Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category

Change in electric rates could prove shocking! Maine’s Public Advocate warns consumers

PRESS RELEASE: Maine Office of Public Advocate Warns North American Power Customers to Get Off Variable Rates (9/23/14)

The Maine Office of the Public Advocate is warning customers of North American Power that their fixed rate contracts for electricity have expired, or will soon expire, and they should act now to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in excess electricity costs this winter.

Earlier this year, North American Power sent a direct mail solicitation to residential electricity customers across the state, offering a 6-month fixed rate for electricity at a favorable price. Thousands of Central Maine Power and Emera Maine customers signed up for these offers, which have now ended or are about to end.

When the fixed rate term expires, customers are automatically rolled over to a variable rate, where the price changes each month based on wholesale market prices. Last winter, some variable rates went as high as 25 cents per kWh, or nearly four times the standard offer price, costing some customers hundreds of dollars in excess costs. The Office expects to see similar variable rate pricing, or worse, this winter.

“North American Power is supposed to let customers know their contract is expiring, but we know some customers haven’t gotten notice, and we’re concerned that those who have received notice may not understand the potential costs of switching to a variable rate.” said Public Advocate Tim Schneider. “Missing that single piece of mail could cost a customer hundreds of dollars this winter.”

 

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

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

Information posted in press release:

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

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

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

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

Officials Say Recent Storms Serve as Reminder about Actions Residents Should Take to Stay Safe and Protect Property During Severe Weather

PRESS RELEASE
Bureau of Insurance
July 18, 2014

GARDINER – Governor Paul R. LePage and Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa urged Maine residents on Friday to recognize that severe summer weather poses a threat to life and property, and they called recent strong storms a reminder that steps can be taken to save lives, minimize property losses and speed recovery.  Several Maine communities experienced heavy rains, power outages and flash flooding earlier this month.

Governor LePage and Superintendent Cioppa cited wind, flooding and fire as potential causes of major damage during summer.  They also noted that the Atlantic Hurricane Season runs through November.  The Governor and Superintendent encourage Mainers to review their homeowner or renter policy and to evaluate the benefits of flood insurance.  They also encourage residents to complete a home inventory checklist, and to assemble an emergency supply kit.

“The best time to prepare for severe weather is when the skies are clear and threats aren’t imminent,” Governor LePage said.  “As we’ve seen, strong storms can arrive quickly and cause significant problems.  We should all take simple steps to keep our families and property safe, and to be in a position to recover quickly should damage occur.”

Cioppa emphasized the importance of knowing what’s covered by a homeowners policy and making sure coverage is adequate.  “Many people are unaware that standard homeowner policies do not cover flooding.  They should review their policy, purchase additional coverage if needed, consider whether flood insurance makes sense for them, and complete an inventory of possessions.”

Flood Insurance:  Flooding is typically not covered by a standard homeowners policy.  Due to a 30-day waiting period for coverage to take effect, quick action is needed for a policy to be in place for later in this year’s hurricane season.  Details are available from the National Flood Insurance Program by calling 1-800-427-2419 or online at www.floodsmart.gov.  The website includes tools to help homeowners assess their flood risk.

Inventory Checklist:  Cioppa emphasized that the checklist can be enormously helpful in establishing an insurance claim.  Although a copy of the inventory can be kept at home, a second should always be maintained with insurance policies, medical records, and other important documents in a safety deposit box or other secure location.  The inventory should include photos and video of property.  A free checklist can be obtained on the Bureau’s website (www.maine.gov/insurance).

Additionally, the Governor and Superintendent encouraged residents to establish an emergency supply kit.  It should include several days of drinking water (at least one gallon per person per day), non-perishable packaged or canned foods, a non-electrical can opener and cooking utensil.  The kit should also contain first aid materials, necessary medications, basic tools, a battery or crank-operated radio and flashlights, extra batteries and any supplies needed for pets, as well as a list of important names and phone numbers, including insurance company contact information.  They also urged Mainers to familiarize themselves with resources provided by the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) — available at www.maine.gov/mema/prepare/.

 ###

Disaster Preparedness Tips for Homeowners and Renters from the NAIC

  • Take an inventory of your valuables and belongings. This should include taking photographs or a video of each room. This documentation will provide your insurance company with proof of your belongings and help to process claims more quickly in the event of disaster.
  • To enable filing claims more quickly, keep sales receipts and/or canceled checks. Also note the model and serial numbers of the items in your home inventory.
  • As you acquire more valuables — jewelry, family heirlooms, antiques, art —consider purchasing an additional “floater” or “rider” to your policy to cover these special items. These types of items typically are not covered by a basic homeowners or renter’s insurance policy.
  • Remember to include in your home inventory those items you rarely use (e.g., holiday decorations, sports equipment, tools, etc.).
  • Store copies of all your insurance policies in a safe location away from your home that is easily accessible in case of disaster. You may want to store your policies and inventory in a waterproof, fireproof box or in a safe, remote location such as a bank safe deposit box. Consider leaving a copy of your inventory with relatives, friends or your insurance provider and store digital pictures in your e-mail or on a Web site for easy retrieval.
  • Know what is and is not covered by your insurance policy. You might need additional protection depending on where you live. Make sure your policies are up to date. Contact your insurance provider annually to review and update your insurance policy.
  • Keep a readily available list of 24-hour contact information for each of your insurance providers.
  • Find out if your possessions are insured for the actual cash value or the replacement cost. Actual cash value is the amount it would take to repair or replace damage to your home or possessions after depreciation while replacement cost is the amount it would take to repair or replace your home or possessions without deducting for depreciation. Speak with your insurance provider to determine whether purchasing replacement coverage is worth the cost.
  • Speak with your insurance provider to find out if your policy covers additional living expenses for a temporary residence if you are unable to live in your home due to damage from a disaster.
  • Appraise your home periodically to make sure your insurance policy reflects home improvements or renovations. Contact your insurance provider to update your policy accordingly.

The Bureau of Insurance is part of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation which encourages sound business practices through oversight of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous professions and occupations for the purpose of protecting the citizens of Maine. Consumers can reach the Bureau at www.maine.gov/insurance; by calling 800-300-5000 in state; or by writing to Bureau of Insurance, 34 State House Station, Augusta ME  04333.

 

 

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.”

###

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap Alerts Public of Potential Phone Scam

PRESS RELEASE
06/09/2014 09:27 AM EDT
AUGUSTA, Maine-Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is notifying the public of a potential phone scam. Detectives within the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) received complaints from citizens who have received phone calls claiming to represent the “Maine DMV.” The callers say they are soliciting collection of alleged unpaid fines, and threatening the recipients with suspension of their driver licenses if fees are not paid.

“The Bureau of Motor Vehicles would never make solicitation calls to collect fine money or reinstatement fees,” said Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s Secretary of State. “The citizen is given notice by mail, either from our office or the courts that they are pending suspension. Then it is up to them to take care of their situation. If they don’t, the consequences do become compounded, but we count on our citizens to do what we already know they do very well-respect the law.”

Caller identification technology shows the calls to originate from the “Department of Motor Vehicles Bangor” (with the actual BMV Bangor branch phone number 207-942-1319). The caller states that failure to pay the fine money will result in license suspension and a warrant issued for their arrest.

Maine BMV officials, law enforcement, and the Secretary of State are strongly urging citizens to avoid falling victim to what appears to be a financial scam being perpetrated through these phone calls. The Department of the Secretary of State, including BMV, does not call citizens to collect money.

Anyone who has received such a call is encouraged to contact the main office of the Secretary of State at (207) 626-8400. If you would like to inquire about the status of your driver’s license, please contact the BMV at 624-9000 Ext. 52100.

***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.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers

%d bloggers like this: