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.

Wal-Mart Recalls Dolls Due to Burn Hazard | CPSC.gov

Hazard: The circuit board in the chest of the doll can overheat, causing the surface of the doll to get hot, posing a burn hazard to the consumer.

About 174,000

Description

The My Sweet Love / My Sweet Baby electronic baby doll comes in pink floral clothing and matching knit hat. The 16 inch doll is packaged with a toy medical check-up kit including a stethoscope, feeding spoon, thermometer and syringe. The doll’s electronics cause her to babble when she gets “sick,” her cheeks turn red and she starts coughing. Using the medical kit pieces cause the symptoms to stop. “My Sweet Baby” is printed on the front of the clear plastic and cardboard packaging. The doll is identified by UPC 6-04576-16800-5 and a date code which begins with WM. The date code is printed on the stuffed article label sewn into the bottom of the doll.

Incidents/Injuries

Wal-Mart has received 12 reports of incidents, including two reports of burns or blisters to the thumb.

Remedy

Consumers should immediately take the dolls from children, remove the batteries and return the doll to any Walmart store for a full refund.

Sold exclusively at

Walmart stores nationwide from August 2012 through March 2014 for $20.

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Fraudulent huckster’s reward: 10 easy payments of one year each

 

CONSUMER FORUM

 

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT

 

Posted March 23, 2014, at 12:24 p.m.

 

One of the most familiar faces on American infomercials was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following prior dealings with the legal system, Kevin Trudeau continued to lash out at corporate and government figures he accused of being corrupt.

That changed at last Monday’s sentencing for contempt. According to the Chicago Tribune, Trudeau’s defiant attitude gave way to a more contrite demeanor, a change the convicted fraudster attributed to his first night behind bars.

Kevin Trudeau first came to Northeast CONTACT’s attention through a product called Coral Calcium Supreme. In some of his infomercials Trudeau claimed taking it would cure cancer. Those claims violated an earlier court order banning false health claims by Trudeau, and he was hit with more sanctions as a result.

Trudeau made his name in a series of late-night TV ads, touting sure-fire diets and products that supposedly delivered a number of health benefits. The ads were long on promises and, according to most consumers, short on delivery.

Investigators say Trudeau amassed a fortune through sales of his products and books. His undoing revolved mostly around claims he made in his infomercials about his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

The best-selling author had boasted that his diet plan was easy. But people who suffered through the 500-calorie-a-day regimen said it was anything but easy. Investigators with the Federal Trade Commission agreed and told Trudeau to stop making those claims. He refused, saying he was the target of zealous regulators and prosecutors.

Last August, the FTC hit Trudeau with a $37.6 million fine; the money was supposed to go to the hundreds of thousands of people who had bought his book based on his inflated infomercial claims.

Trudeau dug in, refusing to pay a nickel. His continued refusals resulted in a contempt case, which Trudeau lost.

At his sentencing last week, Judge Ronald Guzman pointed to a career built on fraud and called Trudeau “deceitful to the core.”

Trudeau had served nearly two years in federal prison in the 1990s after being convicted on two fraud charges. Last Monday, prosecutors said his record of fraud goes back to the mid-1980s.

Throughout his career, Kevin Trudeau struck a chord, both with conspiracy theorists and with searchers for miracle cures and other easy answers to life’s complex problems. If 10 years seems like too much for Trudeau to deal with, we offer him a suggestion.

Think of it as 10 easy payments of one year each.

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ALSO IN THE NEWS: Scammers are making hay out of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Phony stories are appearing on Facebook, Twitter and other sites, mostly claiming the plane has turned up, survivors found and so on.

Instructions to “click here” should be ignored; the insensitive crooks are just trying to get you to answer questions that will get your money to them, or to infect your computer with malware.

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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What you need to know about electricity pricing

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted March 16, 2014, at 9:13 a.m.

We received questions from a couple of consumers recently regarding electricity prices. Now that companies other than generating utilities can sell electricity, they’re competing for customers.

And while competition is often a good thing, it can create confusion. Here are a few tips from the Maine Public Advocate — the office that represents consumers in utility-related matters — to consider when mulling over competing offers.

Consumers who take no action will continue to pay what’s called the Standard Offer price. This rate is set by competitive auction and changes each year on March 1. Changes in the Standard Offer price are generally announced about three months before the effective date. The Standard Offer price is posted on the website of the Public Utilities Commission,

Other rates are offered by competitive electricity providers, or CEPs. The basic rate — what you pay per kilowatt hour — may be lower than the Standard Offer price. But that may not be the whole story.

A CEP price may be fixed or variable. If it is fixed, find out the term so you’ll know whether it lasts beyond the next Standard Offer price change next March 1.

If it’s variable, be aware that what appears to be a savings today may turn into higher prices in a few months. One of our consumers found that a “bundled” rate, while representing a saving initially, reflected nearly a doubling of the basic rate a few months into the contract.

There’s a five-day “buyer’s remorse” period mandated on all these contracts. Should you change your mind after that period, you may be hit with an early termination fee. Find out before signing up what the terms of the contract are and how large a fee is involved if you terminate early.

The public advocate lists the basics of each CEP’s offer on its website . While that’s a good reference, you should know that a CEP’s rates can change at any time. If you’re shopping around, call the provider to make sure you’re aware of the current terms.

You have a number of consumer rights in dealing with CEPs, in addition to the five-day void provision mentioned above. A CEP must:

— Offer at least 30 days of service.

— Have a customer’s authorization for service (no “slamming”).

— Give at least 30 days’ notice before terminating service.

— Not use unfair or deceptive business practices.

— Not release a customer’s information, unless allowed by law or with a customer’s consent.

If a CEP drops a customer and the customer doesn’t make another choice, the customer goes back on the Standard Offer service. If a consumer feels the CEP has used “slamming” practices to obtain customers, the consumer may file a complaint with the PUC.

Finally, we heartily concur with the public advocate’s advice that consumers know and understand all terms and conditions before signing up for any plan. You can call the PUC’s Customer Assistance line toll-free, 800-452-4699 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with questions about CEPs.

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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WABI-TV appearance

Using common sense when you buy will keep your home from plunging ‘under water’

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted March 09, 2014, at 8:50 a.m.

DowneastGuide-to...yourMainehomeWe’ve all heard the ads urging us to buy, since “interest rates are near historically low levels.” With spring approaching (at least on the calendar) and those low rates expected to hold for a while, many renters are thinking about buying a home.

Many may think twice, wondering if all those horror stories about houses going “under water,” or costing more than they’re worth, might come back to bite them. Those with second thoughts might want to spend some time with a new publication from the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection.

It’s called The Downeaster Common Sense Guide to Finding, Buying and Keeping Your Maine Home. The 32-page guide was written by the bureau’s principal examiner, David Leach, and senior consumer credit examiner, Edward Myslik.

It starts in exactly the right place: asking if you should buy a home or continue to rent. Once you’ve determined that your best bet is to buy, the real work begins.

The best piece of advice in the guide is not to buy more home than you can afford. You figure affordability through a debt-to-income ratio. The “front-end ratio” is figured by dividing the monthly mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) by the borrower’s total monthly income. The ratio should not be more than 28 percent.

What’s termed the “back-end ratio” is a measure of income against the mortgage cost plus the cost of all other loans.

The guide cautions against allowing this ratio to go higher than 43 percent.

New federal lending rules are aimed at ensuring that borrowers will be able to make payments on schedule; those rules make it unlikely that a loan will be approved if the back-end ratio exceeds 43 percent.

Once you’ve ordered an up-to-date credit report ( www.AnnualCreditReport.com, 877-322-8228) you’ll have an idea what your credit score will be. The score is not part of the report; it’s a number generated by Fair Issue Corporation, also known as FICO.

The scores provided to each of the three credit reporting bureaus may be different, and lenders will use the lowest number when offering an annual percentage rate, also known as APR, on a loan.

When shopping for a mortgage, you need to decide between conventional loans and Federal Housing Authority, also known as FHA, backed loans. Under the latter type, the FHA provides a guarantee to investors should a borrower default. The guide advises that, while FHA loans are priced about the same as conventional loans, the mortgage insurance costs more (meaning higher APRs).

The guide has lots of nuts-and-bolts info on shopping for mortgages. Note rate vs. APR, mortgage points, disclosure, home inspections and other concerns are all covered. The authors also caution against falling for three advance payments that guarantee a low APR. Advance fee loans are always scams and are illegal in the U.S. and Canada.

Read the guide online at www.Credit.Maine.gov and go to “Consumer Guides.”

Maine residents can also request a free printed copy by calling 800-332-8529. For a real estate professional’s take on home mortgages, visit www.realtor.com/home-finance/mortgages/how-to-get-best-interest-rate.aspx?source=web.

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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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

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