Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category

How to avoid scams hiding behind unclaimed property lists

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted April 06, 2014, at 12:47 p.m.

After seeing a recent news release from the Maine treasurer’s office, a Northeast CONTACT caseworker told a friend that his name was on the treasurer’s list of unclaimed property owners. All that he had to do was call the treasurer’s office, identify himself and give his Social Security number to verify his identity. The friend was indignant. “I’m not revealing my Social Security number,” the friend said. “Don’t you know what could happen?” The caseworker replied, “You don’t think the state of Maine knows your Social Security number already?” The friend was being cautious, perhaps overly cautious. We urge consumers to claim property, cash or other valuables that are rightfully theirs. And we urge them to do so in an orderly manner, so as not to fall victim to a number of scams that are out there. First, we’ll define unclaimed property as lost or forgotten assets. Funds in idle bank or credit union accounts, uncashed payroll or dividend checks, unredeemed money orders, even gift certificates may be unclaimed property. These and other abandoned assets total over $41 billion waiting to be claimed, because the rightful owners could not be located in a specified span of time. Among the things that do not constitute unclaimed property are real estate (see appropriate municipal officials); abandoned animals (animal welfare laws apply); and abandoned vehicles (Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles can advise on these). Let’s look at the Maine state treasurer’s website at www.maine.gov/unclaimed. There, you can search for unclaimed property you may own or report unclaimed property. A fact sheet puts total unclaimed funds in Maine, from 1979 to 2013, at more than $191 million. During fiscal year 2013, the state paid more than 16,000 claims averaging a bit over $1,000 each. The largest single payout was over $130,000. To claim your abandoned property, complete an online form on the state treasurer’s website at www.maine.gov/treasurer; or print out a blank form, fill it out and mail it to the treasurer’s office (39 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04330). There is no fee to file a claim, and there’s no need to pay anyone else to help you. For assistance, call 624-7470 or toll-free in Maine at 888-283-2808. The federal government does not have a single website to search, so you’ll need to search individual states if you have unclaimed property outside Maine. The feds do have leads to finding property that may have been subject to federal regulation (failed financial institutions, savings bonds no longer earning interest and so on) at www.usa.gov (search for “unclaimed property”). State treasurers across the country maintain a National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website at www.unclaimed.org. You can find links to other states where you have lived to search for unclaimed property. You can also report suspicious unclaimed property email messages and websites to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. And, yes, the scammers are out there. Here are some tip-offs of frauds: They may pose as National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators officials when sending fraudulent emails (which real unclaimed property officers never do). They might try to refer you to someone other than a state official (this work is not outsourced). They could demand a fee (there’s never a charge). And they’ll likely want bank account information (although you might have to supply personal information such as your Social Security number, you’ll never be asked for bank account info).

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.

Competitive Electricity Pricing – WABI-TV

VIDEO 

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

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

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

Consumer Alert – Office of the Public Advocate‏

Maine Office of the Public Advocate warns current and potential customers of competitive electricity suppliers to look out for fixed price contracts that renew at a variable rate.

In recent months, competitive electricity providers have made a renewed push to convince Maine customers to switch from the standard offer to a competitive supplier.  Often, these suppliers offer a short term (e.g. six month) fixed rate that is lower than the current standard offer, which increased on March 1st.  But customers may see their electricity bill skyrocket once this initial term expires.

Customers need to pay close attention to what happens when their contract, and the initial rate, expires.  In many cases, if customers do nothing, they will be automatically renewed at a variable rate that can be much higher than the fixed rate they originally signed up for.  Variable rates typically change on a monthly basis, and variable rates for competitive suppliers in Maine have been as high as 23 cents per kWh, or more than three times the current standard offer price. Eric Bryant, Senior Counsel at the Office of the Public Advocate, says, “We generally discourage customers from signing up for variable rates, because there’s no cap on how high those rates can rise.”

Competitive electricity providers are required to notify customers of any such renewal and rate change at least 30 days before their contract ends, but not all customers see these notices, or understand the consequences of moving to a variable rate.  Says Bryant, “Often the first time customers realize that they’ve been moved to a variable rate is when they receive a higher than normal electricity bill.” He recommends that customers weigh this risk against the potential savings before switching to a competitive supplier: “A supply price of 1 cent less than the standard offer price will save the average residential customer between $5 and $6 per month. The higher prices associated with a variable price can easily wipe out a year’s worth—or more—of those electricity savings in a single month.”

The Office of the Public Advocate is currently reviewing what changes to existing electricity regulations are needed to protect consumers, and expects that the Maine Public Utilities Commission will open a proceeding to revise those rules.  Tim Schneider, Maine’s Public

Advocate says “Customers in other New England and Mid-Atlantic states have experienced the same issues with variable rate contracts with competitive providers, and we’ve been working closely with our counterparts in those states to trade ideas and compare notes about how to ensure that consumers and regulators have all the information, tools and protections they need.” The Office of the Public Advocate maintains a web page devoted to supply options, with tips and advice, a listing of some of the competitive supplier’s offers, and a brief description of consumer protections.  It can be found at http://www.maine.gov/meopa/utilities/electric/supply.html.

Consumer Forum March 17th – What you need to know about electricity pricing

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap Issues Alert to Corporations and Non-Profit Entities Regarding Solicitations from Corporate Records Service

PRESS RELEASE
03/26/2014 05:03 PM EDT

Review BBB complaints

AUGUSTA – Numerous Maine corporations have received mailings recently from a business operating under the name Corporate Records Service, whose address is usually listed as 125 Western Ave. #338 Augusta, ME 04330-7252. These unsolicited mailings include a form titled “2014 – Annual Records Solicitation Form” and an offer from Corporate Records Service to prepare documents “to satisfy the annual corporate records for your corporation” for a fee of $125. This is not being sent on behalf of the Department of the Secretary of State, and the records described are not required to be filed with the Secretary of State.

The solicitation correctly states that Corporate Records Services is not a government agency. However, the form of the mailing and the way the informationis presented may create the impression that this is an official government communication. The form provided by Corporate Records Service is not a document prescribed or recognized by the Department of the Secretary of State.The form provided by Corporate Records Service is not an official annual report and will not be accepted as an annual report if submitted to the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions. Additionally, the preparation of these records does not satisfy the requirements to file the annual report with the Secretary of State. The legal deadline to file annual reports with the Secretary of State’s office is June 1st, and those reports may be filed on line: http://icrs.informe.org/nei-sos-icrs/ICRS .

Please contact the Division of Corporations at (207) 624-7752 should you have any further questions or concerns regarding these solicitations. Any corporation that has questions about the solicitation is also encouraged to obtain advice from its lawyer or business advisor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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

Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Donate?? Federal Trade Commission

December 9, 2013
by
Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, FTC

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, you may be thinking about donating to your favorite charities. This time of year also brings more attention to our deployed personnel, their families living stateside and our veterans. Lots of folks wonder how they can support the troops. Many organizations tout themselves as a way to give back to those who serve. But not all charities are legitimate – some are out to make a buck for themselves. Some spend more money paying their fundraisers than supporting the military community. Here are a few things you can do to prevent shady groups from cashing in on the cachet of the military.

Find out if they’re playing the name game. Just because an organization has the words “veterans” or “military families” in its name is no guarantee that veterans or the families of active-duty personnel will benefit from your donation. Some phony charities use names, seals and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations – or they may claim veteran status themselves as a way to gain your trust. You may see a small difference in the name of the charity from the one you mean to deal with; in that case, call the organization you know to be legitimate and check it out. The U.S. Department of Defense doesn’t endorse any charity, but recommends contacting Military One Source to get information about military relief societies.

Dig into the facts before you dig into your wallet. Check out an organization before parting with your money. Donate to charities with a track record. Scam artists follow the headlines and charities that spring up literally overnight in connection with military conflicts and related news stories may disappear just as quickly – with your donation funding their next move. In many cases, those “instant charities” don’t have the infrastructure to get donated money or products to the right place.

Trust your gut. Check your records if you have any doubt about whether you’ve made a pledge or a contribution. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.

Confirm their registration. Call the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations to see if a charity or fundraising organization has to be registered in your state. If so, confirm whether the organization you’re considering is registered. For a list of state offices, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials. The organization also can verify how much of each donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and management expenses. You also can check out charities with theBetter Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and GuideStar.

Ask so you shall not be deceived. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. You may want to take your time to research this organization and other charitable groups. Then, you can make the best decision about what groups you want to support.

Learn more about making the most of your charitable donations. If you choose to support the troops this season, don’t let your donations fall fa-la-la-la flat.

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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Office Of The Public Advocate Releases Free 24-Page Ratewatcher Telecom Guide

Augusta, Maine – The Ratewatcher is back! The new 24-page Ratewatcher Telecom Guide is now online and the printed edition will be mailed to tens of thousands of subscribers this week. “The Ratewatcher makes it easier for Maine consumers to find the best services and latest prices for Internet, telephone, and cell phone services in our State” said Tim Schneider, the State’s new Public Advocate. “Our primary focus is on saving money for Maine consumers and businesses, but the Ratewatcher also tries to make the increasingly complex tangle of retail communications services understandable to the consumer” said Wayne Jortner, Senior Counsel to the Public Advocate. The latest edition is heavily focused on broadband services, reflecting the growing importance of broadband for our State’s economy and in our daily lives.

The services described in the Ratewatcher are used by virtually every household in Maine. “Whether you use plain old telephone service, cellular voice or data service, a prepaid wireless phone, Voice over Internet (VOIP) or any of five types of broadband service, the Ratewatcher provides much information about those services that are available in Maine” said Jortner. The latest issue also reports on several opportunities for affordable connectivity for low-income households, and some newer products such as wireless home phone services and hotspot services.

The 24-page, full-color Ratewatcher Telecom Guide, is available free of charge to all Maine residents. To request a copy, call 287-2445, send an email message to: opa@maine.gov or write to the Public Advocate at, SHS 112, Augusta, Maine 04333. If you have Internet access, simply click on the pdf version of the Ratewatcher at http://www.maine.gov/meopa and print it out in full color. An ADA-compliant online version is also available there.

The Ratewatcher Telecom Guide (PDF)

 

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

 

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