Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Avoid paying interest while shopping for holidays

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 28, 2016, at 6:14 a.m.

Consumer revolving debt — mainly credit card balances — grew by $4.2 billion in September, according to the Federal Reserve. America’s total revolving debt reached $978.8 billion, the highest level since April 2009, when the economy was going downhill fast.

Projections of spending during this holiday season vary, but it’s likely that many of us will charge more for holiday gifts than we should. Here are some suggestions for preventing the buyer’s remorse — and interest charges — that can follow aggressive use of credit cards.

Pay cash. The simplest solution to avoiding interest charges is buying with cash. Parting with real money can also help to keep impulse spending in check.

Make a list. Check it as many times as you like, but write stuff down before you visit the stores, real or online. Itemizing what you intend to buy helps to keep your shopping focused, and that can minimize stress as well as curb impulse buying. While you’re writing, devise a place to keep all your receipts, whether they’re paper or digital.

Charge only what you can afford. Buy something with a credit card and you get what amounts to an interest-free loan. However, that’s true only if you pay off your balance in full by the due date after you receive your monthly statement — what’s termed a grace period. If you pay in full month after month, you’ll get a break on new purchases but NOT on cash advances or convenience checks. Those generally start accruing interest immediately. Some balance transfers may also not be included in a grace period; read the terms of your card carefully to see what terms apply.

Plan your payback. If you carry any balance into the next billing cycle, there’s no grace period on purchases you make during that cycle. Your card company will start charging interest the moment you make a purchase. Some card companies require you to pay your balance in full for two straight months to get your grace period back.

If you have carried a balance, you might get hit with something referred to as “trailing interest” or “residual interest.” Those terms refer to interest that accrues on your balance before you have a chance to pay it off, even if you’re paying the full balance that’s shown on your statement. The trailing or residual interest might have accrued between the time your statement was printed and the time your received it in the mail.

David Leach, principal examiner at Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, has some realistic advice about holiday shopping. He suggests a cooling-off period when considering major purchases.

“Your friends and family don’t want you to incur excessive debt to buy them presents,” Leach said recently.

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.

In Maine November is Deer Collision Month!

Deer_Collisions_EMail_09.2015

Deer Collision Information (PDF)

From Maine DOT:

Collisions with deer increase in the autumn, peaking in November – during breeding season. But they can happen any time of the year.

What if a Crash is Unavoidable?

If a crash with an animal is imminent, apply the brakes and steer straight. Let up on the brakes just before impact to allow the front of your vehicle to rise slightly and aim to hit the tail end of the animal. This can reduce the risk of the animal striking the windshield area and may increase your chances of missing it. Duck down to protect yourself from windshield debris.

Be aware that wildlife collisions can occur at any time, under almost any circumstances, and anywhere in Maine. Moose have been hit in heavily populated neighborhoods in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, and Bangor – Maine’s three largest communities.

So, pay attention, stay alert and always remember… safety is no accident!

Earlier NE CONTACT BDN article

Hitting a deer may affect car insurance payments

What happens when the feds issue a product recall order

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Oct. 24, 2016, at 9:02 a.m.

A recent column dealt with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s settlement with Best Buy after the retailer sold goods that had been recalled.

Northeast CONTACT asked attorney Regan A. Sweeney of Portland, a former trial attorney with CPSC, for some insights into the agency’s actions:

NEC: Does CPSC have a standard procedure when negotiating recalls, or is each case unique?

Sweeney: Your question raises a good point, which is that 99.9 percent of CPSC’s recalls are negotiated with the companies and are voluntary; they are not unilaterally decided by CPSC or forced on the companies. The procedure’s generally the same: the CPSC gets incident reports for a product, evaluates the hazard, opens an investigation, and where it finds a substantial hazard, it negotiates with the company for a recall. Because products are unique, recalls are tailored to the product, the hazard and the remedy being addressed.

NEC: In the Best Buy case, the sale of recalled products went on for some time. Why couldn’t CPSC act more quickly to stop those sales?

Sweeney: Because civil penalty cases are negotiated confidentially between the company and the CPSC, we’ll likely never know the details of the case. The settlement agreement tends to indicate that there were a very small number of recalled products that were similar to non-recalled products currently for sale, and a few were sold to consumers due to poor record-keeping and product tracking on Best Buy’s part. The settlement agreement is intentionally short on details, so we’ll never know what the CPSC knew when.

NEC: What about consumer products made overseas?

Sweeney: Federal laws require that a U.S.-based entity be responsible for imported products and for any recall, if necessary. Internet sales create a wrinkle in this, as they’re not considered sales in the U.S. Products purchased online directly from a foreign manufacturer or distributor wouldn’t be covered by CPSC’s laws, so consumers should always buy from a reputable, U.S. based distributor or retailer whenever possible.

NEC: How can consumers be sure they’re not buying recalled items at yard sales or flea markets?

Sweeney: CPSC maintains a database of all recalls announced, sortable by product type, brand, etc., but there’s currently no efficient way of checking that list short of running searches and looking through the listings. When shopping at places like that, use a smartphone to take a picture of the product and do an internet search for the product name and/or model number. Search CPSC’s site, www.saferproducts.gov, for the same things.

Even then, here’s a short list of products you should never buy used at a yard sale or flea market:

— Cribs. Federal crib standards and laws changed drastically in 2011, adding a lot of new safety requirements and making it illegal to resell any crib made before then. More importantly, a crib in a yard sale may not have been properly assembled, may have been subject to abuse that caused damage you can’t see, may have been fixed with unsafe homemade repairs, or have other potential problems. Using a replacement mattress in an old crib can create entrapment and asphyxiation hazards.

— Car Seats. It may be impossible to tell by sight if it’s already been in a car crash, thereby significantly reducing its ability to absorb another impact. Many are designed to work only with specific components and parts from that manufacturer; trying to pair it with other parts may render it unsafe.

— Soft Plastic Child Care Articles and Toys. CPSC’s rules over the years have evolved to prohibit certain plastic compounds — phthalates in particular — as they can migrate from the material to a child. These are relatively new rules and testing for these components is complex, not something recognizable by eye or touch, so steer clear of these items as they may not meet the new requirements.

Sweeney says companies that agree to a recall are required to have a website and a toll-free U.S. number for consumers to call to get the recall remedy and usually have to make the remedy available indefinitely. People who can’t get through on a toll-free number, don’t get a response from the website, or can’t readily get the remedy should visit CPSC online at www.cpsc.gov or call 800-638-2772.

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.

Homeland security starts at our keyboards

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Oct. 17, 2016, at 6:47 a.m.

Here’s one of those too-good-to-be-true offers — except it’s true.

Small businesses can get access to free tools to help keep their computer data — and their customers’ information — secure. Those tools are found on the website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or DHS.

Owners of some businesses may think they’re too small for hackers to care about. DHS says quite the opposite may be true. Small businesses have customer information that cyber criminals want: bank account information, employee and customer records, and access to the finances of the business.

Perhaps most troubling is potential access to larger computer networks.

Smaller businesses can be tempting targets for crooks because they likely have fewer staffers skilled in cyber security. While the payoff for the thieves may be smaller, ransomware may work its nasty wonders on many small businesses — in 2012, DHS estimates half of all cyber attacks were aimed at firms with fewer than 2,500 employees.

To shop for those free tools, visit dhs.gov/publication/stopthinkconnect-small-business-resources.

Yes, it’s a long address. No, don’t Google “safeguard computer data” and shop from the ads that appear. The resources on the DHS site are free.

At the homepage you can begin with a frank look at what DHS calls the “threat environment.” It’s a one-page overview that doesn’t talk down to people who are not versed in computer lingo, while giving security-rich companies a road map to further reducing vulnerabilities.

Each business owner can choose the tool that works for that business. There’s a half-hour introduction to securing data in small businesses at sba.gov/tools/sba-learning-center/training/cybersecurity-small-businesses.

The Small Biz Cyber Planner covers insurance, advanced spyware and ways to install protective software at fcc.gov/cyberplanner.

Global problems need global solutions. DHS, the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Anti-Phishing Working Group have joined forces in an awareness campaign they call Stop, Think, Connect at stopthinkconnect.org.

The campaign has focused on educating computer users to think twice or more before clicking on anything. They also urge users to trust their instincts; if it seems too good to be true, it is.

Closer to home, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA, has been observing National Cyber Security Awareness Month. MEMA has offered a series of tips which you can read at maine.gov/mema/prepare/prep_tips.shtml?id=23914. You can also sign up for daily email tips on preparing for all kinds of emergencies.

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.

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