Archive for the ‘Department of Professional and Financial Regulation’ 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

State Officials Issue Consumer Protection Alert Following Data Breach Announcement by Shaw’s Parent Company

Press Release

GARDINER – Governor Paul R. LePage joined officials at Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation to reassure consumers that state and federal laws are in place to protect them from major losses due to file breaches containing debit and credit card information, such as the one disclosed August 14 by AB Acquisition LLC, which operates Shaw’s supermarkets in Maine and other states.

 

Although it’s unknown whether consumers will be impacted by the data breach involving Shaw’s, the company indicates that stores in Maine were among those affected,” Governor LePage said. “I encourage people to closely monitor their credit and debit card statements, and to contact the financial institution that issued the card promptly if questionable charges appear.  Staff at Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation is also available to provide information and guidance.” 

The Bureau of Financial Institutions and Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation outlined the following information and guidance for consumers responding to news of a financial data breach:

  • Consumers should always thoroughly review credit and debit card statements from the card issuer, and also review all other account statements from their bank or credit union.
  • If consumers have online access to their credit or debit card information, they should review account activity as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the statement to arrive in the mail.
  • If a credit or debit card was used at a business that has experienced a data security breach, or there is uncertainty about whether a card was used, consumers should be especially diligent in evaluating charges or withdrawals on their statement.
  • Since the data breach involving Shaw’s reportedly began in June, consumers should review statements covering June to the present.
  • If unknown charges or other suspicious activity appear on the account, consumers should notify the financial institution that issued the credit or debit card.
  • Consumers do NOT need to contact the company that experienced the data breach, such as Shaw’s.
  • Consumers’ liability for unauthorized use of a CREDIT CARD is limited to $50.  If account numbers have been stolen, consumers have no liability for unauthorized use.  
  • Consumers noticing unauthorized activity on their DEBIT CARD resulting from a data breach have sixty (60) days from when the bank or credit union sent the statement to report it.  If consumers fail to notify the bank or credit union of unauthorized transactions within this time, they are liable for the amount of the unauthorized transactions. This 60 day timeframe applies ONLY when the card’s data has been compromised through a data breach, as in the Shaw’s case.  See below for details about when a DEBIT CARD has been lost or stolen.
  • When a DEBIT CARD has been lost or stolen, consumers have two (2) business days after learning of the loss or theft to notify their financial institution in order to limit their liability to $50. If they do not notify their bank or credit union about the lost or stolen DEBIT CARD within two (2) business days, consumers may be liable for up to $500 of the unauthorized transactions. If consumers do not notify their financial institution within sixty (60) days after being provided a monthly statement that lists a fraudulent debit, they can be liable for unauthorized withdrawals of any amount that occur after that 60 day period.
  • To be safe, DEBIT CARD holders should act immediately if they notice unauthorized withdrawals.
  • If impacted by unauthorized charges or withdrawals, consumers should first call the bank or credit union that issued the credit or debit card, and then follow up in writing to explain the problem.
  • Some banks and credit unions may issue new cards to customers whose credit or debit card numbers are known to have been compromised through a data breach.
  • Consumer may ask a financial institution to re-issue a new card if they have concerns about their account.
  • Again, consumers do NOT need to contact the business that was subject to the data breach; and they need to contact the bank or credit union that issued their credit or debit card ONLY if they notice suspicious activity on their statement.
  • For more information, contact the Bureau of Financial Institutions toll-free at 1-800-965-5235, or the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection is 1-800-332-8529.

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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.

 

New state program helps fight elder financial abuse

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 16, 2014, at 10:20 a.m.

A family member moved in to help an ailing 75-year-old Penobscot County woman with housework. After just two days there, she persuaded the older woman to sign the home over to her, saying this would help if the woman needed long-term care. Three months later, an eviction notice came.

In Androscoggin County, a woman convinced her 78-year-old mother that it was time to sell her house and move in with her daughter and the daughter’s husband. The couple promised to look after her medical and financial needs. Soon afterward, in the heat of summer, the woman moved her elderly mother into a camper trailer in the couple’s backyard. More than two years, the couple spent all her money and left her homeless and unqualified for Mainecare. Her health declined to the point that she needed nursing home care.

These two examples of the financial abuse of older Mainers are repeated, not just daily but many times every day. In these two cases, the victims complained to Legal Services for the Elderly, and that group’s intervention helped to ease the impact. But thousands more cases are reported every year, and many more cases go unreported.

The Bangor Daily News reported last week on a new effort to head off elder financial abuse. The initiative, called Senior$afe, aims to train employees of banks and credit unions to spot signs of financial abuse at the teller’s window, drive-through or other places where relatives or others might make transactions that are not in the best interest of the account holder.

Financial abuse can happen when a senior gives power of attorney to a family member, friend or other trusted person. That power can be abused when it’s used to take advantage of the senior’s credit, secure their property or the proceeds of sales, and even threaten harm if seniors don’t hand over cash.

The Senior$afe program will provide training to front-line employees to watch for unusual activity, such as a series of checks written to one person or large cash withdrawals. Officials say 200 people have been trained and would share their new knowledge with others at their workplaces.

For example, if a suspected victim comes into a bank or credit union alone and asks to make a large cash withdrawal, the employee might try to engage the senior in casual conversation. If someone else is with the senior, the employee might instead refer the matter to authorities who could begin an investigation.

Senior$afe is spearheaded by the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention, Maine Bankers Association, Maine Credit Union League, the Maine departments of Professional and Financial Regulation and Health and Human Services, and Legal Services for the Elderly. Training is also planned for financial institution managers, who might refer troubling matters to authorities.

Jaye Martin is executive director of Legal Services for the Elderly and a member of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention. She says Senior$afe is the first program of its kind in the country. Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw, who co-chairs the council, said the effort will help.

“Giving front line bank and credit union personnel the tools to identify suspected elder abuse will help protect Maine’s seniors before the financial damage becomes too great,” Shaw says.

If you suspect that a senior is being abused, financially or otherwise, you can call Maine Adult Protective Services at www.maine.gov/dhhs/oads/aging or call 1-800-624-8404.

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.

 

 

Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Offers Guidance for End of Year Charitable Contributions

Charitable Scams Can be More Prevalent This Time of Year  

GARDINER  –  As many Maine families consider holiday season and end of year charitable contributions, Governor Paul R. LePage and Commissioner Anne Head from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation are encouraging Maine residents to check the legitimacy of unknown charities.  Potential donors are urged to always research charitable organizations before making a donation.  A quick check with the Department can provide information to help in determining whether a charity is legitimate or a scam.

“Maine people are well known for lending a hand to others and for supporting charities,” Governor LePage said.  “We saw that earlier this week with the successful conclusion of the Maine State Employees Combined Charitable, which has raised nearly $270,000 to help those in need.  We always encourage charitable giving and want to assist donors in directing their support to legitimate charities.”

Charitable organizations are required to be licensed with the Department’s Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which collects information about charitable activity in Maine and makes it available to the public.

“Charitable solicitation scams aren’t new, but they sometimes increase during the holiday season, at the end of the year, and in the aftermath of tragedies,” Commissioner Head said.  “It’s important for the public to know that guidance and resources are available to assist people in making sure their contributions are going to real charities.”

Commissioner Head advises individuals to ask questions and seek printed information about unknown charities; to confirm their legitimacy with regulators; to never send cash or wire money when requested to do so; to always keep receipts of donations; and to report concerns or complaints about questionable solicitations with the Department and law enforcement.

Information about charities can be obtained through the Department’s website (www.maine.gov/pfr), specifically atwww.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions/charitable. Links allow for the search of licensed charitable organizations, as well as disciplinary actions.  Questions and complaints can also be made by calling the Charitable Solicitations Program at 207-624-8525.

Additional tips and advice accompany this news release and can also be obtained from the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/charityfraud/).

The Department of Professional and Financial Regulation protects the citizens of Maine and supports the economy through the oversight of State-chartered financial institutions, the insurance industry, grantors of consumer credit, the securities industry, and numerous professions providing services to the public.  More information is available at www.maine.gov/pfr.

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Tips and Advice When Considering Charitable Giving

December, 2013

  • Always research unknown charities before contributing.  And whether the charity is new or well established, you may wish to know what percentage of your contribution is spent on fundraising, employee compensation, or expenses which do not directly support the charity’s stated purpose.
  • Not all organizations with names that sound like charities are actually charities.  Some organizations select names that are similar to those of well-known charities.
  • Be cautious when contacted by telephone for a contribution.  Ask that the request be put in writing.  You may also want to ask if the caller is a paid solicitor or a volunteer for the charity.
  • Never give your bank account information or credit/debit card numbers to a caller.  And be wary if the person soliciting the contribution is willing to have someone rush to your home or business to meet with you and pick up a contribution.
  • If you wish to receive a tax deduction, make sure the organization has a tax deductible status with the Internal Revenue Service. “Tax exempt,” “non-profit,” and “tax deductible” mean different things.  Only “tax deductible” means contributions are deductible on your income tax return.  Visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov/charities) for more information.
  • Be wary of organizations which list only post office boxes or mail drop suite numbers as their address.  You may wish to inquire about the charity’s location.

 

Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Issues Warning to Consumers about an Unlicensed Former Certified Public Accountant

Press Release – December 4, 2013

GARDINER – Commissioner Anne L. Head of Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation warned consumers that Valerie Alex of Rockport has not had a license to practice as a Certified Public Accountant in Maine since 2010, and her certificate as a Certified Public Accountant (which is the basis upon which annual permits to practice are issued) was revoked more than a year ago by the Maine Board of Accountancy.

 In a September 19, 2012 order, Ms. Alex was found to have been holding herself out to the public as a CPA long after the expiration of both her individual and firm certified public accounting licenses.  The Board’s order also found that Ms. Alex had failed to comply with a prior Board order, issued in February 2012, resulting from her failure to properly file an income tax return, failure to follow-up with the IRS to resolve that matter, and failure to provide documents requested of her by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.  In the September order, Ms. Alex was ordered to remove her office signage in Warren, Maine and to shut-down her website www.valeriealexcpa.com.

Despite receiving a copy of the Board’s September 19, 2012 order, and subsequent contact from Board staff, Ms. Alex has continued to hold herself out to be a licensed CPA.  Ms. Alex has continued to advertise her CPA firm through signage in Warren and through her website, which advertises the firm’s work with the motto “Quality. Service. Ethics”.

At a meeting of the Board of Accountancy held in November, 2013, members expressed concern that Ms. Alex has continued to ignore the Board’s 2012 order.  It has referred the matter to the Maine Attorney General’s Office for further enforcement action.

“Consumers should be aware that Valerie Alex’s certificate as a Certified Public Accountant has been revoked.  She is not a Certified Public Accountant,” Commissioner Head said.  “Her certificate has been revoked because of a history and pattern of misconduct and failure to comply with orders of the Maine Board of Accountancy.  Although she has continued to advertise herself as a Certified Public Accountant, consumers should not hire her to perform work as a certified public accountant.”

Ms. Alex was additionally the subject of Board disciplinary action in 2005.  The most recent order of the Board can be obtained.

Consumers can check the license status of accountants and licensees in nearly 40 other professions by visiting www.maine.gov/pfr(direct link to list of professions:
www.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions.htm).

 

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