One Financial Corp., Consumer Portfolio Services Inc., United Auto Credit Corp. and Credit Acceptance Corp., have cooperated with her office, Mills said.

“We appreciate the willingness of these companies to provide relief to consumers who are stuck with loan payments for cars that were essentially worthless,” she said.

The finance companies have agreed to stop collection actions for consumers whose vehicles were repossessed and to remove all negative information relating to these loans from consumers’ credit reports, according to Mills. In addition, all have agreed that they will not provide financing for any future business owned or operated by Geiser.

The date by which consumers must file claims that is stated in the agreement is expected to be changed from Nov. 15 to a date later in the year, Baldacci said.

In a separate court action, Geiser paid a $7,000 fine in February after pleading no contest to 28 of 83 counts of using fake inspection stickers. At that time, Geiser also owed $9,000 in unpaid fines to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration for workplace safety violations in 2012 and 2013. Information about whether Geiser has paid the OSHA fines was not available Wednesday afternoon.

The lawsuit filed by the attorney general’s office alleged that Geiser and his dealerships targeted consumers with poor credit who needed financing, pressured them to buy cars that were not roadworthy and did not respond to customer complaints, according to a previously published report.

The Consumer Protection Division of the AG’s office received 86 complaints in the previous 13 months about My Maine Ride, 159 complaints about Bumper2Bumper since 2011, and 539 complaints about Bangor Car Care since 2003, the complaint said.

The state initially sought civil penalties, which could have run as high as $10,000 for each violation; a permanent injunction to bar Geiser and any entity in which he has an ownership interest from promoting, selling and/or financing used cars; and reimbursement for the cost of the litigation, including attorney and expert witness fees.

The agreements with the finance companies are available online at http://www.maine.gov/ag/news/cases_of_interest.shtml, Mills said Wednesday. Consumers who purchased a vehicle from a Geiser dealership and have a loan with any of the seven finance companies can call 800-436-2131 or email consumer.mediation@maine.gov to obtain information on how the settlements may affect them.

State of Maine v Glenn A. Geiser, Jr., Bangor Car Care, Bumper2Bumper, and My Maine Ride: First Amended Complaint :: Assurances of Discontinuance with Finance Companies

State Officials Announce Conclusion of Insurance Case and Return of More than $160,000 to Maine Consumer

Completed Case Highlights Importance of  Reporting Concerns and Utilizing Bureau’s Resources

GARDINER – Governor Paul R. LePage and Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa announced that a complaint investigation resulting in the return of more than $160,000 to a Maine consumer has been completed. The investigation, conducted by the Bureau of Insurance’s Consumer Health Care Division, involved insurance agent Paul E. Richard and American Equity, the insurance carrier he represented.

“Maine is fortunate to have a large number of insurance agents, agencies and companies that provide important products and services with integrity and concern for their clients,” Governor LePage said.  “In those cases, however, when consumers or business owners are taken advantage of, the Bureau of Insurance is available to provide guidance and to take effective action whenever possible.”

The investigation and subsequent hearing found that Richard had recommended that a seriously ill man in the Lewiston area surrender his $100,000 life insurance policy, which he and his wife had paid premiums on for nearly 20 years. Richard recommended that the couple use the $11,935 cash value of the policy along with other assets, to purchase several annuities totaling $46,770, for which he received $4,775 in commissions.

After the death of her husband, which occurred just over a year later, the consumer filed a complaint with the Bureau. Following an enforcement action and hearing, Richard’s insurance producer license was revoked and he was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $12,500 to the State of Maine and restitution to the consumer equal to the full amount of the commissions and fees he received, plus interest. (A copy of the decision and order is available on the Bureau’s website at www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/orders/08-305amended.htm.) The $12,500 civil penalty represented the maximum amount for each of the following ten violations:

Violation 1: $1500 for persuading someone with a disabling and degenerative condition to surrender his life insurance policy, in violation of 24-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1420‑K(1)(H), 2152, and 2155.

Violations 2–4: $1500 each for intentionally failing to disclose, on each of three annuity applications, that the new annuities were replacing existing policies

Violations 5–7: $1500 each for instructing the consumers to deposit the proceeds of the asset liquidations into the wife’s personal account and pay for each of three annuities by personal check, in order to conceal the source of funds.

Violations 8–10: $1500 with respect to the nonqualified annuity that replaced the life insurance policy, and $250 each with respect to the two qualified annuities, for selling annuities without conducting any meaningful inquiry into their suitability for the consumers, and without making a meaningful effort to ensure that the consumers understood what they were buying.

American Equity terminated the agent’s appointment with the company, following its own investigation, and paid the consumer the lost value of the $100,000 insurance policy, plus interest, and refunded the purchase price of all three annuities plus interest, without imposing surrender penalties. In addition, the company paid a $50,000 civil penalty to the State. (A copy of the consent agreement is available on the Bureau’s website www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/consent_agreements/2010-2014/10202.htm).

Last month, the investigation was closed when, following a collections action initiated by the Attorney General’s Office against Richard, the final funds were paid and distributed.

“We are happy that this matter was brought to our attention and that we were able to assist in rectifying this situation for the consumer, who had suffered substantial financial loss as a result of this agent’s actions,” Superintendent Cioppa stated. “We encourage anyone with questions about life insurance, annuities or other insurance types, or anyone seeking information about insurance agents and brokers, to contact the Bureau by calling toll-free 1-800-300-5000 or e-mailing Insurance.PFR@maine.gov.”

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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

The road to quick-fix driveway repairs is paved with bad intentions

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted May 25, 2014, at 10 a.m.

Click for top 10 red flags of home repair scams

If the birds are singing and some guy offers to seal your driveway for 200 bucks, it must be spring.

Our long-awaited break of winter’s grip means the home improvement scammers are making the rounds again. One of them actually visited us last summer, saying he had “just enough material from another job in the neighborhood” to give me a great deal. We sent him packing.

His fellow con artists are carrying on the tradition, going door to door offering “rock-bottom prices” and saying they’ve “never had a dissatisfied customer.”

If that’s true, why are they always in such a hurry? Why do they need to do the work immediately? Why must they be paid in cash?

The reason is simple. They need to get running, to stay ahead of the people who enforce the laws they are breaking.

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

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 upfront 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.

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.

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.

 

***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.

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