Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

State Publishes Anti-Scam Guide for Consumers Buying Homes

PRESS RELEASE
March 28, 2019

Contact: David Leach, Principal Examiner;

In response to a growing number of scams affecting consumers purchasing houses, the state’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection announced the release of a new consumer publication in its Downeaster series, titled the New Homeowner Anti-Scam Advisor.

Mainers who are in the midst of the mortgage application process, those who are approaching their closing date and those who have just moved into their new homes, are all attractive targets for scam artists, said David Leach, principal examiner at the Bureau and primary author of the booklet. The newest and potentially most costly of these scams occurs when consumers about to close on homes receive email instructions changing the money-wiring instructions for down payments or even entire purchase prices, when those instructions are sent by dishonest individuals who have hacked into the email systems of real estate brokers, closing agents or lenders.

Unless the falsified wiring instructions are discovered and canceled before funds are sent, monies re-directed to fraudulent recipients may be lost forever, said Leach. In one such recent case in Maine, payment was stopped shortly before the funds were wired to a European location.

The booklet, which is available online at www.Credit.Maine.gov, or free in printed form for Maine residents who call 1-800-332-8529, addresses additional scams affecting soon-to-be and new homeowners, including the door-to-door home improvement scam, the transient-contractor driveway paving scam, the fly-by-night roofing scam, the “Sorry I missed you” door hanger ID theft scam, and mortgage modification/foreclosure rescue scams.

With respect to the closing funds redirection scam, Leach said, Last-minute emails instructing consumers where their down payment funds should be sent or notice of surprise additional fees for items already paid for, are hallmarks of scam operators. This new publication gives Mainers the skill-sets necessary to recognize a variety of new homeowner scams and stop the scammers before they separate consumers from their funds.

Online versions of the new guide, and all other Downeaster Common Sense financial publications, can be found at www.Credit.Maine.gov by clicking Publications.  Copies can also be ordered by calling the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 1-800-332-8529 (toll-free in Maine) or 624-8527.

The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection was established in 1975 to enforce credit-related consumer laws. The agency licenses lenders, creditors and collectors; conducts periodic examinations of creditors to determine compliance with state laws; and responds to consumer complaints and inquiries. The Bureau operates the state’s pre-foreclosure hotline, referral and counseling service, and provides speakers to advise consumers and creditors of their legal rights and responsibilities.

Last Updated: March 26, 2019 4:45 PM

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Too Many Consumers Believe Identity Theft Services Can Remove Personal Data from the Dark Web

Many Also Believe ID Theft Services Can Prevent Use of Information Sold on Dark Web

Press Release

March 19, 2019

Washington D.C. — A new survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) revealed that 36 percent of consumers who have seen ads for “dark web monitoring” incorrectly believe that identity theft services can remove their personal information from the dark web. An equal number (37%) mistakenly believe that these services can prevent people who buy their personal information on the dark web from using it.

“Our survey indicates that many consumers are making assumptions about how dark web monitoring protects them that simply aren’t true,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy. “Dark web monitoring may be able to alert consumers that their stolen personal information is being offered for sale on the internet, but it can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

CFA commissioned the survey because dark web monitoring is featured in many advertisements for identity theft services. “The dark web sounds scary, so there is the potential for advertising that plays on consumer fears,” said Ms. Grant. The dark web, which is a small part of the internet, can only be reached by special browsers. Those browsers disguise the computers that are being used, providing a high degree of privacy. While the dark web is used for many legitimate purposes, including by whistle-blowers, investigative journalists, people organizing against repressive governments, law enforcement agencies, and others who need to shield their identities and locations in order to communicate safely, it is also attractive to people who take advantage of its anonymity to sell stolen personal information and other illicit goods and services.

Identity theft services that monitor consumers’ personal information, including on the dark web, can be helpful in alerting them about possible fraudulent use of their data. These services also provide advice about what to do to avoid or limit the damage that could be caused and remedy any problems that have occurred. They can’t erase the information on the dark web, however, or keep buyers from using it.

When information about consumers resulting from identity theft shows up in records maintained by legitimate companies, agencies or organizations, it can be corrected or removed. That is not the case in the dark web marketplace. “The people who trade in consumers’ personal information on the dark web aren’t going to cooperate with an identity theft service or anyone else who asks them to remove the information, stop selling it, or not to use it,” Ms. Grant said.

In collaboration with identity theft service providers and consumer advocates, CFA issued Best Practices for Identity Theft Services several years ago to encourage companies to provide clear, complete information about their services and discourage unfair and deceptive practices. The Best Practices document addresses many concerns, including the fact that the benefits and limitations of some identity theft services may not be easy for consumers to understand, and calls for clear and unambiguous explanations. It also says that identity theft service providers should be careful not to overstate or misrepresent, directly or by implication, how the features of their programs help consumers. “It is worrisome that more than a third of consumers who have heard about these services think they can remove or prevent the sale of their information on the dark web,” said Grant. “It would be helpful for the companies that offer dark web monitoring to do a better job explaining its limits as well as its benefits.”

To address consumer misperceptions, CFA has developed a short consumer guide, Dark Web Monitoring: What You Should Know, explaining what the dark web is, how dark web monitoring works, and what to do if one’s information is in danger of fraudulent use. CFA has also updated Nine Things to Consider When Shopping for Identity Theft Services to help consumers learn more about identity theft services and what they can do to reduce the chances of becoming identity theft victims, spot fraud, and remedy problems. CFA’s www.IDThefInfo.org website also provides additional information about identity theft from many trusted sources.

FTC’s Tech Support Takedown 2019

We read you loud and clear! Last year, the FTC got nearly 143,000 reports about tech support scams. We’ve been warning people about this type of scam for years. But one piece of information in the FTC’s newest Consumer Protection Data Spotlight was an eye-opener. People 60 and over were about five times more likely than younger people to tell us they lost money on this scam, even though they were less likely than younger people to say they lost money to many other types of scams.

The FTC has brought many cases against tech support scammers, including our case just announced against Elite IT. With our law enforcement partners at the Department of Justice, other federal and state offices, and international colleagues, we’re fighting to protect older adults. And this is all part of the largest-ever nationwide elder fraud sweep focusing on tech support fraud.

But that’s not all. Visit ftc.gov/techsupportscams to see, hear, and read how to help the people you care about spot and avoid these scams – and get tips on what to do if you were scammed. Need a quick, shareable (and printable) snapshot on how to spot tech support scams? Check out our tech support scam infographic.

And, because we save the best for last, check out our new video – a compelling first-person account of how Mr. Donald Holmes of Arizona faced a tech support scam, and what he did about it.

How to Avoid a Tech Support Scam
The first-person story about a retired business consultant’s tech support scam experience, what he did about it.

Spotted a tech support scam? Report it at ftc.gov/complaint. And after you report it, use this handy information from ftc.gov/passiton to talk to your family and friends about what happened so they can avoid it too.

 

Debt Collection FAQs — FTC Consumer Information

When a debt collector calls, it’s important to know your rights and what you need to do. The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which makes it illegal for debt collectors to use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices when they collect debts.

What types of debts are covered?

Your credit card debt, auto loans, medical bills, student loans, mortgage, and other household debts are covered. Business debts are not.

Can debt collectors contact me any time or any place?

No. Debt collectors can’t contact you at inconvenient times or places. They can’t contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree to it. They also can’t contact you at work if they’re told you’re not allowed to get calls there.

How can a debt collector contact me?

Debt collectors can call you, or send letters, emails, or text messages to collect a debt.

How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?

Send a letter by mail asking for contact to stop (make yourself a copy before you do). You might want to send it by certified mail and pay for a “return receipt” so you have a record the collector received it. Once the collector gets your letter, it can only contact you to confirm it will stop contacting you, or to tell you a specific action, like filing a lawsuit, will be taken. If you are represented by an attorney, and inform the collector, the collector must communicate with your attorney, not you, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to the communication from the debt collector.

You might want to talk to the collector at least once, even if you don’t think you owe the debt or can’t repay it immediately. That way you can confirm whether it’s really your debt. If it is your debt, you can find out from the collector more information about it. In talking with a debt collector, be careful about sharing your personal or financial information, especially if you’re not already familiar with the collector.

Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?

A debt collector generally can’t discuss your debt with anyone but you or your spouse. If an attorney is representing you, the debt collector has to contact the attorney. A collector can contact other people to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work, but usually can’t contact them more than once.

What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?

A collector has to send you a written “validation notice” within five days of first contacting you. The notice has to say:

  • how much money you owe
  • the name of the creditor you owe it to
  • what to do if you don’t think it’s your debt

What if I don’t think I owe the debt?

You can send a debt collector a letter saying you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt. If you send the letter within 30 days of getting the validation notice, the collector has to send you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe, before it can start trying to collect the debt again. You also can get a collector to stop contacting you, at any time, by sending a letter by mail asking for contact to stop.

What are debt collectors not allowed to do?

They can’t harass you. For example, they can’t:

  • threaten you with violence or harm
  • use obscene or profane language
  • repeatedly use the phone to annoy you

They can’t lie. For example, they can’t:

  • misrepresent the amount you owe
  • lie about being attorneys or government representatives
  • falsely claim you’ll be arrested, or claim legal action will be taken against you if it’s not true

They can’t engage in unfair practices. For example, they can’t:

  • try to collect interest, fees, or other charges on top of the amount you owe, unless the original contract or your state law allows it
  • deposit a post-dated check early
  • take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally

Can I control which debts my payments apply to?

Yes. If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, it must apply any payment you make to the debt you choose. A debt collector may not apply a payment to a debt you say you don’t owe.

What should I do if a debt collector sues me?

If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, respond, either personally or through your attorney, by the date specified in the court papers. That will preserve your rights.

Can a debt collector take money from my paycheck?

Yes, but the collector must first sue you to get a court order — called a garnishment — that says it can take money from your paycheck to pay your debts. A collector also can seek a court order to take money from your bank account. Don’t ignore a lawsuit, or you could lose the opportunity to fight a court order.

Can my federal benefits be garnished?

Many federal benefits are generally exempt from garnishment, though they might still be garnished to pay delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, or student loans. States have their own laws about which state benefits can be garnished.

What if my debt is old?

Debt collectors have a certain number of years they can sue you and win to collect a debt. It’s called the statute of limitations, and usually begins when you fail to make a payment on a debt. Once it’s over, your unpaid debt is considered “time-barred,” but in some states, you have to raise the age of the debt as a defense to win.

How long the statute of limitations on a debt lasts depends on what kind of debt it is, and the law in your state or the state specified in your credit contract.

Also, under the laws of some states, if you make a payment or provide written acknowledgment of your debt, the clock may start ticking again.

Can a debt collector contact me about a time-barred debt?

Yes. Even if a debt collector can’t successfully sue you over a time-barred debt, you may still owe it.

What if I’m not sure whether my debt is time-barred?

Ask the collector when its records show you made your last payment. You also can send the collector a letter within 30 days of receiving a written notice of the debt. Explain why you’re disputing the debt and that you want to verify it. A collector must stop trying to collect until it gives you verification.

Does a time-barred debt stay on my credit report?

Maybe. The statute of limitations for a debt is usually different from the reporting period for a debt on your credit report. In general, negative information stays on your credit report for seven years.

Do I have to pay a debt that’s considered time-barred?

It’s up to you. Consider talking to an attorney before you decide. You can:

  • Pay nothing. The collector can’t sue you, but can continue to contact you unless you send a letter by mail asking for contact to stop.
  • Make a partial payment. In some states, if you pay any amount on a time-barred debt or even promise to pay, the debt is “revived,” and the statute of limitations resets. The collector might be able to sue you to collect the full amount of the debt, which may include extra interest and fees.
  • Pay off the debt. Some collectors will accept less than what you owe to settle a debt. Before you make any payment to settle a debt, get a signed form or letter from the collector that says the amount you’re paying settles the entire debt and releases you from any further obligation. Also keep a record of the payments you make to pay off the debt.

What should I do if I’m sued for a time-barred debt?

You still need to respond. Consider talking to an attorney. If you ignore a lawsuit, the collector could get a court judgment and garnishment against you. Tell the judge the debt is time-barred, and show a copy of the verification notice from the collector or any information that shows the date of your last payment.

Where do I report a debt collector for an alleged violation?

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to:

Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your attorney general’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.8

What else can I do if I think a debt collector has broken the law?

You can sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year of the date the law was violated. You can sue for damages, like lost wages and medical bills. If you can’t prove damages, you can still be awarded up to $1,000, plus reimbursement for attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people suing as part of a class action lawsuit can recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower.

Even if a court finds a debt collector violated the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, you still owe the debt.

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Maine CDC Warns of Misleading Flyer Regarding Vaccines

PRESS RELEASE

February 11, 2019

Augusta, ME – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is warning Mainers of a flyer appearing to come from the federal Center for Disease Control. The flyer claims to outline a list of “known vaccine side effects” without providing references or citing any sources. Additionally, the website listed as CDC.org is not an
active website, nor is it supported by the federal CDC. The flyers are known to have been circulating through big box stores in Southern Maine. Be advised that these flyers were not issued or endorsed by the Maine CDC or federal CDC.
“Misleading flyers such as these are concerning; especially when that information pertains to something as important to public health as vaccines,” said Maine CDC Director Dr. Bruce Bates. “I encourage anyone who comes across one of these flyers to disregard it.”
In the United States, vaccines are thoroughly tested and then continuously monitored to ensure ongoing safety. Immunizing yourself and your children will help protect you, them, and your community from contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.For information regarding vaccine side effects, please visit: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm
For information regarding Maine’s Immunization Program, please visit: www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/immunization/

 

Public Health Alerts Now Accessible on Maine CDC Website

PRESS RELEASE

January 30, 2019
Human Services

Health alerts that were recently released only to professionals will now be available to the public

Augusta, ME – This week, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), with support from Governor Janet Mills and Acting Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Jeanne Lambrew, will make health alerts available on the Maine CDC website to ensure the public has easily accessible and relevant public health information at their fingertips. This comes with the issuance of the first alert for 2019, announcing that influenza has officially entered widespread status in Maine – a reminder for Maine residents to continue taking precautions to keep themselves healthy throughout the influenza season.

The Maine CDC routinely issues health advisories through the Health Alert Network to providers, various healthcare entities, child care facilities, city and county health organizations, and local, state, and federal agencies. Health alerts directly keep those on the frontlines updated on pertinent public health information including disease outbreaks, emerging trends, and guidance on anticipated public health concerns.

While health alerts are written for and distributed directly to professionals to inform their prevention and treatment practices, the information can also be useful to the general public who may be interested in specific details surrounding current public health issues within the state.

“Health alerts deliver incredibly important information when its needed most, such as updates related to the current status of influenza, Lyme disease, and hepatitis,” said Maine CDC Director, Dr. Bruce Bates. “Having this information readily available on our website is another tool we can use to keep folks informed on emerging public health concerns, and ultimately keep Mainers safe and healthy.”

Acting Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew added, “A key component of public health is public awareness and engagement. This change is part of our effort to increase transparency and build trust in the Department.”

Health alerts for fall 2018 through the most current are available here: www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/all-health-advisories.shtml

This page will be updated as new health alerts become available.

Like Maine CDC on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MaineCDC/

Follow Maine CDC Twitter: twitter.com/MEPublicHealth

Fight back against tax identity theft — Federal Trade Commission

PRESS RELEASE
January 30, 2019
by Seena Gressin
Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC

It’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week – a terrific time to get up to date on protecting yourself from identity thieves who try to claim your tax refund and imposters who pretend they’re from the IRS to get your money.

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed with your SSN, or IRS records show you earned income from an employer you don’t know. Or, the IRS may reject your efiled tax return as a duplicate filing.

Meanwhile, to help fight tax identity theft:

  • File your return as early in the tax season as you can.
  • Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return from the post office.
  • And visit Tax-Related Identity Theft to learn more.

IRS Imposter Scams

 

How to spot scammers who pretend to be IRS officials to get you to send them money.

 

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