Archive for the ‘Consumer Alerts’ Category

Magnet maker wins court ruling despite injuries to children

Posted Dec. 05, 2016, at 1:45 p.m.

In 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a rule banning the sale of sets of small magnets. In November, the company that defied the agency won a federal appeals court victory; the firm’s website trumpeted, “Ban cleared. Game on.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s action came after reports of injury to some children who swallowed the powerful neodymium (rare earth) magnet balls. If they ingested more than one, children were at risk of having the magnets attach and tear internal tissues or organs. Surgery sometimes was needed to remove the magnets.

Most distributors heeded the urgings of the group to stop selling the magnets, despite the warning labels stating that the toys were meant for adults and not children. One manufacturer — Zen Magnets of Boulder, Colorado — refused first the urgings and then orders to stop selling magnet sets. It did so with the backing of lots of consumers, who liked the variety of patterns they could form using the magnets.

The safety commission’s research in 2011 had found that some magnets sold in sets were 10 times more powerful than allowed in standards for children’s toys. Manufacturers insisted that the sets were for adults only, but the agency pointed to a rising number of emergency room visits involving children who had swallowed magnets.

A 2015 news release from the safety group blamed the death of a 19-month-old girl on magnet ingestion and estimated that 2,900 ER visits between 2009 and 2013 resulted from swallowed magnets. That news release focused on a federal judge’s order that Zen Magnets — at the time the only known seller of small magnet sets — to stop selling recalled magnets. The Justice Department had charged that Zen bought 917,000 magnets from another company, comingled them with other magnets and sold them after the other company issued a recall. Federal law bans the sale of recalled products.

In November of this year, a federal appeals court overturned the ban on magnet sales and sent the matter back to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Two of the three judges wrote that they found the safety group’s emergency room statistics did not show that the agency rule “is reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce an unreasonable risk of injury.” Those judges wrote that they had “no opinion” on the number of injuries that would support issuing a new safety standard.

The minority judge on the panel wrote, “In my view, the record sufficed for the Commission’s finding of an unreasonable risk of injury.” A commission spokesperson told us “the hazard from these small, powerful magnets has not changed” if more than one is swallowed. The agency is “assessing its options and takes the matter very seriously.”

While the safety commission assesses its options, magnet sales abound on the internet. After doing his victory dance, the founder of Zen Magnets called for education over regulation. Shihan Qu wrote on his company’s website that swimming pools and toy balloons are more dangerous than his magnets and that education is the key to the safe enjoyment of most products.

They may not be toys, but that’s how magnet sets may appear to little eyes. Qu agreed with many critics when he wrote, “… high powered magnets should be kept away from any mouths and young children who don’t know better.”

In the same article Qu wrote, “Instead of driving Zen out of business, and pushing production further from the CPSC’s field of view, I’d rather use our resources to fight alongside the CPSC for successful educational and awareness campaigns focused on consumers and medical professionals.”

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Beware of bogus delivery notices as holidays approach

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 21, 2016, at 9:56 a.m.
This is the graphic sent out with this Fed Ex email scam.

This is the graphic sent out with this Fed Ex email scam.

A consumer from Hancock County was surprised recently to read an email saying that a package he had ordered could not be delivered.

Suspicious because he had not ordered anything, the man read more closely. The generic greeting, “Dear customer,” was followed by an urging that he click on the attachment that contained a “shipping label.”

“Something about it just didn’t strike me right,” the consumer told us, so he ignored the email, allegedly from “Fedex International Ground.” Eight days later, he received another message and attachment, this time from “Fedex International Next Flight.” The next day, an email came from “Fedex 2Day.” A fourth message came three days after that. All carried different senders’ names.

Similar messages arrive in consumers’ email inboxes every day. And every one is a hoax, designed to prompt you to click a link or open an attachment containing malicious software or malware. The virus, Trojan or other nasty code might lock your computer and hold it for ransom, steal your personal information or be used for other illegal purposes.

These attempts to spread malware are constant, but they spike near holidays, when online shopping increases. Variations of the message might include instructions to click the attached “invoice copy,” print it and take it to “the nearest office” to pick up your nonexistent package. Other messages demand payment of a bogus debt before that mystery package can be delivered.

United Parcel Service, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service will never send email notices about missing packages. UPS has guidance on its website ( ups.com and search “scam”). FedEx offers similar advice at fedex.com/mx_english/fraud/email_alert.html.

The recent news that UPS aircraft mechanics have authorized a strike may spark more fraud attempts. Crooks seize such news items to lend credibility to their stories that “packages have been delayed” or “the strike diverted your package to another service.”

Our consumer in Hancock County admitted that, if he had ordered something, he might have clicked on a malicious link when the first email arrived. Still, he said the lack of a phone number or company logo in the message made him suspicious enough to refrain.

In 2015, 782 Maine residents reported to the U.S. Justice Department that they had been the victims of internet crime. Their losses totaled more than $1 million. Don’t join their ranks. If you receive a notice that you think might be legitimate, look up the phone number of a local office and call — don’t click on or call a number that criminals may have spoofed to make it appear real.

To file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, visit ic3.gov online. If you’re threatened over the internet via email, chat room, website or other means, call 911 or contact your local police agency.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

How to protect mail-ordered gifts from ‘porch pirates’

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 07, 2016, at 6:01 a.m.
Check different processes for different carriers

Click image to check different carriers’ responses to claims

More and more consumers are avoiding the whirl of holiday shopping by ordering gifts online.

However, before they’re even wrapped, some goods that should end up in shiny paper go missing. They are among the goods delivered by Fedex, UPS and other package services that are stolen right off people’s front porches.

These “porch pirates” often don’t know what they’re taking. That prompted one writer on the subject to wonder about thieves’ reactions if they had stolen the 20-pound bag of dog food that had been delivered to his home.

That writer also wondered why police in Tarzana, California, had referred to this brand of crooks as “sophisticated porch pirates.” Turns out the thieves had been using a computer app to locate UPS trucks. Then they would follow the trucks, picking up the deliveries within moments of the time they land on the porch. Some even brought their children with them, sending them to do the dirty work.

An estimated 23 million consumers have suffered such losses. On Christmas Eve last year, Bangor police arrested three teenagers (who gave Portland and Boston addresses) on charges that they took packages off people’s property around 15th Street.

Police urge consumers to file a report when a package delivered by UPS or Fedex is stolen.

When a theft occurs from a mailbox, you can file a theft report online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov/investigations/mailfraud/fraudschemes/mailtheft/ReportMailTheft.aspx or by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS, or 1-800-275-8777. Mail theft can bring a hefty fine and up to five years in prison.

There are tools to deter porch piracy. Security cameras — some of which can be monitored remotely on your smartphone — can be installed to monitor delivery areas. A camera might provide enough detail to help police catch a thief, or it might be more of a horse-and-barn-door situation.

Some consumers who receive lots of packages have installed locking dropboxes ranging in cost from about $100 to well over $1,000.

One clever device is called the Package Guard. It’s a flat, circular platform that you place near your entry door. When a courier sets a package weighing at least a pound on it, the built-in wifi device sends a text or email message to the owner that the package has arrived. It also readies an alarm that sounds if the package is removed and can be turned off only by sending the return message, “OFF.”

One UPS security type wrote a while back that, if you ever report a package stolen from your home, a driver will not be allowed to leave packages in the future without getting a signature. If the pickup notice that was stuck to your dirty door blows away in the breeze, hope that it lands where you’ll see it.

Other options include having packages delivered to your workplace, if your employer agrees in advance. Neighbors might also be asked to watch one another’s houses for suspicious activity and perhaps to take packages inside.

And if you’re thinking of trying to beat the system by making a false report, not paying for the item and collecting on UPS insurance, think again. The courier’s security people sometimes work with local police, setting up cameras where people wouldn’t think to look and catching customers “stealing” their own deliveries.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Guard against buying recalled items that are sold as safe

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Oct. 10, 2016, at 7:35 a.m.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission or CPSC came down hard last week on Best Buy. The retailer agreed to a $3.8 million civil penalty for distributing and selling products that had been recalled earlier.

Selling goods that are subject to “voluntary corrective action,” including a recall, is a violation of federal law. While agreeing to settle the case, a CPSC statement said “Best Buy’s settlement of this matter does not constitute an admission of CPSC staff’s charges.”

The commission said that between September 2010 and October 2015, Best Buy sold about 600 recalled items, including more than 400 Canon cameras. Other sales included recalled notebook computers, TVs, kitchen appliances and audio gear. Problems that prompted the recalls included overheating and skin irritation.

The CPSC statement said sales continued even after Best Buy told the agency that it had taken steps to reduce the risk that recalled products would be sold.

“While the number of items accidentally sold was small, even one was too many,” Best Buy’s senior director of external communications Jeff Shelman told Fortune.

Best Buy says it will set up a program to make sure that it complies with the Consumer Product Safety Act, including a system to appropriately dispose of recalled products.

You can find a list of the recalled products Best Buy sold at the CPSC website cpsc.gov/Recalls/2014/recalled-products-sold-by-best-buy-and-liquidators-after-recall-date.

The list includes contact information for the companies involved in the recalls; check with them regarding remedies.

Last November, CPSC and Home Depot issued an alert that 28 different products had been sold by the home improvement chain. A total of just more than 2,300 items may have ended up in consumers’ homes; about 1,300 were sold by Home Depot, and 1,000 were sent to salvagers or recyclers who could have sold them to consumers, according to CPSC.

See that list at consumerist.com/2015/11/19/home-depot-continued-to-sell-28-products-after-safety-recalls/.

Keeping up with recalls can be a challenge for businesses and consumers, but you can be notified about some of them. Six federal agencies list recall information at recalls.gov, where you can sign up to receive email notification of new recalls involving four of the agencies — CPSC, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Marden’s Surplus and Salvage is likely the major source of salvaged consumer goods in Maine. Harold “Ham” Marden is the primary buyer for many items. He said, “We don’t have a formal protocol [for tracking recalls] but we are constantly checking the lists.”

Marden said his co-workers are especially concerned about recalled baby clothes but that they do their best to check all stock against published recalls.

“Our people are watching as closely as they can,” he said.

Consumers who buy used goods from smaller dealers or at flea markets and yard sales need to do their own checking.

Another federal government website has links to agencies that track recalls involving food, medicines, medical devices, vehicles (including devices such as child car seats) and a wide range of other consumer products. Get started at usa.gov/recalls or call toll-free 1-844-USA-GOV1 (1-844-872-4681).

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

How to protect yourself from the Yahoo hackers

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Sept. 26, 2016, at 9:22 a.m.

At this writing, the full impact of the massive Yahoo data breach announced Sept. 22 was not known. However, it appears that hundreds of millions of consumers have had private information exposed in what’s believed to be the biggest data breach to date.

Yahoo said hackers had stolen information from at least 500 million users’ accounts, including names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and encrypted passwords. Yahoo said the breach took place in 2014. Technology reporters had written earlier that stolen data from millions of accounts were being sold on the dark web.

This latest breach comes at a time when cybercrime is booming. For years, crooks have opened phony accounts to buy all sorts of things using other people’s good credit records. The thieves don’t pay their bills, and the law-abiding consumers are left to dispute the charges. It can cost time and money to straighten out a credit report following such an incident.

Click to access site

All of this leaves millions of consumers with another reason to review their credit reports. William Lund, superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection or BCCP, said recently all consumers should look for signs of trouble and act quickly.

“A single phone call for an alleged debt that’s not yours should be looked into since it may be the tip of a larger iceberg. Start by checking your credit reports,” Lund said.

Federal law says that each of the major reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — is required to provide every consumer with a free credit report once per year. Consumers can call each company’s toll-free phone number to request a free report.

To start the process online, go to the truly free website AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t deal with online websites that promise “free” reports; you might be pressured into buying a credit report, credit monitoring or other services.

Anyone with concerns about her or his credit should pick one of the three reporting agencies and ask for a free report right away. In four months, ask another agency; four months after that, ask the third agency. Rinse and repeat forever.

If your credit report shows accounts were opened that you did not authorize, you may be a victim of identity theft. In fact, accounts may have been opened in the name of any family member. You can freeze your account, meaning no one else can open an account in your name. Get help from Maine’s BCCP by calling toll-free 1-800-332-8529.

Privacy experts say too many of us use too few passwords. A breach that reveals a password securing one account may put other accounts at risk. For that reason, it’s wise to change ALL of your passwords at least once per year. If you know an account has been breached, change right away.

Get more tips on safeguarding your personal and financial information from the U.S. Department of Justice at justice.gov/criminal-fraud/identity-theft/identity-theft-and-identity-fraud.

The nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, privacyrights.org, is another good resource.

Find details of the Maine law covering consumers’ rights when data breaches occur at maine.gov/pfr/insurance/faq/data_breach_faq.htm.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

Answering these text messages could lead to empty bank accounts

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Sept. 19, 2016, at 9:55 a.m.
gone-phishing

Click to access booklet

Customers at some Maine banks and credit unions have been receiving fraudulent text messages. The messages are from scammers falsely claiming that there’s a problem with the customer’s account or debit card.

You can guess at the rest. There are frantic-sounding instructions to click on a link or phone number contained in the message. Failure to do so will cause some horrendous problem with the account, card or the customer’s credit rating.

The fix is easy, says the text. Just type in your account or card information and any passwords that you can remember. The sender will take care of everything — like emptying your account or running up bogus charges.

The message seems to come from a customer’s financial institution. On its website, the Maine Credit Union League said members of at least two credit unions in eastern and central Maine appear to have been targeted.

The phony text message said their debit cards had been compromised and to call either 844-334-6152 or 844-611-0709. People who called either number were asked for their card numbers and CVV codes. Divulging that or other personal or financial information is a bad idea.

The superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Financial Institutions says consumers should not fall for the hoax.

“Banks and credit unions will not text, call or email customers asking them to divulge account numbers, PINs or Social Security numbers,” Lloyd LaFountain III said.

LaFountain said if a consumer believes he or she has received a scam text, the consumer should:

— Not return the text or call the number provided.

— Never provide personal or financial information following such a request. Banks and credit unions will never request personal account information that way.

The Bureau of Financial Institutions has a consumer library containing hints about spotting and avoiding financial scams. There’s also a consumer specialist on staff who can answer questions about scams or accounts in general.

If you’re unsure after receiving an unsolicited email, call someone at the bureau, instead of clicking on anything in the message. The bureau’s phone number is 207-624-8570, and its website is maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/index.shtml.

Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection has published the Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Gone Phishing. It also contains tips to detect and avoid scams.

Find it online at Credit.Maine.gov; it’s listed under “Consumer Guides.” Call the bureau (1-800-332-8529) with any questions about protecting your credit.

The Federal Trade Commission also has a wealth of information on its website. Learn about phishing and other scams at consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Most vehicle warranty extension offers are ripoffs

CONSUMER FORUM 

Posted Sept. 05, 2016, at 11:31 a.m.
When you buy a vehicle, you can almost set your watch by the time the offers for extended warranties start arriving in the mail.

Most of them convey a sense of urgency, especially if you’ve bought a used car or truck. The “Vehicle Document/Alert Notice” from the “Vehicle Services Department” cautions that an “immediate response” is needed, since “your factory warranty may have expired or will be expiring.”

Could they be a little less specific?

Probably not, because the mouse print notes that you probably got this letter through computer data generated by your purchase.

Is it a scam?

Likely as not, it is. Not all such offers are ripoffs, but the Edmunds website puts it bluntly: “Not every extended auto warranty company is out to rip you off, but over the course of our research, we found that the honest ones are few and far between.”

For an impartial explanation of extended warranties, visit the Edmunds website at edmunds.com/auto-warranty/understanding-extended-warranties.html.

As the Edmunds people explain, companies don’t really offer “extended warranties” in the sense of making a manufacturer’s warranty last longer. Those companies — the legit ones, at least — are offering what are called third-party warranties. Some are good, and some are not. Many are not needed in the first place.

Consumer Reports did a survey a couple of years ago. The average cost of extended coverage was $1,200, and 55 percent of all buyers never used it during the life of the policy. Consumer Reports advised potential buyers to set aside money in a savings account earmarked for car repairs. If needed, it’s there; if not, it’s extra cash.

We’ve written about extended warranties in the past. The subject is worth revisiting simply because of the volume of mail a vehicle purchase generates — our “new-to-us” vehicle this summer prompted 10 solicitations, all of which we declined because the manufacturer’s warranty is in effect for two more years.

The offers don’t always come by mail. Some car dealers will try hard to sell you a service contract as part of the deal.

Do the research and make your own decision; don’t be pressured into an add-on that you feel you don’t need. If you do buy a contract through a dealer, make sure the dealer forwards the payment — to the plan administrator or a third party — and get confirmation in writing.

If the service contract is underwritten by an insurance company, talk with people at the Maine Bureau of Insurance (1-800-300-5000 toll-free in Maine, or 207-624-8475) to see if any complaints are on file against the company.

Since U.S. Fidelis collapsed under the weight of lawsuits from a number of states, solicitors of service contracts seem to have softened their language — there’s less blatant trickery than before.

However, many still use an official-looking American eagle symbol on letterhead and envelopes, even though they have no link to any U.S. government agency. And most will proclaim this mailing is a “final notice.” If only that were true.

You may want to revisit the Edmunds website for a look at third-party warranty scams at edmunds.com/auto-warranty/third-party-extended-warranty-scams.html.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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