Archive for the ‘Education’ 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.

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills offers advice about helping victims of Hurricane Harvey

Mills warns consumers to avoid giving to potentially fraudulent websites

Press Release
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
08/29/2017 04:04 PM EDT

AUGUSTA – Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills advised Mainers to choose wisely in sending funds to agencies to help the families and communities suffering from the extreme weather produced by Hurricane Harvey in Texas this week.

“A natural disaster brings out the best us, and people around the world offer whatever we can to aid victims like those down in Texas this week,” said Mills. “Unfortunately, it also sometimes brings out people who take advantage of our good nature and provide no help to those in need.”

AG Mills warned against giving money to organizations that are unfamiliar or not recommended by her office or other official sources. AG Mills shared a list of those organizations that are considered reliable

“If consumers have any questions or complaints about a particular organization I encourage them to call our Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-436-2131.”

Other sources for guidance related to charitable giving can be found at the links below for the Maine Attorney General, the Texas Attorney General, and the Federal Trade Commission. http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/charities/index.shtml

https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/charities-nonprofits-registration-filings

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/08/ftc-advice-helping-hurricane-harvey-victims

The American Red Cross is encouraging people to donate money on its website, http://www.redcross.org, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10. Apple is also accepting Red Cross donations via iTunes and the Apple App Store.

The Red Cross is also seeking blood. Upcoming blood drives in southern Maine:

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at: Portland Blood Donation Center 524 Forest Ave., Portland

Thursday at: Maine Mall, 364 Maine Mall Road South Portland

AG Mills added that she plans on donating blood in the coming days.

Americares, an emergency response organization based in Connecticut, is delivering emergency medicine and relief supplies and working with a local clinic in Houston. Make a donation at americares.org.

United Way Worldwide has a relief fund to provide shelter and basic needs, as well as long-term recovery efforts. Donate at https://www.unitedway.org/.

The Salvation Army is accepting donations for hurricane relief at give.salvationarmyusa.org.

To help pets stranded by Hurricane Harvey, donations are being accepted by the Humane Society of the United States at http://www.humanesociety.org/.

For volunteer opportunities or other places to donate, check with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, at nvoad.org. ###

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

It’s Mosquito Season in Maine

Press Release

Maine.gov
07/13/2017 11:39 AM EDT

AUGUSTA – Summer is here, which means the arrival of mosquito season in Maine. Following recent identification of a case of Jamestown Canyon virus in the state, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) wants to raise awareness about arboviral diseases, including Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and West Nile virus (WNV), which are serious infections that are transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Although rare, these diseases have potentially severe and even fatal consequences for those who contract them.

Jamestown Canyon virus is a relatively rare disease that can be carried by multiple mosquitoes including mosquito species that are present here in Maine. The case involved a mature adult from Kennebec County who had symptom onset in early June. The case required hospitalization but the individual is recovering at home. Symptoms of arboviral illnesses include fever and flu-like illness, and can result in encephalitis or meningitis. Jamestown Canyon virus as well as the two more well-known diseases-West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis -are viruses transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. They cannot be transmitted from human to human or animal to human.

“This case reminds us all that mosquitoes are more than a nuisance, but they can also carry disease,” said State Epidemiologist, Dr. Siiri Bennett. “Prevention is key if Mainers are going to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases.”

Steps Mainers can take to protect themselves from mosquito bites include:

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants
  • Use an EPA approved repellent on skin and clothes – always follow the instructions on the label
  • Take extra precautions at dusk and dawn
  • Use screens on your windows and doors
  • Drain artificial sources of standing water where you live, work, and play

The risk for being bitten by a mosquito is highest from dusk to dawn and when temperatures are above 50 degrees (and especially above 60 degrees). These are the conditions when mosquitoes are most actively biting.

The mosquitoes that carry EEE and WNVs pick it up from infected wild birds. The virus replicates in birds, which act as natural reservoirs for the disease. Maine tests mosquitoes for EEE and WNV starting in July and continuing through the summer months.

Maine CDC provides information on mosquito-borne disease surveillance in Maine on a weekly basis. These reports are posted every Monday beginning July 17th through mid-October at www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/arboviral-surveillance.shtml

For More Information:

In Highlighting Elder Abuse Awareness Day, State Officials Urge Mainers to Report Suspected Cases of Financial Exploitation

PRESS RELEASE
June 13, 2017
Contact:  Judith Shaw
Administrator Maine Office of Securities
1-877-624-8551
TTY:  Maine Relay 711

June 15th Observance Draws Attention to under-reported ‘Crime of the 21st Century’, and the Need for People to Report Concerns about Abuse of Seniors

AUGUSTA Officials at Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (DPFR) are focusing attention on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day–recognized each June 15th throughout the United States and in other countries, and often referred to as the ‘crime of the 21st century,’ because of its increasing prevalence and devastating impacts.

“The abuse of seniors is among the most under-reported crimes, and its impact can have devastating consequences for its victims,” DPFR Commissioner Anne Head said.  “Unfortunately, the perpetrator is often a relative or caregiver, making it more difficult for the senior to come forward.  Each of us has a responsibility to report concerns about potential abuse.”

Commissioner Head noted that financial abuse is among the most common forms of elder abuse, costing its U.S. victims an estimated $2.9 billion a year.

The Commissioner highlighted the Department’s five agencies, all of which are dedicated to educating the public and helping the victims of financial abuse.  She pointed out the Downeaster Guide to Elder Financial Protection available through the Department’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection by calling 1-800-332-8529 or at www.Credit.Maine.gov under “Publications”.  She also highlighted the many resources available through the Bureau of Financial Institution’s online Consumer Library (www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions).

Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw, who serves on the Maine Council on Elder Abuse Prevention, noted the frequency of investment fraud and the importance of reporting suspected cases.  “Of special concern, is investment fraud of seniors,” Administrator Shaw said.  “Victims can lose their entire life-savings, with little opportunity to recover financial stability.”  For investment-related questions or concerns, the Office of Securities within the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation can be reached at 1-877-624-8551 and at www.investors.maine.gov.

Signs that an older adult may be vulnerable to possible abuse or exploitation may include:

  • Social isolation and/or recent loss of a spouse or partner
  • Recent decline in health or in the ability for self-care
  • Lack of familiarity with financial accounts
  • Dependence on another to provide everyday care or essential services
  • Willingness to listen to telemarketing calls or respond to solicitations from unverified charities or businesses

Red flags of possible victimization include:

  • Senior has injuries that are not adequately explained
  • Change in appearance or poor hygiene
  • Senior is missing checks, account statements or documentation regarding finances
  • Running out of money at the end of the month
  • Senior appears fearful or depressed
  • Senior is accompanied by a caregiver who is overly protective or dominating

Partial List of State Agencies and Organizations in Maine providing information, services and education on elder abuse, including financial exploitation: 

Maine Office of Aging and Disability Services:

www.maine.gov/dhhs/oads

1-800-262-2232 or 207-287-9200

Adult Protective Services:

www.maine.gov/dhhs/oads/aging/aps/

Hotline: 1-800-624-8404

Legal Services for the Elderly:

www.mainelse.org

1-800-750-5353 

Maine Area Agencies on Aging:

List of regional agencies with full contact information:

www.maine.gov/dhhs/oes/resource/aaa.htm

Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation:

(Five Agencies Offering a Wide Range of Assistance to Seniors and Caregivers)

www.maine.gov/pfr

Office of Securities:  1-877-624-8551

(Investment Questions or Concerns)

www.investors.maine.gov

Bureau of Financial Institutions:  1-800-965-5235

(Banking Questions or Concerns)

www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions

Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection:  1-800-332-8529

(Credit, Foreclosure, General Financial Scam Concerns)

www.maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit

Bureau of Insurance:  1-800-300-5000

(Insurance-related Questions or Concerns)

www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance

Office of Professional and Occupational Licensing: 207-624-8603

(Questions or Concerns Related to Licensed Professionals)

www.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing

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