Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

When a solicitor calls, ask how much of your donation actually goes to charity

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted April 13, 2014, at 10:40 a.m.

 

Consumer rights and charitable solicitations

The caller was straightforward, stating up front that hewas being paid to solicit funds on behalf of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters. 

The cause: to aid the families of fallen firefighters. No argument there. However, as a consumer advocate, I had to ask the question. How much of what you raise goes to the federation?

The response stopped me cold.

“I’ve been instructed to tell people who ask that, [that] at least 15 percent of the money goes to that cause,” the caller said.

“Fifteen percent?” I asked in disbelief.

The caller thanked me for my time and ended the call.

He was being accurate. Companies that solicit Maine consumers by phone must register with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Outreach Calling, the firm making the call to our home, reported last year that during 2012, it returned exactly 15.00009885 percent of funds it raised to Maine State Federation of Firefighters.

Outreach made similar reports to Maine on the 16 other charities for which it raised funds.

“Cancer” was a key word in the names of five of those charities; other beneficiaries included veterans, children and public safety groups. Several of the groups also received around 15 percent of funds raised; in 10 instances, the return to each was almost exactly 10 percent.

Why employ a phone solicitor that gives back only a fraction of what it collects?

“We do it because it’s effective, and it raises money for us,” said William Vickerson, the attorney in Portland representing Maine State Federation of Firefighters.

He told me that most members of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters are volunteers, and fundraising is not their strong suit. If they sold cookies or calendars, they’d have overhead that would eat into any proceeds raised.

“With us, the gross profit is also the net profit,” Vickerson said when pressed on the 15 percent return.

He said Outreach has been responsive to concerns he has voiced in the past when consumers complained about particular callers or solicitation techniques. He also said most of those complaints were unfounded, based on recordings of the calls which Outreach routinely makes.

You might wonder why you receive such calls, if you’ve been placed on the National Do-Not-Call list. Charitable causes are one of those exempt classes as are political calls, which we’ll all receive soon in growing numbers.

Some consumers when called routinely say, “Put me on YOUR do-not-call list,” and some of them report success (results may vary).

Charity Navigator, a major watchdog group, rates more than 7,000 charities on its website (www.charitynavigator.org), including two dozen involved in fighting breast cancer. Together, the charities raised $1.8 billion; but the percent of its budget that each spends to raise money varies, from a low of 2 percent to a high of 91 percent.

Advocates like to see at least half of all money raised going to the cause to which they were donated; so, we think, do donors.

Charity Navigator, Guidestar and other research groups offer help in choosing which causes to support. GreatNonprofits.org offers people familiar with a charity’s operations a chance to share experiences with others.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Times and California-based Center for Investigative Reporting did extensive research and rated America’s 50 Worst Charities. Outreach Calling made the list, based on returns of 9.8 percent to 15 percent for six charities reviewed in 2010 and 2011.

William Vickerson says, so far, Maine State Federation of Firefighters has not been able to find a fundraiser that can do better in Maine.

Asked if the federation will keep looking, he replied, “We’ll do it. We always do.”

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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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

Attorney General Janet Mills Announces Lawsuit Against Used Car Dealers

PRESS RELEASE

02/07/2014 08:52 AM EST

(AUGUSTA) Attorney General Janet T. Mills announced today that her Office has filed a lawsuit in the Penobscot County Superior Court against Glenn A. Geiser, Jr. and his dealerships – Bangor Car Care, Inc., Bumper2Bumper, Inc. and My Maine Ride – for unfair and deceptive trade practices in connection with the promotion and sale of used cars.

The complaint alleges that the defendants target consumers with poor credit who need financing, pressure them to buy cars that are not road worthy and then not respond to customer complaints. The State is seeking civil penalties and a permanent injunction to bar Geiser and any entity in which he has an ownership interest from promoting, selling and/or financing used cars. “These kinds of practices give Maine businesses a bad name,” said Attorney General Mills. “Targeting vulnerable people and duping them into buying cars that are not safe not only defrauds the consumer but puts every person traveling our roads at risk. We intend to put a stop to it.”

Typically, consumers at Geiser’s businesses are shown cars that failed to pass inspection so they cannot be taken out for a test drive. Known mechanical defects are not disclosed to the consumer, as required by State law. When a consumer decides to buy, defendants complete the financing documents and tell the consumer to return at a later date to pick up the car after it has gone into the shop for an inspection sticker. Many consumers already desperate for transportation are unable to get their cars when promised, and some have made payments on cars they did not receive. Some discover after they take delivery that their cars should not have passed inspection. Many cars break down or develop serious mechanical issues soon after purchase, but the defendants refuse to fix the problems. The Attorney General’s complaint also alleges that the defendants’ response to consumer complaints is rude and abusive and calculated to discourage consumers from seeking redress. These acts also constitute an unfair trade practice.

Maine law requires used car dealers to post a conspicuous notice that a car is an unsafe motor vehicle if it does not meet Maine’s inspection standards and is displayed for sale. The dealer must also disclose certain information about a used car’s history, including any known mechanical defect, even if it has been repaired, and to obtain written acknowledgement from the buyer. The buyer of an unsafe motor vehicle must tow it from the dealer’s lot.

For information about the Used Car Information Act, or to file a complaint, consumers may contact the Consumer Protection Division at http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer or by calling 1-800-436-2131.

The Maine State Police and the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles assisted with the Attorney General’s investigation. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Carolyn Silsby and Linda Conti.

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Supporting documents

State v. Geiser Complaint

State v. Geiser exhibits

Maine attorney general makes public aware of grocery voucher scam

By Ryan McLaughlin, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 30, 2013, at 4:13 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Attorney General Janet Mills is warning Maine residents to be wary of a grocery voucher scam targeting the elderly.

The scam claims to offer individuals ages 60 and up $3,000 in free groceries and a Life Alert device.

The scammers have indicated a new government assistance program qualifies them for the phony benefits.

The pre-recorded phone calls ask recipients to press certain buttons before speaking with a representative. Those reporting the scam to Mills’ office did not speak with anyone and hung up the phone before a representative was reached.

“This is a new twist on an old scam,” said Mills. “There is no government program handing out free grocery vouchers or Life Alert devices to seniors. These are scammers sending out millions of pre-recorded calls looking for anyone who will take the bait and hand over personal information, which often includes credit card numbers, social security numbers and birthdays.”

 

Anyone with questions about these or other consumer matters should contact the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office at 800-436-2131.

 FMI:  CONSUMER FORUM: New twist on old scam

 

Beware the driveway-paving scams

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT

Posted Sept. 22, 2013, at 1:15 p.m.

In the past few days, I’ve obtained some quotes for having my driveway sealed. It’s a job I had hoped to handle myself, but allergies in nature and too many petrochemical products have forced me to contract it out.

The more recent quotes are a bit higher than the first one I was given; they came from people at established businesses in the Bangor area. The first one came from a fellow I had never met who knocked at our door.

He said he had a deal for me; my radar is always on, but it kicked into high at once. He had been sealing a driveway in my neighborhood, he said, and he had a little sealer left over. He could give me a deal on my driveway – $250, and he could do the job that afternoon (it was a little after 2 pm when he made his pitch).

It seemed we could seal the deal on a handshake, no contract needed. I noticed the unmarked vehicle a companion waited in, and asked for a business card. The man didn’t have one but said he’d drop one off “in about an hour.” I haven’t seen him since.

Police are all too familiar with workers who claim to be professional pavers, while doing “hit and run” jobs that often leave residents less than satisfied. The materials they use may be substandard, and they sometimes hand homeowners a bill that’s a lot higher than the price that was quoted.

Such practices are not just poor business, they’re illegal. Now, I have no direct evidence that my visitor was trying to scam me; but he did not follow the three Maine laws that state that door-to-door sellers of home repairs must:

— Provide written contracts, which include a binding job estimate;

— Wait three days after the contract is signed before beginning work;

— Allow a buyer to opt out of the agreement during that three-day period.

If he was registered with the state, he did not offer to show me his registration. If he had a permanent place of business in the town in which he was doing business, his unmarked vehicle and lack of a business card did not reflect any attachment to the community.

Steer clear of anyone who tries to sell paving or sealing services door-to-door. Legitimate contractors know how much material they need for a given job, and they bring that material to the job and no more. There are no “leftovers” and no deals to be had because of them.

“They seem to come in waves,” Brewer’s Deputy Police Chief Jason Moffitt told me last week. “Don’t sign any contracts with people who just show up in your yard,” he advised. Take your time, check with known local companies, and keep an eye on older neighbors who might be targeted.

Visit the website of the Maine Attorney General (www.maine.gov/ag) and click on Consumer Law Guide for more on door-to-door sales and sales of home repairs and similar services.

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.

 

Fraud Alert: Company claiming to hire laborers stealing debit card funds from ‘new hires’

AG Mills and Commissioner Paquette warn job seekers to report companies that require new hires to purchase pre-paid debit cards before their first day on the job

AUGUSTA—Attorney General Janet T. Mills and Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette are warning job seekers about a scam that aims to steal money via pre-paid debit cards. A person claiming to be hiring laborers has been telling candidates that they need to purchase a $60 “Green Dot” pre-paid debit card from Wal-mart before their first day of work.

The person calling the job seekers claims to be working for “Wipe-Out Windows and Construction” from Charleston, S.C., and says his name is Craig Thompson. This appears to be a made-up name, and a similar scam has been targeting people in other states using the name Brandon Williams.

The scammer, through false postings on the Maine Job Bank that use a legitimate Florida business’ name, is advertising for workers. When job seekers accept the referral from the job bank, the scammer contacts the worker, tells them they are hired and then tells them to purchase the debit card and that he will meet the workers at the local CareerCenter.

The scammer explains to the job seeker that the money on the card is to cover the expense of a uniform and training, which is a clear violation of both state and federal employment law. Once the worker has the card and contacts the scammer, the scammer asks the job seeker to read the card number over the phone. The scammer does not show up to the prearranged meetings at the CareerCenter, and the job seekers then find that the debit card account has been wiped out.

Commissioner Paquette stated, “We have more than 7,000 jobs on the Maine Job Bank, and all of those employers have been vetted by the department. This appears to be a rare but serious case where someone is impersonating a legitimate business. We have notified the U.S. Department of Labor and other states so that the national Job Bank referral system can be on alert for similar postings to protect job seekers.”

Attorney General Mills added, “Even if the employer actually appeared and gave these people work, the requested payment is illegal. Anyone looking for a job should know that they cannot be asked for this kind of payment to secure employment. If they are asked, it should be a big red flag that something is wrong.”

Commissioner Paquette noted, “Job seekers should continue to register with the Maine Job Bank and continue to use legitimate online job banks to search for work, because that is the twenty-first century method of job hunting. However, if people are asking you to pay money to get a job or do not bother with a face-to-face interview, that should raise concerns. If you have questions about a job posting, do not hesitate to contact the Department of Labor or your local CareerCenter to find out more information about that job or to report a suspected violation of employment law.”

To protect themselves from being a victim people should:
- Never feel pressured to make a payment to secure employment – it is illegal for an employer to ask for this. They cannot require an employee to cover costs associated with training, paperwork or uniforms. – Ask to meet a potential employer in person before agreeing to work for them – any legitimate employer would want to meet you, too. – Never give out your personal information over the phone to an unverified person.

Employees concerned about their rights on the job or in the hiring process should call the Maine Department of Labor at 207-623-7900 (TTY users dial Maine Relay 711). The Wage and Hour Division of the Bureau of Labor Standards provides information about the rights of employees at http://www.maine.gov/labor/labor_laws/index.html .

The Maine Job Bank, free for both employers and job seekers, is available at https://gateway.maine.gov/dol/mjb/jobseeker/jobseekerwelcome.aspx . Job seekers looking for additional assistance in finding their next job or training should visit their local CareerCenter or go to http://www.mainecareercenter.com/ .

New twist on old scam

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Sept. 08, 2013, at 3:02 p.m.

Maine’s seniors are becoming really savvy.

Not only are they hanging up on would-be scam callers, they’re reporting them to law enforcement people. The legal people are looking into the scam attempts, and everyone’s getting better informed about ways to keep our money in our pockets, instead of handing it over to crooks.

That’s what smart consumerism is all about. Just last week, consumers in eastern Maine were put to the test with a new twist on an old scam offer revolving around medical alert services. And, don’t we love it when the scammers try to prey on seniors, and the seniors do the phone equivalent of spitting in their eyes!

The pitch went like this: Pony up whatever they ask for ultimately and they’ll throw in “grocery savings certificates” worth THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS at 100 grocery chains across the U.S. (are those magazine coupons??). The pitch continues, “In addition to your $3,000 in savings certificates you will receive a free emergency medic alert bracelet or necklace,” which of course will save your life if you’ve fallen and you can’t get up. (We’ve written about these lifeline offers before; see Consumer Forum, June 3, 2013).

At least two consumers who received the above call did not bite; instead, they called the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, telling people there that a scam was afoot. The folks at EAAA reported the consumers’ experiences to the Maine Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which loves to keep track of such robocall violations of its Do Not Call rules. Since Penobscot County TRIAD, a coalition of seniors’ advocates and law enforcement personnel is based at EAAA, the Penobscot Sheriff’s Department was alerted as well.

The scam artists know that millions of people have gotten wise to their promises of “free” medical alert devices, only to be slapped with a monthly fee for the “service” that comes with the devices. Sometimes there’s no service at all, although the charges keep coming every month. Sometimes the scammers don’t even get a signature, saying that “a relative signed you up” and not to worry because “your insurance covers any costs.”

As our savvy consumers did last week, the time to head off these crooks is the moment they try to strike. They ask you to “press 1 for more information or 5 to be removed from this offer.” Don’t press anything; simply hang up. If you’re in the national Do Not Call registry, the caller has broken the law simply by calling. Don’t give the lawbreaker the information that his robot has reached a working number by pressing a button that verifies the phone is working. The scammers sell lists of working numbers to other crooks.

If you receive a suspicious call, simply hang up (it’s your phone; you choose how to use it). If the pitch gets far enough so you spot a scam attempt, report it to your local law enforcement agency. Let the FTC know (call 1-877-FTC-HELP or www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov to file a complaint online). In June, the FTC levied a record $7.5-million fine against a mortgage refinancing company for allegedly violating Do Not Call rules. Such cases often begin with complaints from consumers.

Despite the law and bad press, the scammers will keep trying, sugar-coating old scams with phony new promises. Don’t buy what they’re selling.

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 emailcontacexdir@live.com.

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills announces top ten consumer complaints

August 28, 2013

(AUGUSTA, Maine) Mediators in the Maine Office of the Attorney General assist consumers with a variety of issues, ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to phone bill “cramming”. The most frequent complaints in the last year, however, centered on auto sales and “Jamaican lottery” scams.

Maine has numerous laws in place that can protect a consumer, but the best way for consumers to avoid being defrauded is to know their rights. The Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Law Guide provides a basis for understanding Maine’s consumer protection laws. Attorney General Janet T. Mills urges Maine consumers to educate themselves before signing contracts and to be wary of high pressure phone solicitations.

“An informed consumer is a well-armed citizen,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “Whether under our auto sales ‘Lemon Law’ or the Unfair Trade Practices Act, consumers have options when they encounter unfair business practices. Maine consumers should understand their rights and should always be skeptical before agreeing to part with their hard-earned money.”

The following are the top ten most frequent complaints received by the Maine Office of Attorney General, Consumer Mediation and Information Service between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013:

  1. Auto Sales (both new and used)
  2. Contests/Sweepstakes/Prize Promotions and similar types of Scams
  3. Landlord-Tenant/Mobile Homes
  4. Nigerian/Grandparent/”Sweetheart” and similar types of Scams
  5. Home Repair/Construction Complaints
  6. Furniture/Appliances/Home Furnishings
  7. Entertainment/Recreation
  8. Satellite TV Sales and Service
  9. Health Services (including over the counter “health” products)
  10. Telecommunications/Slamming/Cramming (Charges added to bill without authorization)

The Consumer Mediation and Information Service assists Maine consumers and businesses by answering questions, providing referrals and mediating disputes. “Our staff and our volunteer mediators help thousands of consumers each year by answering their questions on a variety of topics including used vehicles, Maine’s lemon law, landlord-tenant issues, telephone scammers, implied and express warranties, mobile phone disputes and much more. I hope more consumers will realize the resources that are available to them and reach out to our office for assistance,” said Attorney General Mills. Consumers may call the specifically dedicated line 1-800-436-2131 or 626-8849 Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. – noon and 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. In addition to the toll free phone number, consumers can contact the Consumer Protection Division by email at consumer.mediation@maine.gov and by regular mail by writing to: Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division, 6 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333. The Consumer Protection Division also has a lot of consumer information on the website, including the Consumer Law Guide – www.maine.gov/ag.

 

Attorney General Janet T. Mills warns homeowners to be wary when dealing with door-to-door sellers

OFFICE OF THE MAINE ATTORNEY GENERAL
PRESS RELEASE
July 22, 2013
Augusta, Maine

Attorney General Janet T. Mills reminds Maine homeowners to be wary of door-to-door sellers using high pressure tactics to sell home repair services, paving jobs and other goods. Maine has three statutes specifically intended to regulate door-to-door sales and to protect consumers from high pressure tactics. In many cases, door-to-sales require a state license and a three day waiting period.

“An educated consumer is a protected consumer,” said Attorney General Mills. “At the very least, a consumer should know that door-to-door sellers are required to have a permanent address or to be licensed with the state. If you do agree to do business with this person, they must give you a detailed contract and they cannot commence work for three days, during which the consumer may cancel. Demand for payment up front should be a red flag that something is not right.”

I. The Consumer Solicitation Sales Act requires that a door-to-door seller of merchandise, including home repair services, paving or installing burglar alarms, must use a specific written contract and must wait three days before beginning the job. A homeowner has this period of time to review the contract and to cancel it in writing if they change their mind for any reason. If a deposit was provided, the seller has to return it within 15 days.

II. The Transient Sales Act applies to those sellers who travel into and throughout the State selling such services and goods such as driveway paving or magazine subscriptions and who then seem to “disappear” by the time problems develop. This Act requires transient sellers of merchandise or services to be licensed by the State if they do not have a permanent place of business in Maine (either a 12-month lease or ownership of the business building). A consumer should ask for the address of the seller’s Maine “permanent place of business.”

III. The Door-To-Door Seller of Home Repair Services Act requires a door-to-door seller of home repair services to be licensed by the State and to carry a State issued license when soliciting in a municipality in which the seller does not have a permanent place of business (a 12-month lease or ownership). For example, if you find a driveway paver who is going door-to-door, ask them: (a) Do you have a permanent place of business in this municipality; (b) if not, show me your State license.
To find out if a seller is licensed under the Transient Sales Act or the Door-to-Door Seller of Home Repair Services Act, call the Licensing Division at the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (624-8603) to confirm that the seller is registered. Or search Maine’s online list of licensees.

Any complaints regarding door-to-door sales should first be reported to your local police department. Make sure to obtain the seller’s name and address and the identification of employees and vehicles. Also, photos of the individuals are helpful, in case the sellers are using different names. 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.

 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 is Military Consumer Protection Day

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted July 16, 2013, at 6:51 p.m.

Wednesday marks Military Consumer Protection Day. It is so designated in light of some special situations that members of the military and their families face in today’s marketplace.

Our military members tend to be younger and financially less experienced than average citizens. They move more often and often face challenges in securing housing. Ten years of war have meant mission training has come before financial training, leaving many enlisted veterans poorly equipped to deal with the rigors of economic life back home.

In the past, payday lending operations located near military bases helped those needing a small loan to tide them over until payday. Today there are fewer of those businesses; the internet-based array of illegal, unlicensed predatory lenders may demand interest with an annual percentage rate of 300 percent or more.

At Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, principal examiner David Leach says, “We have a small handful of licensed payday lenders, who follow Maine law — no more than a $25 fee on a payday loan of $250.00 or more.”

Leach urges military people to check with his office for licensed lenders ( www.credit.maine.gov, 1-800-332-8529) and avoid all others.

A white paper by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last September called for expanding availability of small-dollar, low-interest military loans. These loans could include an automatic savings component in the repayment plan; accumulated savings over time could help build credit and be used for future short-term cash needs.

Deciding when to leave the military can have big financial implications. People at a financial planning conference late last year were told that career people who leave early could lose between $300,000 and $400,000 in pension and benefits. Planners were urged to prompt clients who insist on leaving active duty to consider joining the reserves.

There are several websites that can help with financial planning, among them www.military.com, www.tricare.com and www.va.com. The Maine state government site includes a “Financial Field Manual” for military families, produced by Kiplinger’s and the Better Business Bureau. Find the manual at www.investors.maine.gov (scroll down to “recent publications”) or call 1-877-624-8551 for a hard copy.

HOPE NOW is an alliance of HUD-approved counselors, investors and others in the mortgage market. Help tailored for military families can be found at www.hopenow.com/military-resources.php.

To be on guard against scams targeting service people, visit www.stopfraud.gov/service-members. Maine’s Bureau of Insurance has a webpage dedicated to life insurance (from Maine.gov search “military insurance”).

The Federal Trade Commission has more on Military Consumer Protection Day at www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/military-consumer-protection-day-2013.

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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PRESS RELEASE from MAINE ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET MILLS re: Military Consumer Protection Day

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