Archive for the ‘Bureau of Financial Institutions’ Category

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

How to avoid getting hit with a big fee to cash tax refund checks

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 06, 2017, at 8:07 a.m.
The Internal Revenue Service or IRS recommends that anyone earning $54,000 or less find out more about the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Last year 27 million Americans qualified, and the EITC average was more than $2,455. This year, officials say even more taxpayers will qualify.

As we’ve written earlier, IRS officials will be scrutinizing reviews to curb fraud; that will slow the pace of returns for those claiming EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit. Once those refunds do arrive, some consumers will face hard choices about cashing those refund checks.

Those are consumers who do not regularly use a bank or credit union. Often referred to as “the unbanked,” these consumers use a variety of alternative methods to pay monthly bills and buy goods in other than brick-and-mortar stores.

In doing so, they rack up on average more than $2,400 per year in interest charges. Financial advisers say much of that interest burden could be reduced or eliminated.

Many of those advisers suggest turning first to local banks and credit unions. Responding to competition from multi-state banks, Maine-based financial institutions have been looking for ways to attract customers who until recently may have avoided traditional banks or credit unions.

“The playing field has expanded as far as low or no-cost banking services go,” David Leach, adjunct professor of banking at the University of Maine at Augusta, said. “I think the challenge for policy makers and politicians is to get the word out, through social service agencies and through governmental regulatory agencies, that there are low- and no-cost banking services.”

Lloyd Lafountain III is superintendent of banking for the state of Maine. He said Maine-based financial institutions combine the latest technologies with local knowledge.

“Many offer low-cost accounts, and consumers can avoid overdraft fees by not using paper checks and not opting into overdraft protection programs,” he said.

Check-cashing outlets, pawnshops and payday loans are costly substitutes for a bank or credit union. Federal and state officials have launched efforts over the years to attract consumers to the world of traditional banking. Still, millions of Americans find themselves using short-term, high-cost solutions to get past the next round of bills.

A lot of those quick-fix solutions are found on the internet, but many are less than economical. Few of them offer the kinds of customer service that face-to-face relationships can provide.

Tips on opening a low-cost account can be found online at maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/consumer/saveandprotectyourmoney.pdf.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Answering these text messages could lead to empty bank accounts

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Sept. 19, 2016, at 9:55 a.m.
gone-phishing

Click to access booklet

Customers at some Maine banks and credit unions have been receiving fraudulent text messages. The messages are from scammers falsely claiming that there’s a problem with the customer’s account or debit card.

You can guess at the rest. There are frantic-sounding instructions to click on a link or phone number contained in the message. Failure to do so will cause some horrendous problem with the account, card or the customer’s credit rating.

The fix is easy, says the text. Just type in your account or card information and any passwords that you can remember. The sender will take care of everything — like emptying your account or running up bogus charges.

The message seems to come from a customer’s financial institution. On its website, the Maine Credit Union League said members of at least two credit unions in eastern and central Maine appear to have been targeted.

The phony text message said their debit cards had been compromised and to call either 844-334-6152 or 844-611-0709. People who called either number were asked for their card numbers and CVV codes. Divulging that or other personal or financial information is a bad idea.

The superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Financial Institutions says consumers should not fall for the hoax.

“Banks and credit unions will not text, call or email customers asking them to divulge account numbers, PINs or Social Security numbers,” Lloyd LaFountain III said.

LaFountain said if a consumer believes he or she has received a scam text, the consumer should:

— Not return the text or call the number provided.

— Never provide personal or financial information following such a request. Banks and credit unions will never request personal account information that way.

The Bureau of Financial Institutions has a consumer library containing hints about spotting and avoiding financial scams. There’s also a consumer specialist on staff who can answer questions about scams or accounts in general.

If you’re unsure after receiving an unsolicited email, call someone at the bureau, instead of clicking on anything in the message. The bureau’s phone number is 207-624-8570, and its website is maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/index.shtml.

Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection has published the Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Gone Phishing. It also contains tips to detect and avoid scams.

Find it online at Credit.Maine.gov; it’s listed under “Consumer Guides.” Call the bureau (1-800-332-8529) with any questions about protecting your credit.

The Federal Trade Commission also has a wealth of information on its website. Learn about phishing and other scams at consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Being a smart consumer starts with knowing when not to spend

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 29, 2016, at 1:44 p.m.

Last week, many financial and government agencies marked America Saves Week. Military Saves Week, focused on families of armed services personnel, took place at the same time.

The occasions reminded us of a hard reality of our economic lives: It’s never too soon, or too late, to start saving. The sooner the better, of course; but saving is a habit that must be learned, whenever the lesson comes.

For Karen Amador Lesetmoe, a single mom in the U.S. Navy, the lesson began eight years ago. Tired of living paycheck to paycheck, she made the checklist of income and expenses that most smart savers make. She cut expenses to the bone, paid off credit card debt first and socked away every spare cent in savings. She paid off loans as fast as she could.

Now, she’s well on the way to a secure financial future. She’s such a believer in saving as a way of life that she told her fiancé she would not marry him until he paid off his $18,000 in credit card debt.

“We got married last month!” she wrote triumphantly on the Military Saves website (www.militarysaves.org).

America Saves Week is an educational effort to raise awareness about saving; the program is managed by the Consumer Federation of America. Organizers hope that consumers will practice good budgeting and saving habits year-round.

Read more about the campaign at www.americasaves.org and www.AmericaSavesWeek.org.

The American Savings Education Council, or ASEC, is a program of the Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund. It’s a nonprofit coalition of public- and private-sector groups that strive to make saving and retirement planning priorities for everyone. Read more about the council’s efforts at www.choosetosave.org/asec.

Another observance comes along next week, with a broader focus. National Consumer Protection Week (March 6-12) reminds all of us that it takes a lot more than a fat wallet to be a good consumer. We need to take primary responsibility for our own economic well-being. And if we’re really responsible citizens, we’ll pass helpful information on to others.

There are plenty of helpful tips and links at the Consumer Protection Week website, www.ncpw.gov. One blog entry cautions consumers that promises to lower student loan or mortgage payments may instead be schemes to take your money and give you nothing in return.

Maine’s Bureau of Financial Institutions website includes a number of links on a range of consumer topics, from bankruptcy to unclaimed property. Visit www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/index.shtml and find “consumer library” under the Consumer Tools listing.

The U.S. Office of Comptroller of the Currency website includes updates, events and resources on financial literacy. Use the free resources you’ll find at the site (www.occ.gov/topics/community-affairs/resource-directories/financial-literacy/financial-literacy-update.html).

You may know all you need to know about saving and being a smart consumer. If so, pay it forward: Tell a friend or family member about the many, free resources that can help them be equally savvy.

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.

Home equity loan payback crunch looms as next housing crisis

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted June 07, 2015, at 12:18 p.m.

Click image for Federal Reserve publication

Home equity loans offer homeowners a line of credit based on the value of their dwellings. A lot of homeowners opened home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, between 2005 and 2008, when the housing market crashed.

Today, HELOCs from that period total about $265 billion. Those loans are about to enter what’s called the drawdown period, when they have to be paid back. And while many of those loan arrangements allowed borrowing for interest-only payments over a 10-year period, borrowers will face principal-plus-interest payments that could be sharply higher.

Experian, one of the big three credit reporting agencies in the U.S., released a report not long ago citing concern over the end-of-draw issue.

“Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 307 percent increase in the number of 90-day delinquencies on HELOC loans for borrowers that were end of draw, compared to just 29 percent that were not end of draw,” Experian said in its report.

The report noted that the percentage of HELOCs that are 90 to 180 days past due, termed “late stage delinquent,” has dropped 0.5 percent from its peak of 1.81 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, more homeowners have been using HELOCs; new loans in the fourth quarter of last year were up 81 percent from the fourth quarter of 2010.

Experian’s report doesn’t predict either good or bad results of this increased borrowing, but its study does caution consumers to do their homework.

Michele Raneri, Experian’s vice president of analytics and business development, put it this way: “This analysis is critical, as we want to not only help lenders prepare and understand the payment stress of their borrowers but also give consumers an opportunity to understand what the impact may be to their financial status and how to be better prepared for it.”

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, or OCC, sounded the alarm back in 2012, when about $11 billion in HELOCs reached the end-of-draw period. At that time, OCC predicted the figure would be $29 billion in 2014, $53 billion in 2015 and as much as $111 billion in 2018.

The crunch for borrowers could come when the Fed loosens its grip on interest rates.

The Experian study concludes that, if there is a significant balance on a consumer’s HELOC and that consumer must start repaying, those new payments could put the borrower in a financial squeeze.

Banks that finance the HELOCs generally reach out to consumers six to 12 months before the end of the draw period. They remind consumers of the approaching change in payments and offer to discuss options. Many of those consumers likely will turn to refinancing. Such programs usually operate on a variable interest rate; as an official of TD Bank recently was quoted as saying, “Nobody knows what rates will do a year from now.”

Consumers may want to talk with their loan officers or a financial adviser before deciding. You can read more about HELOCs in the Downeaster Common Sense Guide to Finding, Buying and Keeping Your Maine Home, published by Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. Read it online at maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/documents/MortgageGuide.rtf. Help also is available from the Bureau by calling 1-800-332-8529.

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.

Elder Financial Abuse – WABI-TV

Monday, February 17th, 2014 at 8:38 am.

Russ and Joy talk about elder financial abuse.  VIDEO

Senior$afe will be training bank and credit union employees to spot signs of elder financial abuse when elderly people are making transactions.

If you suspect a senior is being abused, financially or otherwise you can call Maine Adult Protective Services at 1-800-624-8404.

 

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Check your account for irregular activity in wake of the Target credit card breach

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Dec. 22, 2013, at 8:50 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 22, 2013, at 9:39 a.m.

If you swiped your credit or debit card at a Target store between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 and you haven’t checked your account, do it now. Especially if you used a debit card.

The breach of computer data Target announced last week affected 40 million card accounts. Stolen data included customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the code that’s embedded on the magnetic stripe on the rear of the card. There’s no evidence that three- or four-digit security codes on the back of the cards were revealed.

Target hasn’t said how the breach happened but did say it has fixed the problem. Gregg Steinhafel, Chairman, President and CEO of Target, said in a statement, “Target’s first priority is preserving the trust of our guests, and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence.” However, a lot of Target shoppers must be feeling less than confident over the second-largest data breach in U.S. history.

Maine officials were quick to urge customers of the chain to be on guard. People with the Bureau of Financial Institutions and Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation say in cases like the Target breach, consumers can be their own best advocates.

Target customers should check their debit and credit accounts for any irregular activity; that’s true if a card was used in a store, or if it is unclear whether a card was used (no problems have surfaced with online transactions). Customers who can access their account information online should do so at once, rather than waiting for a statement to come in the mail.

If there’s unfamiliar or suspicious activity on the account, consumers should notify the financial institution that issued the credit or debit card. They do not need to contact Target; the store has added extra workers due to a crush of calls at its customer service number, 1-866-852-8680. People who have Target’s own debit and credit cards — called Red Cards — should contact the company (many reportedly had trouble getting through soon after the breach was announced).

On credit cards, consumers’ liability for unauthorized use is capped at $50. If consumers report a lost card to the issuer before the credit card is used, the customer can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. When a card hasn’t been lost but account numbers were stolen, consumers have no liability for unauthorized use. Your cardholder agreement may give you added information.

Holders of debit cards who spot unauthorized activity due to a data breach have 60 days from when the bank or credit union sent the statement to report the matter. If consumers don’t meet that deadline, they are liable for the amount of the unauthorized transactions.

Consumers whose debit card has been lost or stolen have two business days after discovering the loss or theft to notify the financial institution to limit their liability to $50. If they miss that deadline, consumers can be held liable for up to $500 of unauthorized transactions. If consumers don’t notify their institutions within 60 days of getting a monthly statement that lists a fraudulent debit, they could be liable for ANY unauthorized withdrawals after the 60-day period.

Consumers who are hit with unauthorized charges or withdrawals should first call the credit union or bank that issued the card, then follow up in writing to detail the problem. Some banks and credit unions may issue new cards to customers whose accounts were known to have been breached. And consumers can ask to have a card re-issued if they’re concerned about their accounts.

For more information, call Maine’s Bureau of Financial Institutions toll-free at 1-800-965-5235 or the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 1-800-332-8529.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visithttps://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

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