Sometimes free advice is the best kind


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 02, 2013, at 6:50 p.m.

Take my advice. It’s free.

Some skeptics might say free advice is worth what you pay for it. But in some cases, the best choice is the free stuff.

That’s the case with a number of consumer publications from the federal government. Here are a few examples of free information that are well worth knowing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says parents should not give teething children under age two any meds containing benzocaine. It has been linked to methemoglobinemia, a rare but serious condition that reduces blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Visit and search “benzocaine.”

Whether you’re looking for a job or checking on your credit, you can get your credit report for free by calling Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228. Those rocking TV ads might make you think you need their services, but this free call tells you how to get your free report from each of the three major reporting services every year. (Really smart consumers get a report every four months by making rotating requests among the three.)

If a telemarketer calls about a contest or promotion, you don’t have to pay a fee or buy anything to enter. You can read about the Telemarketing Sales Rule ( to learn what the callers can and cannot do.

If you’re interested in doing your banking online, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
(, search “online banking”) tells you how to:

  1. Confirm that an online bank is legitimate and that your deposits are insured
  2. Keep your personal information private and secure
  3. Understand your rights as a consumer
  4. Learn where to go for more assistance from banking regulators

A handy pamphlet called the Consumer Information Catalog lists dozens of publications filled with helpful info. Most are available free to download at Many of the print versions also are free, while some cost a few dollars. Twenty-five federal agencies sponsor the assembly of the catalog. Here are a few highlights:

Federal and postal job information is always free, but some scam artists try to trick you into paying for it. A concise, two-page guide ( steers you away from their traps.

“It’s all natural,” claims the ad…but is it safe? Learn about health scams at the publications website by searching “6071.”

There are 20 things young people need to know to live financially smart lives. The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability lists them ( and search “832”).

The Federal Citizens Information Center (you may recall the “Pueblo, Colorado” ads on TV) gets information out in a variety of ways. It publishes the Consumer Information Catalog four times a year, and it publishes a Consumer Action Handbook yearly. You can email through the website,, or call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636), from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Your tax dollars support these resources; use them.

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 or email


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