Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ 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. ###

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Consumers Impacted by Scams Utilizing Western Union May Be Eligible for Restitution Payments

Deadline April 3, 2017

PRESS RELEASE
03/02/2017 09:18 AM EST

Image linked to Western Union Scam Fighting Advice

 

AUGUSTA – Attorney General Janet Mills requests all Mainers who were scammed out of money and asked to utilize Western Union as a payment method to contact her office as they may be eligible for restitution payments. Under a recent settlement with the federal government consumers may be eligible for some restitution if the payments were sent between 1/1/2004 and 1/19/17.

In January, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement it made with Western Union that will require them to return $586 million dollars through a claims settlement process to consumers. Going forward, Western Union must go one step further by creating a real and strong anti-fraud program. Western Union agreed to this settlement after ignoring for years the more than 550,000 complaints it received about money transfers made for fraudulent lottery and prizes, family emergency calls – also known as the grandparent scam, advance fee loan payments, online dating scams, the more recent IRS scam, among others.

Attorney General Mills said “I ask all Mainers who have been scammed out of money and were asked to use Western Union to make these fraud-induced payments to contact my office so that we can connect them with the federal agencies managing this claims process. I realize some may be embarrassed that they fell for a scam. You are not alone. Do not be embarrassed, please take this opportunity to be reimbursed for the money you have lost.”

Under the settlement, Western Union will return $586 million dollars through a process to be determined at a later date. The company will have to train and monitor its agents so that people are protected. The company won’t be allowed to transmit a money transfer that it knows – or should know – is a fraud. It has to block money transfers to anyone who has a fraud report, make it easier for people to report fraud, give clear warnings to people who are sending money, and refund a fraud-related money transfer if the company didn’t comply with its own anti-fraud procedures. Additionally, consistent with the telemarketing sales rule, Western Union must not process a money transfer that it knows or should know is payment for a telemarketing transaction. If you ever wire money, also keep in mind that it’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a money transfer. Scammers love using money transfer services because once you send the money, it’s gone forever. So, if a telemarketer asks you to wire money, already you know they’re a crook.

Consumers who made payments for a scam between 1/1/2004 and 1/19/2017 may be eligible for reimbursement. Please contact the Consumer Protection Division at the Attorney General’s Office if you were scammed during this time. You will need to provide your basic contact information, approximate dates of the transaction(s), amounts of the transaction(s) and any relevant transaction identification numbers, if available. Your information will then be provided to our federal partners administering the claims process.

For this case, we prefer receiving information by email – consumer.mediation@maine.gov – but we can also be reached at (207) 626-8849 or 1-800-436-2131.

The deadline for consumers to submit this information to the Attorney General’s Office is Monday, April 3, 2017.

How to spot dirty tricks when buying a used car

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 13, 2017, at 10:12 a.m.
Click image to see 10 ways to spot a flood-damaged car

Click image to see 10 ways to spot a flood-damaged car

Buying a used car is one of the most stressful purchases a consumer can make. Here are some suggestions intended to ease the tension.

Check first with an established dealer. Maine’s used car dealers are bonded. Their vehicles must have valid inspection stickers, and sales include “clear” titles with no encumbrances. Shady Sales in Anywhere, Maine, might save you a few dollars, but there could be big headaches that follow.

Consumers can check with the attorney general’s office to see if dealers they’re considering have large numbers of complaints against them. Another source of information is the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in the secretary of state’s office.

Mark Silk is chief detective at the bureau. He recommends consumers deal with known dealers, because “there are so many more protections” than dealing online or through private sales.

He suggests asking to see the title to the vehicle. It should indicate its prior use — taxi, fleet vehicle, police, etc. The title also might show some “red flags,” such as having been rebuilt after a crash.

The title also should show the odometer reading when the prior owner stopped driving it. If the odometer has been replaced, it must read either zero — with accompanying door sticker stating that fact — or the same mileage as the odometer that it replaced.

Silk also urges car shoppers to look closely at any used car, for the following signs of trouble:

— Watermarks in the engine compartment.

— Rust or flaking on the undercarriage.

— Stiff wiring under the dash.

— Mud, sediment or sand in door panels.

All of the above might be signs that the car is flood-damaged. If your nose is keen, you can likely smell trouble before you buy. In any case, have a trusted mechanic check out a car before you sign a sales agreement.

Mark also reminds buyers that there is nothing in Maine law that requires a dealer to charge a document fee. While those fees can run into hundreds of dollars, charging them is up to the dealer. If they are charged, they must be conspicuously posted.

Note to readers

A few parting words are in order, as this is the last column I’ll be writing for Consumer Forum. Since its founding in 1972, a lot has changed for Northeast CONTACT (originally named C.O.M.B.A.T., for Consumers of Maine Bringing Action Together). At its peak, our all-volunteer group helped walk-ins in need of mediation or other assistance; our assistance saw the return of thousands of dollars to wronged consumers. We counseled consumers on all manner of marketplace issues, spoke at meetings and took action when it needed to be taken.

As the information era came of age, demand for our services tapered off. Soaring oil prices forced the sale of our building eight years ago, and the volunteers who were the heart and soul of Northeast CONTACT found other ways to do good work.

Now, Jane and I are also finding a new avenue, one that we hope will assist consumers. Our hearty thanks go to those many volunteers I mentioned. We plan to continue our blog, https://necontact.wordpress.com. We’ll post news about scams, recalls and items we hope will be helpful; you can search the site for past columns. There will still be links to government and nonprofit agencies with resources beyond our means.

Finally, our thanks go to the people at the Bangor Daily News who’ve offered support, encouragement and the space for this column. And to those of you who have had kind words about the work we’ve done, you will remain in our thoughts.

 

Items bought in Maine come with an implied warranty

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 23, 2017, at 9:18 a.m.

Tap Image for Link to Maine AG’s Consumer Info

An underused law in Maine might prompt many consumers to skip buying the extended warranties store clerks are all too eager to sell.

Maine’s Uniform Commercial Code includes an implied warranty of merchantability. It states that any goods sold in Maine for personal or family use should, under normal use, work as intended for up to four years after purchase.

When a clerk asks if you want a one-year extended warranty, you might ask, “Why? Don’t you think your product will work longer than a year?”

The law conveys an implied warranty that goods sold in Maine are not seriously defective. It applies to all new or used goods sold by merchants (except used cars), and the warranty must be recognized by the store that sold it and the manufacturer.

A consumer who invokes the implied warranty law must prove the product was purchased in Maine. It must have been used in accordance with any directions and not abused, misused or improperly maintained. Normal wear is not covered by the law.

According to the state attorney general, Maine is one of just 10 states with an implied warranty law on the books. You can find a summary of Maine laws dealing with sales to consumers at the AG’s website, maine.gov/ag/consumer/purchasing_goods/index.shtml.

A consumer from eastern Maine wrote to us recently, saying he has used the law successfully on several occasions. Currently, a 2-year-old smartphone is acting up. At first, he was told repairs would cost up to $200. Later conversations with store personnel suggested that when he brings it in, he might be given a refurbished phone as a replacement.

Our consumer wondered how the swap would be covered by Maine’s implied warranty law.

Martha Currier, complaint examiner at the Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Service, said the standard is the same: The law applies from the original purchase date.

When he receives the refurbished phone, Currier said the clock does not restart.

“If something happens to the refurbished phone within the next two years we can still mediate under the implied warranty,” she added. Consumers with problems can write to the Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Service, 6 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

You may also call (626-8849 or 1-800-436-2131) from 9 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays or email consumer.mediation@maine.gov.

During our conversation, our consumer related the story of his girlfriend’s mother, who purchased an extended warranty on a large, flat-screen TV. After he told her about Maine’s implied warranty law, she returned to the store, asked for and received a refund on the extended warranty.

Our consumer also said the Maine law has prompted him to rethink large electronics purchases. He said he refuses to shop for such items in New Hampshire, even though such a purchase might save considerable money in sales taxes.

“Buying within the state guarantees you that protection [of implied warranty], and that peace of mind is priceless,” he said.

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, Brewe, MEr 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Rogues tap holiday spirit, disaster relief to steal in the name of charity

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Dec. 26, 2016, at 9:11 a.m.
Your free directory of IRS-recognized charities and nonprofits: 9127 organizations. Search Maine or your town

Your free directory of IRS-recognized charities and nonprofits: 9127 organizations found in Maine.

When soliciting donations from 2008 to 2012, fundraisers for four now-defunct “charities” said they spent 100 percent of their money on services including taking patients to chemotherapy sessions, buying pain meds for children and hospice care.

Instead, the money went for meals, rides on jet skis and cruises to the Caribbean.

In a lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission called all four groups “sham charities.” Officials from all 50 states and the District of Columbia joined in the suit, which accused charity officials of spending most of the $187 million they raised on themselves and their fundraisers.

The legal action led to the shutdown of the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society. Only a fraction of the millions of dollars the groups took from consumers was recovered.

The amount of money fundraisers were able to garner shows how willing consumers are to donate to causes they believe are genuine. Scammers know this, and for that very reason they create names for their fake groups that sound like real charities.

At this time of year, when many of us make donations to our favorite causes, let’s make sure we’ve done our due diligence. Be skeptical of cold calls or bulk mailings that you may receive, seeking donations that supposedly will benefit veterans and military families, sick children or police and firefighters.

Scam artists follow the news closely, and they look for items that will make readers respond emotionally. In June, crooks reacted quickly following a shooting rampage that killed 49 people and injured 53 others in Orlando, Florida. They set up phony charities pretending to help the victims and their families; in fact, the money they scammed lined their own pockets.

Pretending to help victims of floods, earthquakes and other disasters is a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise. Before you decide to donate, ask questions to find out how your money will be used.

If you’re responding to an online appeal and preparing to click to “donate,” look at the name of the organization in your browser window. If the domain name is hidden, is not familiar or is different from the one in the text, think twice about clicking.

Treat all pleas for your money with a healthy dose of skepticism. Real charities welcome the chance to send you literature by mail. They know that informed consumers will support them and tell others about worthwhile causes. Scammers want a decision right away, and some ask for payment through gift cards or wire transfers — these clearly are scams.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has tips on giving to charities and avoiding getting ripped off in the process. Visit maine.gov/ag/consumer/charities/index.shtml for those suggestions.

The Federal Trade Commission has additional information at consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0011-charity-scams.

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.

Consumer complaints helped bust bogus call center with 700 employees

Posted Oct. 31, 2016, at 6:54 a.m.
FMI check press release, October 27th

FMI check press release, October 27th

You are likely one of the thousands of Maine consumers who have received phone calls from someone wanting a “delinquent tax payment.” We’ve written over the years about crooks posing as Internal Revenue Service agents or other officials who try to coerce people into paying money they don’t owe.

These days, you might hang up quickly and dismiss the attempted ripoff without another thought. However, you might help slow the scammers by taking the time to report the attempt.

Consider the action by police in Mumbai, India, a few weeks ago. Raids on nine call centers resulted in 70 arrests. Investigators allege that employees were trained to speak with American accents as they pressured people to pay phony debts by wiring money that couldn’t be recovered. Each call center raked in an estimated $150,000 per day, usually from retirees and other older Americans.

The Indian Express reports that authorities are still questioning some of the 700 employees of the fake call centers. They’re also hunting for the alleged mastermind of the scheme, who apparently fled a lavish lifestyle in India for a new home in Dubai.

Back in the U.S., people who keep an eye on such things think the raids were made possible by reports from people the scammers attempted to target. Since March 2015, the Better Business Bureau has maintained a “scam tracker” website that consumers can use to file complaints about the IRS scam and other ripoff attempts. BBB officials say that following the raids in India complaints to that website dropped by 95 percent.

The sharp dip in complaints “validates our belief in the importance of using reports from the public to better understand the scam landscape,” program manager Emma Fletcher told the Washington Post. The Treasury Department welcomes information about these impersonation scams. File a report online at treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center also accepts reports at IC3.gov.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills warned consumers back in August about the IRS impostor scam maine.gov/ag/news/article.shtml?id=703353.

At the time, Mills said, “The IRS scam and others like it are consistently the top complaint we receive.” She urged consumers not to engage callers and not to divulge personal information.

The Internal Revenue Service will not call suddenly to ask for a payment, won’t demand a specific kind of payment (hoaxers specify paying by wire or gift card) and the IRS won’t threaten legal action if you don’t pay immediately.

If you do owe money, you’ll get a letter first, and there’s usually a period of time in which you can settle your debt.

The IRS has a rundown of recent hoaxes and steps consumers can take to avoid being scammed at irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.

Scammers sometimes send emails to back up their phone call threats. They may have personal information about consumers, including the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. They may also spoof the number a caller ID shows to mimic a real IRS office. Don’t be fooled. If you have any doubts, look up the number of your nearest IRS office yourself, call that number and inquire.

A lot of scams originate overseas; in fact, posing as a government official ranked second on a list compiled by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network, a joint effort by 35 organizations worldwide. Visit its site at econsumer.gov/#crnt.

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 , ME04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Volkswagen agrees to settle on charges it misled consumers about their ‘Clean Diesel’ technology

PRESS RELEASE

June 30, 2016

AUGUSTA – Attorney General Janet T. Mills today announced a settlement requiring Volkswagen to pay more than $570 million to states for violating state laws prohibiting unfair or deceptive trade practices by marketing, selling and leasing diesel vehicles equipped with illegal and undisclosed defeat device software. The settlement also establishes an environmental mitigation fund of $2.7 billion. This agreement is part of a series of state and federal settlements that will provide cash payments to affected consumers, require Volkswagen to buy back or modify certain VW and Audi 2.0-liter diesel vehicles, and prohibit Volkswagen from engaging in future unfair or deceptive acts and practices in its dealings with consumers and regulators.

These coordinated settlements resolve consumer protection claims raised by a multistate coalition of State Attorneys General joined by 43 states and jurisdictions against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Porsche AG and Porsche Cars, North America, Inc. – collectively referred to as Volkswagen. They also resolve actions against Volkswagen brought by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), California and car owners in private class action suits.

“Volkswagen groomed an image to lead customers to believe they were making a purchase that was environmentally sound,” said Attorney General Mills. “It turns out their ‘clean diesel’ technology was anything but. Maine consumers were particularly impressed with this marketing, as demonstrated by data showing Maine had among the highest per capita VW ownership in the country. These settlements show that we will not tolerate this kind of manipulation in the market place.”

The investigation of the attorneys general confirmed that Volkswagen sold more than 570,000 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel vehicles in the United States equipped with “defeat device” software intended to circumvent applicable emissions standards for certain air pollutants, and actively concealed the existence of the defeat device from regulators and the public. There were 3,982 affected vehicles sold in Maine. Volkswagen made false statements to consumers in their marketing and advertising, misrepresenting the cars as environmentally friendly or “green” and that the cars were compliant with federal and state emissions standards, when, in fact, Volkswagen knew the vehicles emitted harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at rates many times higher than the law permitted.

Under the settlements, Volkswagen is required to implement a restitution and recall program for more than 475,000 owners and lessees of 2.0-liter diesel vehicles, of the model year 2009 through 2015 listed in the chart below at a maximum cost of just over $10 billion. This includes 3,982 vehicles in Maine.

Once the consumer program is approved by the court, affected Volkswagen owners will receive restitution payment of at least $5,100 and a choice between:

• A buy back of the vehicle (based on pre-scandal NADA value); or • A modification to reduce NOx emissions provided that Volkswagen can develop a modification acceptable to regulators. Owners will still be eligible to choose a buyback in the event regulators do not approve a fix. Owners who choose the modification option would also receive an Extended Emission Warranty; and a Lemon Law-type remedy to protect against the possibility that the modification causes subsequent problems.

The consumer program also provides benefits and restitution for lessees (restitution and a no-penalty lease termination option) and sellers after September 18, 2015 when the emissions-cheating scandal was disclosed (50 percent of the restitution available to owners). Additional components of today’s settlements include:

• Environmental Mitigation Fund: Volkswagen will pay $2.7 billion into a trust to support environmental programs throughout the country to reduce emissions of NOx. This fund, also subject to court approval, is intended to mitigate the total, lifetime excess NOx emissions from the 2.0-liter diesel vehicles identified below. Under the terms of the mitigation trust, Maine is eligible to receive approximately $20 million to fund mitigation projects to be determined by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

• Additional Payment to the States: In addition to consumer restitution, Volkswagen will pay to the states more than $1,000 per car for repeated violations of state consumer protection laws, amounting to $570 million nationwide. This amount includes $3,651,270 for affected vehicles Volkswagen sold and leased in Maine.

• Zero Emission Vehicles: Volkswagen has committed to investing $2 billion over the next 10 years for the development of non-polluting cars, or Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV), and supporting infrastructure.

• Preservation of Environmental Claims: Today’s settlement by state attorneys general preserves all claims under state environmental laws, and Maine maintains the right to seek additional penalties from Volkswagen for its violations of environmental and emissions laws and regulations.

Volkswagen will also pay $20 million to the National Association of Attorneys General to establish a fund that state attorneys general can utilize for future training and initiatives, including investigations concerning emissions violations, automobile compliance, and consumer protection.

The full details of the consumer program will be available online at VWCourtSettlement.com and www.ftc.gov/VWSettlement.

Click to see if your vehicle is part of the settlement

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