Archive for the ‘Consumer Alerts’ Category

Buyer Beware: In the Wake of Harvey and Irma How to Avoid Buying a Flood Damaged Vehicle – Consumer Federation of America

Press RELEASE
Contact: Jack Gillis, 202-737-0766

September 11, 2017

With Harvey and Irma Flooding Millions of Vehicles, There’s a Good Chance Unscrupulous Sellers Will Try and Sell These Potentially Dangerous Vehicles

Washington, D.C. – With over 13 million vehicles in the path of Harvey and Irma, flood damaged vehicles could run in the millions. “While, hopefully, these vehicles will have their titles marked flood damaged and go to salvage yards, many will likely re-enter the market as used cars,” said Jack Gillis, the Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Public Affairs and author of The Car Book.  Because of the computerization, electronics and sophisticated safety technology in today’s vehicles, it’s critical that you avoid getting stuck with one of these lemons.  “Looks can be deceiving—with a nice clean up, these water infested vehicles, may actually look pretty good—which means knowing how to identify a flooded vehicle is critical. When it comes to buying a car, three out of four of us buy used. So there’s a big incentive for disreputable sellers to move flood damaged vehicles north hoping to sell them to unsuspecting buyers,” said Gillis.

Here are some important tips for avoiding a flood damaged vehicle:

1.     Check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) which is located on the driver’s side dashboard, visible through the windshield, with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) or CarFax (both currently offering free flood history information). Even if the database has no flood information, beware, as fraudsters have ways of getting around VIN registration information or it simply wasn’t reported.

2.     Use your nose.  Beware if the vehicle smells musty or damp or if you smell some kind of air freshener.  Close up the windows and run the air conditioner and check for a moldy smell.

3.     Look for dirt, mud and water stains.  Check the carpets, seat upholstery, cloth lining inside the roof, if you see any dirt or mud stains, beware. Feel under the dashboard for dirt or moisture and look in the glove boxes, ashtray, and various other compartments for moisture or stains. If you see straight stain line either on the inside of the door panel, engine compartment or trunk—watch out, that’s probably how high the water went in the vehicle.  Tip: If the carpeting, seat coverings or headliner seem too new for the vehicle, that’s a sign that they may have been replaced due to flood damage.

4.     Listen for crunch.  Pull the seats forward and back and try all of the safety belts. If you’re looking at an SUV with folding seats, try folding them all.  Listen for the ‘crunchy’ sound of sand or dirt in the mechanisms or less than smooth operation.

5.     Check the spare tire (or inflator) area. Look for mud, sand or stains on the spare tire and jack equipment and the well under the spare tire. Check under the trunk carpet for a rigid board and look to see if it is stained or has water damage.

6.     Power up.  Be sure to try all the power options including windows, locks, seats, moon roof, automatic doors, wipers, window washers, lights, AC system, etc.  If any don’t work, sound funny, or operate erratically, beware. And don’t forget the sound system.  Try out the radio, CD player and Bluetooth connectivity. Adjust the speakers front and back and side to side to listen for any crackling or speaker failure.

7.     Check for rust or corrosion.  Look around the doors, in the wheel wells, under the seats, under the hood and trunk and inside the engine compartment.

8.     Look under the hood.  Look at the air filter.  It’s often easy to check and will show signs of water damage.  Check the oil and transmission fluid.  If it looks milky or has beads of water, watch out.

9.     Take a test drive and listen for unusual engine or transmission sounds or erratic shifting and acceleration. Set the cruise control to see if it is working properly.

10.     Check out the head and tail lights; look closely to see if there is any water or fogging inside.  Same with the dashboard—are any of the gauges foggy or containing moisture droplets.

The Consumer Federation of America is a nonprofit association of more than 250 consumer groups that was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

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State Officials Provide Information and Guidance for Mainers in Response to Data Breach at Equifax

For Immediate Release
Contact:    David Leach, Principal Examiner
David.M.Leach@maine.gov
September 8, 2017
Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection
207-624-8527 or 207-333-1292 (c)

GARDINER –   Following news of a massive file breach at credit reporting agency Equifax, the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, which administers the Fair Credit Reporting Act in Maine, is encouraging people to take this matter seriously and consider basic steps to protect their identify, financial accounts and credit reports.

The Bureau’s Principal Examiner, David Leach, emphasizes that state and federal laws are in place to protect consumer from the effects of a data breach.  “Maine is one of the few states in which consumers can ‘freeze’ their credit report information to prevent unauthorized persons from opening credit accounts in their name,” Leach said.

Equifax provides an automated, secure line (1-800-349-9960) for consumers to freeze their credit report with the agency.  The file freeze is immediate.  Within 10-14 days, consumers receive a letter from Equifax which provides a toll-free number and unique (to each consumer) personal identification or PIN number for use in freely unlocking/relocking their credit file.

The Bureau also highly recommends freezing credit files with the other two major credit reporting agencies: Experian (1-888-397-3742) and Trans Union (1-888-909-8872).

Leach noted that if an unauthorized person opens a credit account in the name of a consumer and incurs debts, the consumer is not legally obligated to pay those debts.  He also explained that consumers can view their own credit reports free of charge once a year at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.  Consumers affected by this breach will be provided with additional ways to view and monitor their credit files without charge, and the state recommends that consumers do so.

Individuals seeking more information or further guidance can contact the Bureau by calling 1-800-332-8529 (toll free in Maine) or 207-624-8527.  Online information about consumer financial protection issues is available at www.credit.maine.gov.

Poll: Recurring charges are easy to start, hard to get out of – CreditCards.com

Gen-Xers, millennials most likely to get tricked into automatic payments

By Brady Porche  |  Published: August 21, 2017
Staff Reporter

Focusing on credit scores and what consumers can do to improve them

Wistia video thumbnail - CCdotcom_RecurringPayments

Consumers are easily ensnared by sneaky recurring charges, and many find them hard to escape, according to a new CreditCards.com survey.

Our national telephone survey of 1,002 U.S. adults found that 35 percent had set up an account – such as a streaming TV service, a magazine subscription or a gym membership – that enrolled them in automatic payments without them realizing it. Additionally, 42 percent of consumers said it’s difficult to turn off recurring charges.

Federal laws prohibit companies from tricking people into paying for things they don’t want. However, many online merchants use “negative option” offers, which require consumers to cancel services or product shipments to avoid recurring charges, to turn a profit. And they’re not always used in ways that serve the consumer’s best interest.

“The main reason consumers get caught in these negative option offers is the material details, conditions and terms are not clearly and conspicuously shown,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of the consumer watchdog group Truth in Advertising.

Of course, not everyone who gets charged unknowingly is the victim of a scam. And many do nothing to remedy the situation. Our survey found that approximately 9 million consumers (after an extrapolation based on the entire U.S. adult population) kept subscriptions and memberships for which they were unwittingly charged rather than cancel them. Young millennials (ages 18-26) were more likely than any other group to let recurring charges live on.

Here’s what our survey revealed about how consumers handle subscriptions and other recurring charges:

  • Younger consumers are more easily snookered. Gen-Xers (44 percent) and millennials (37 percent) were mostly likely to get hung up in automatic payments. Gen-Xers were also the most likely to say it’s “very difficult” to turn off automatic payments, followed by baby boomers.
  • Older folks steer clear of traps. Members of the Silent Generation (ages 72 and older) were significantly more likely than any other age group to say they’d never signed up for automatic payments without realizing it.
  • Free trials anything but. A full 48 percent of respondents said they signed up for free trials that automatically renewed without their knowledge. Only 9 percent of those people kept the subscriptions after the trial period ended.
  • A tight budget can be a safeguard. Consumers who make less than $30,000 per year were least likely to say they inadvertently fell into recurring charges.

The scientific survey of 1,002 adults was conducted Aug. 3-6 via landline and cellphone. See survey methodology.

Negative options
If you’ve ever been hit with recurring charges you didn’t expect, chances are you were either deceived or you just weren’t paying close attention. Many of us are guilty are signing up for trial accounts and services online without reading the full terms and conditions – even the ones that don’t ask you to study a 10-page PDF document with small type.

But if you’re ever asked to provide payment information to proceed with what you think is a one-off service, it’s critical to find out for sure. There are merchants out there whose business models largely depend on consumers not fully understanding their offer terms.

“What we’re seeing is that they’re not making it easy for a consumer to tell that they’re going to be put into a negative option offer,” Patten said. “For example, they may use a pre-checked box, or the ability to decline a negative option offer is at the bottom of the page, in a smaller font and a color that’s not very visible.”

Although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a rule that targets negative option offers, it’s largely obsolete these days.

“The negative option rule … has to do with old ‘book-of-the-month club’ issues and a very specific type of negative option that we normally don’t see anymore,” said James Kohm, director of the FTC’s enforcement division.

But consumers are broadly protected by Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive” practices that could mislead them or cause harm. Additionally, the Restore Online Shopper’s Confidence Act (ROSCA) protects consumers from getting charged for services online without their consent and mandates that merchants fully disclose their terms. Congress is also considering a bill titled the Unsubscribe Act that would increase consumer safeguards against deceptive online negative option offers and make it easier to cancel them.

Earlier this month, the FTC invoked Section 5 and ROSCA in shutting down an online marketing operation for scamming consumers into paying $200 a month for tooth whiteners and other products. The agency said customers were lured through a mix of misleading claims, hidden disclosures and confusing terms into low-cost “trials” that turned into pricey subscriptions if they didn’t cancel within eight days. In a separate case this month, the FTC charged a firm operating a bogus discount club with debiting more than $40 million from the accounts of consumers who believed they were applying for payday loans or cash advances.

Kohm noted that major online subscription services such as Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime are unlikely to engage in these kinds of deceptive practices due to their popularity and their reputations. (The companies’ respective policies contain language that spells out their billing practices.) But he said “fly-by-night” operations that only use products as a fig leaf for their nefarious schemes don’t care about reputational damage, so there’s little incentive for them to play by the rules.

How to avoid negative option and free trial traps
The internet is too big for federal authorities to track down every shady online seller, so consumers must use their own judgment and be vigilant.

“You need to decide whether you want to participate in negative options and free offers,” Kohm said. “You can also decide whether you’re dealing with a company that you know and trust.”

Kohm also recommends contacting your state attorney general’s office or doing a simple Google search to find out if a company offering a negative option or a free trial has elicited complaints from other consumers.

Meanwhile, be suspicious of any offer that promises you something for nothing – especially if it still asks for your credit card or bank account information.

“Anytime a consumer sees the word ‘free,’ they should immediately look for the hook the company is laying out in front to catch them,” Patten of Truth in Advertising said. “‘Free’ rarely actually means free. Almost inevitably, if consumers are being offered a free trial, it’s so the company can get their credit card information and enroll them in one of these negative option offers.”

“Anytime a consumer sees the word ‘free,’ they should immediately look for the hook the company is laying out in front to catch them.”

If you are snagged by a not-so-free trial or other account that charges you more than you intend, you can dispute the payments with your credit card issuer.

“Customers can cancel a one-time or recurring ACH payment by contacting us with the payee or merchant name and dollar amount of the payment,” Betty Riess, spokeswoman for Bank of America, said in an e-mail.

$10 per month eventually turns into $120 per year
Unexpected recurring charges are at best an inconvenience and at worst a budget-buster. A charge of $10 or so per month may seem like small change to many consumers. However, it adds up over time if you forget about the account or put off canceling it.

But by steering clear of automatic payment traps, you’ll have more money to cover recurring charges for things you actually want and need.

Survey methodology
CreditCards.com commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to obtain telephone interviews with 1,002 adults living in the continental United States. Interviews were conducted by landline and cellphone in English and Spanish from Aug. 3-6, 2017. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Recent Federal Trade Commission Consumer Warnings

Protect yourself with help from FINRA*

You Can Protect Yourself from Fake Check Scams

  • Mystery Shopping Scam

  • Modeling Scam

  • Unexpected Check Scam

Here’s How (from FINRA’s investor newsletter)

  • Know the hallmarks of fraud. Fake check scams typically have a number of red flags, such as:
    • Typos: Watch out for online postings or emails that are riddled with typos and poor grammar.
    • Mismatched names: Compare the name of the person or company posting the opportunity with the name on the check you receive—and beware if they don’t match.
    • Pressure to act quickly: Be aware that it can take 10 days or even more for your bank to determine that a check is counterfeit. Don’t wire or transfer funds until you have verified with your bank that the check has cleared—even if the bank allows you to withdraw the money sooner.

If you receive a suspicious check, be sure to contact one or more of the following organizations right away: your local police, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center), or the U.S. Postal Inspections Service (if the check arrived by U.S. mail).

Refunds Now Available from Amazon for Unauthorized In-App Purchases

PRESS RELEASE

Amazon.com, Inc. has begun offering refunds to consumers for unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children. More than $70 million in charges incurred between November 2011 and May 2016 may be eligible for refunds.

All eligible consumers should have received an email from Amazon. Consumers who believe they might be eligible can also:

Refund requests can be completed entirely online. Consumers do not need to call Amazon or send anything by mail to receive a refund. The deadline for submitting refund requests is May 28, 2018. Any questions about individual refunds should be directed to Amazon at 866-216-1072.

Last month, the FTC and Amazon agreed to end their litigation related to the FTC’s case, which paved the way for the refund program to begin.

 

Another vulnerability of credit cards – CreditCards.com issues a warning

The new card skimming is called ‘shimming’

It targets EMV chip cards and is hard to detect, but remains rare

By

Remember the card skimming wave, in which fraudsters attach false fronts to outdoor ATM and gas pump point-of-sale terminals to harvest the details off your card’s magnetic stripe and clone your card?

The bad guys are back with a new, improved data pickpocketing technique called shimming, in which they secretly insert a shimmer, a paper-thin, card-size shim containing an embedded microchip and flash storage into the “dip and wait” card slot itself, where it resides unseen to intercept data off your credit or debit card’s EMV chip. Although the scammers can’t use that purloined chip data to clone an actual chip card (for reasons we’ll discuss shortly), they can clone a mag stripe version that’s fully capable of defrauding banks and merchants who may not be paying close attention to their card security protocols.

What makes shimmers potentially more effective that skimmers? They can easily be inserted into indoor, in-store POS terminals, where they record the data being shared between the card’s chip and the terminal. What’s more, when the scammers periodically collect the shim to harvest its bounty, they appear to be doing nothing more than paying at the terminal.

Both scams gained momentum domestically as the United States ramped up for what has turned out to be a slow, rocky and ongoing transition from mag stripe to chip cards, contributing to a record 15.4 million victims of U.S. identity fraud in 2016.

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