Archive for the ‘Consumer Alerts’ Category

Treasurer Hayes Warns of Suspicious, Unofficial Unclaimed Property Websites or Notices

State Treasurer Seeking Rightful Owners of Property, Urges Caution Against Suspicious Websites

PRESS RELEASE
04/13/2017 12:28 PM EDT

AUGUSTA – New scams, promising to return unclaimed property for a fee, are targeting Maine residents through unofficial websites and notices in the mail.

State Treasurer Terry Hayes is warning residents to be wary of these websites and to be cautious of mailings or emails stating that you have unclaimed property with the State of Maine. “Each year, new schemes are created that attempt to take advantage of Mainer’s familiarity with our Unclaimed Property Program. While there are many differences between our program and these schemes, the easiest way to spot a scheme is if it asks for payment information.” says Treasurer Hayes.

The Office of the State Treasurer does maintain a list of unclaimed property, and receives new properties each year. However, there is no fee for you to review the list, or to claim your property. To ensure that you are obtaining the correct information for unclaimed property with the State of Maine, go to the official website  or call the Treasurer’s Office at (207) 624-7470. To search for unclaimed property in other states, visit www.missingmoney.com, a nationally recognized database of state unclaimed property programs.

Unclaimed Property consists of cash and other financial assets that are considered lost or abandoned when an owner cannot be located after a specified period of time. It includes, among other items, checking accounts, certificates of deposit, over payments, gift certificates, life insurance policies, unpaid wages, uncashed checks, death benefits, dividends, insurance payments, refunds, savings accounts, stocks and contents of safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed Property does not include real estate, animals or vehicles. During the period from July 2016 through March 2017, over 17,000 Mainers reclaimed more than $13 million of lost funds.

April is Financial Literacy Month

Washington Post columnist, Michelle Singletary ‘s column in Maine Sunday Telegram offers advice to many of us who have fallen for “Fake News” that now appears in online news sources as  “Paid Promoted Stories” or “Sponsored Content.” Read her column How to protect yourself — and your wallet — from fake news. In part, she writes:

April is Financial Literacy Month. It’s an annual effort by consumer advocacy groups to highlight the need for all of us to be better informed. As part of this year’s campaign, the FoolProof Foundation has rolled out a “Fake News” resource page on its website (foolproofme.com/topics/fake-news).

Her conclusion: “Understanding the evolving strategies by marketers and advertisers will ultimately save you real money and real time.”

 

 

Class Action Over The Meaning Of ‘Sale’ Means Harbor Freight Customers Get Refunds

The Consumerist

March 24, 20174:26 pm EDT
By Laura Northrup@lnorthrup

Consumers Impacted by Scams Utilizing Western Union May Be Eligible for Restitution Payments

Deadline April 3, 2017

PRESS RELEASE
03/02/2017 09:18 AM EST

Image linked to Western Union Scam Fighting Advice

 

AUGUSTA – Attorney General Janet Mills requests all Mainers who were scammed out of money and asked to utilize Western Union as a payment method to contact her office as they may be eligible for restitution payments. Under a recent settlement with the federal government consumers may be eligible for some restitution if the payments were sent between 1/1/2004 and 1/19/17.

In January, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement it made with Western Union that will require them to return $586 million dollars through a claims settlement process to consumers. Going forward, Western Union must go one step further by creating a real and strong anti-fraud program. Western Union agreed to this settlement after ignoring for years the more than 550,000 complaints it received about money transfers made for fraudulent lottery and prizes, family emergency calls – also known as the grandparent scam, advance fee loan payments, online dating scams, the more recent IRS scam, among others.

Attorney General Mills said “I ask all Mainers who have been scammed out of money and were asked to use Western Union to make these fraud-induced payments to contact my office so that we can connect them with the federal agencies managing this claims process. I realize some may be embarrassed that they fell for a scam. You are not alone. Do not be embarrassed, please take this opportunity to be reimbursed for the money you have lost.”

Under the settlement, Western Union will return $586 million dollars through a process to be determined at a later date. The company will have to train and monitor its agents so that people are protected. The company won’t be allowed to transmit a money transfer that it knows – or should know – is a fraud. It has to block money transfers to anyone who has a fraud report, make it easier for people to report fraud, give clear warnings to people who are sending money, and refund a fraud-related money transfer if the company didn’t comply with its own anti-fraud procedures. Additionally, consistent with the telemarketing sales rule, Western Union must not process a money transfer that it knows or should know is payment for a telemarketing transaction. If you ever wire money, also keep in mind that it’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a money transfer. Scammers love using money transfer services because once you send the money, it’s gone forever. So, if a telemarketer asks you to wire money, already you know they’re a crook.

Consumers who made payments for a scam between 1/1/2004 and 1/19/2017 may be eligible for reimbursement. Please contact the Consumer Protection Division at the Attorney General’s Office if you were scammed during this time. You will need to provide your basic contact information, approximate dates of the transaction(s), amounts of the transaction(s) and any relevant transaction identification numbers, if available. Your information will then be provided to our federal partners administering the claims process.

For this case, we prefer receiving information by email – consumer.mediation@maine.gov – but we can also be reached at (207) 626-8849 or 1-800-436-2131.

The deadline for consumers to submit this information to the Attorney General’s Office is Monday, April 3, 2017.

FCC Plan To Let Phone Companies Block More Annoying Robocalls Moves Forward

The Consumerist (03/23/17) details FCC proposal to protect consumers from robocalls.

Click image to read the article

What’s in the proposal?

• Do Not Originate: Phone number owners — like the IRS — can put their numbers on a “do not originate” list, and calls spoofing a number on the list can be blocked.
• Non-existent numbers: Carriers will also be allowed to block calls coming from incomplete or invalid phone numbers (i.e. ones that don’t and can’t exist).
• How to deal with international calls: A huge number of spam and scam robocalls initiate overseas. The FCC is seeking input on the best way to address those calls going forward.

Might this be the end of phone spoofing?

From The Consumerist:

In just a few short years, a proliferation of cheap tech and better broadband speeds around the globe have taken robocalls from an old-school inconvenience of landlines to an all-out digital scourge. In their remarks at today’s open meeting, FCC commissioners cited studies finding that American consumers get hit with an average of 2.2 to 2.4 billion illegal robocalls per month. Run the math, and that works out to an average of at least 7 illegal robocalls per month to every single American.

And scam robocalls proliferate because they work: Vulnerable consumers, particularly the elderly, get taken in to the tune of roughly $350 million per year. According to one study published late last year, commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in her remarks, a whopping 13% of all American adults have been victim to some kind of phone scam. And of those, half — so basically 7% of the U.S. population — were taken for between $100 and $10,000.

“Illegal robocalls are not just a dinner-table annoyance,” Clyburn said, when she explained the economic impact. “This calls for a multi-pronged, high-powered approach” in which the FCC, industry, and consumer-empowering tools can all work together.

Information for Maine JobLink Account Holders

More than 12,000 resumes in the database

America’s JobLink (AJL) Data Incident

Press Release
TOPEKA, Kan., March 21, 2017 – America’s JobLink (AJL), a multi-state web-based system that links job seekers with employers, has been the victim of a hacking incident from an outside source. AJLA–TS is developed and maintained by American’s Job Link Alliance–Technical Support (AJLA–TS). AJLA–TS has been in business for almost 50 years; this is the first known intrusion AJLA–TS has experienced.

On March 21st, AJLA–TS confirmed that a malicious third party “hacker” exploited a vulnerability in the AJL application code to view the names, Social Security Numbers, and dates of birth of job seekers in the AJL systems of up to ten states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, and Vermont. Upon discovery of this activity, AJLA–TS immediately intervened and deployed its technical team to assess and stop the incursion, disabling the hacker’s access to the AJL systems.

AJLA–TS is working diligently with law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend the perpetrator. An independent forensic firm is completing work to determine how many job seeker accounts may have been viewed and where those individuals are located. The firm has verified that the method of the hacker’s attack has been remediated and is no longer a threat to the AJLA–TS system.

AJLA–TS also develops and maintains ReportLink, a workforce program data management system, and CertLink, a Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) management system. The forensic firm has concluded that the code vulnerability did not affect those systems.

Media and individuals with additional questions should contact Christine Bohannon, Director, AJLA–TS at christineb@ajla.net.

Information for Maine JobLink Account Holders, Especially Those Containing Valid Social Security Numbers

New accounts created on or after March 16 are not affected.

Job seeker accounts that include a valid Social Security Number are potentially at most risk. To check this please log into your JobLink account; as long as you were not actively filing for unemployment benefits you can delete your Social Security Number from your JobLink account. You can do this online without calling the department.

Additional information will be sent to the email on file in Maine JobLink to individuals determined most at risk in accordance with state law.

The department recommends that you put a freeze on your credit report if you had a valid Social Security Number in your JobLink account. Maine law allows you to freeze your credit report for free.

A credit freeze will prevent unauthorized parties from accessing your credit report unless you give them specific permission. Freezing your credit will not affect your credit score. The three Credit Reporting Agencies are Equifax, https://www.freeze.equifax.com ; Experian, https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html ; and Trans Union, http://www.transunion.com/securityfreeze .

It is possible for you to place a free, 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting organizations, and to extend the 90-day alert by calling for an extension after the initial 90 days.

Under Maine law, you are also entitled to a free credit report from the three reporting agencies each year. Detailed instructions for taking these steps are available on the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation’s website, http://www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/consumer/credit_report.htm .

Questions can be addressed by calling the Maine Department of Labor at 1-888-457-8883. Due to an expected high call volume, your patience is appreciated.

 

In First Move on Student Loans, Administration Announces Fee Hike on Struggling Borrowers

Education Department to Allow Debt Collectors to Charge 16% Default Penalty

The Consumer Federation of America press release

Washington, D.C. – In its first major policy decision on student loan issues, the U.S. Department of Education took action to give agencies collecting on certain defaulted student debt the right to charge a 16% fee to borrowers who promptly seek to back their loans. The action reverses previous guidance that forbid fees that lead to ballooning borrower costs.

“The Administration’s first move on the student loan default crisis will do nothing to stop the tidal wave of defaults that is sweeping across the nation,” said Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and the former Student Loan Ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “With more than 3,000 Americans defaulting on a student loan every day, this just adds insult to injury.”

Current guidance forbids the guaranty agencies that collect on defaulted debt to tack on large collection fees if the student loan borrower makes – and honors – a repayment arrangement within 60 days of the notice of default. Federal student loans typically enter a default status when borrowers are 270 days late on their payments. Due to servicing mistakes, many borrowers may be learning about problems with their loan for the first time. These agencies are entitled to “reasonable” collection costs under existing law, but hefty fees were considered inappropriate for borrowers who promptly seek to address their default.

The action applies only to borrowers who took out loans from banks and other institutions, not Federal Direct Loans.

One of these agencies, USA Funds, fought the Education Department for the right to charge large collection fees to these borrowers who quickly make arrangements to get out of default.

Last week, the Consumer Federation of America released an analysis that showed that 1.1 million Americans defaulted on a federal student loan in 2016. Americans are now in default on $137 billion in federal student loans.

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.

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Link for managing student loans

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