Archive for the ‘Federal Agencies’ Category

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. ###

Advertisements

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

US Food & Drug offers 4 Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults

Explore these topics for your health and that of your family and friends

  1. Take Medicine as Prescribed—with Input from Your Health Care Provider
  2. Keep a Medication List
  3. Be Aware of Potential Drug Interactions and Side Effects
  4. Review Medications with Your Health Care Provider

Whether you’re settling into your sixties or heading into your ninth decade, be careful when taking prescription and over-the-counter medicines, herbal preparations, and supplements. And if you’re caring for older loved ones, help them stay safe, too.

Why the special concern? The older you get, the more likely you are to use additional medicines, which can increase the chance of harmful drug effects, including interactions. And, as you age, physical changes can affect the way medicines are handled by your body, leading to potential complications. For instance, your liver and kidneys may not work as well, which affects how a drug breaks down and leaves your body.

“There is no question that physiology changes as we age. Many chronic medical conditions don’t even appear until our later years,” explains RADM (Ret.) Sandra L. Kweder, M.D., F.A.C.P., a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “It’s not that people are falling to pieces; some changes are just part of the normal aging process.”

Refunds Now Available from Amazon for Unauthorized In-App Purchases

PRESS RELEASE

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

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

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

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

 

New FTC Website Helps Small Businesses Avoid Scams and Cyber Attacks

Attacks can be especially devastating to small businesses; Agency provides information on how they can protect themselves

PRESS RELEASE

May 9, 2017

At the direction of Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, the Federal Trade Commission has launched a new website – ftc.gov/SmallBusiness – with articles, videos, and other information aimed at helping small business owners avoid scams and protect their computers and networks from cyberattacks and other threats.

“Small businesses are critical to our economic strength, building America’s future, and helping the United States compete in today’s global marketplace,” Acting Chairman Ohlhausen said. “This innovative new website is a one-stop shop where small businesses can find information to protect themselves from scammers and hackers, as well as resources they can use if they are hit with a cyberattack.”

According to the U.S.Small Business Administration (SBA), there are more than 28 million small businesses nationwide, employing nearly 57 million people. Scammers frequently target small businesses with deceptive tactics designed to get them to pay for supplies they didn’t order, donate to fake charities or trick them into giving access to their network or downloading malware that can corrupt their business’s computers.

Cyberattacks can be particularly devastating to small businesses, and many of them lack the resources that larger companies have to devote to cybersecurity. Symantec Corp.’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report(link is external) indicates the percentage of spear-phishing attacks targeting small business rose dramatically from 18 percent to 43 percent between 2011 and 2015.

The FTC’s new web page offers specific information to help small businesses protect their networks and their customer data. This includes a new Small Business Computer Security Basics guide, which shares computer security basics to help companies protect their files and devices, train employees to think twice before sharing the business’s account information, and keep their wireless network protected, as well as how to respond to a data breach. It also has information on other cyber threats such as ransomware and phishing schemes targeting small businesses. The FTC is continuing to work with the SBA on additional ways to help small businesses.

click image for “Ransomware – a Closer Look”

New development could cause scammers to capitalize on potential confusion

Senator Collins Cautions Consumers of IRS’s Use of Private Debt Collection Companies

PRESS RELEASE
April 14, 2017

Click image for more information

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, is cautioning consumers to be aware of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) new policy of using private debt collection companies to collect unpaid taxes.

Under the new protocol, the IRS has authorized four private debt collection companies to collect unpaid taxes. They are CBE Group of Cedar Falls, IA; Conserve of Fairport, NY; Performant of Livermore, CA; and Pioneer of Horseheads, NY. Only one of these companies will contact you in the event you owe money to the IRS.
Here is what you need to know about this new development:

  • If you have an overdue balance on your account, the IRS will first send you a letter informing you that it is giving your information to one of the four companies listed above, providing the company name and contact information.
  • The debt collector will then send you a letter confirming the account turnover prior to contacting you by phone.
  • Upon calling you, they will be able to discuss payment options, but the only way you can pay your tax debt is electronically or by check payable to the US Treasury.

“The IRS’s use of private debt collection companies to collect unpaid taxes is in the spirit of efficiency, but may create confusion for those already susceptible to the IRS impersonation scam, like our nation’s seniors,” said Senator Collins. “I urge consumers to remain vigilant and protect themselves from potential scams that could stem from this new development.”

If you know you don’t owe taxes or do not immediately believe that you do, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.

To read more about this change from the IRS, click HERE.

Never give personal information, such as bank account or credit card numbers, to someone you do not know. If you suspect fraud, please contact the Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470

%d bloggers like this: