Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category

State Consumer Agency Urges Responsible Use of “Plastic” During Holiday Gift-Giving Season

PRESS RELEASE

MAINE BUREAU OF CONSUMER CREDIT PROTECTIO
35 SHS, Augusta, Maine 04333
November 20, 2017

Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection is offering a free, updated consumer protection publication, The Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Credit Cards, Paper or Plastic in advance of the 2017 holiday shopping season. The booklet is available without charge to Maine residents by calling 1-800-332-8529.

“The Black Friday and winter 2017 holiday shopping season is nearly upon us, and Mainers, like others across the United States, are faced with many buying decisions in a relatively short five-week gift-buying period,” said Dave Leach, who handles outreach and education for the state agency and who co-authored the booklet. “This ‘Common Sense Guide to Credit Cards’ reminds consumers that while they should certainly participate in the holiday traditions of gift-giving, they should also try to avoid overspending with their credit cards, which can result in overwhelming debt in their January card statements.”

“The holiday shopping season is an exciting time for consumers and retailers,” continued Leach, “with many Maine businesses making a large percentage of their annual sales during that important shopping period between the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Good personal economic choices made by consumers utilizing credit cards will allow those consumers to begin 2018 on a positive economic note.”

Leach explained that this Downeaster guide provides the following helpful advice on consumer shopping topics including:

· Recognizing when it makes more sense to use cash, a debit card, or even a charge card – the latter of which requires payment in full each month – rather than a credit card during the holiday season;

· How purchasing a percentage of holiday gifts with cash, checks or a debit card helps avoid high January 2018 credit card bills or low checking and savings account balances.

· How to comparison-shop for a credit card, find one with the lowest Annual Percentage Rate (APR), and switch to that lower APR card, saving interest;

· Understanding the importance of striving to pay your credit card balance off in full each month, or at least paying more than the minimum monthly payment, and resolving to retire all card balances within a several-month period;

· Understanding the consumer legal protections associated with credit card, charge card and debit card purchases, and how to deal with billing errors and theft or loss of cards;

· Helpful tips for safe on-line shopping with credit cards, and the value of using a credit card, with its inherent consumer protections, for on-line gift purchases; and

· The importance of checking credit card, charge card and bank account statements for illegal/unauthorized charges, considering the recent high profile data breaches which have occurred in the past few years.

“This publication features a balanced approach to the use credit cards, debit cards and charge cards,” Leach said. “Plastic, when used wisely, can be a useful financial tool for many people, but they can also cause serious problems for individual and families if not used responsibly. This guide can assist consumers to make careful use of bank and credit union credit, debit and charge cards.”

Online versions of the Downeaster Credit Card Guide, and all other Downeaster Common Sense financial literacy publications on topics such as Student Loans, Mortgage Loans, Auto Buying and Financing, and Elder Financial Protection, can be found at http://www.Credit.Maine.gov by clicking “Publications.” Copies can also be ordered by calling the Bureau at 1-800-332-8529 (toll-free in Maine) or (207) 624-8527.

###

The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection was established in 1975 to enforce a variety of credit-related consumer laws. The bureau licenses lenders, creditors and collectors; conducts periodic examinations of creditors to determine compliance with state laws; and responds to consumer complaints and inquiries. The Office also conducts educational seminars and provides speakers to advise consumers and creditors of their legal rights and responsibilities.
Advertisements

Consumers impacted by scams utilizing Western Union may now seek compensation from $586M fund

Attorney General Mills encourages fraud victims to file claims

PRESS RELEASE

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
November 13, 2017
CONTACT: Andrew Roth-Wells Telephone: (207) 626-8887

AUGUSTA – Mainers who were deceived into sending payments to scammers using Western Union’s wire transfer service between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017 may now apply for compensation from a $586 million fund administered by the Department of Justice’s Victim Asset Recovery Program. This fund is related to a multi-state settlement with Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and 49 other states, the District of Columbia, and Western Union that was first announced in January.

Mainers who reported to the Maine Office of the Attorney General that they had been the victim of a scam using Western Union will receive a claim form in the mail in the coming weeks, which will contain instructions explaining how to file a claim for compensation. If you do not receive a claim form in the mail but believe you may have an eligible claim, visit http://www.westernunionremission.com or call 1-844-319-2124.

“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 file for reimbursement from this fund,” said Attorney General Mills. “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 get some of your money back. If you ever wire money, 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.”

In order to receive restitution under the settlement claims forms must be mailed back to the settlement administrator by February 12, 2018. Attorney General Mills encourages consumers to reach out to the Consumer Protection Division if they have questions or concerns at consumer.mediation@maine.gov , (207) 626-8849 or 1-800-436-2131.

#

Original story

SCAM ALERT: Senate Aging Committee Warns to Beware of Scams Targeting Veterans

Need Help? Call the Senate Aging Committee’s Toll Free Fraud Hotline:  1-855-303-9470

Washington, D.C.—Veterans Day is a day set aside to honor the sacrifices made by our nation’s veterans and their families. Yet, there are scam artists who target these men and women as potential victims and who try to capitalize on patriotism to rob all Americans of their hard-earned money.

As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), have made fighting fraud against older Americans a top priority.

This Veterans Day, they are warning the public of various scams that specifically target veterans.  Some of these schemes include benefit scams, imposter scams, or charity scams that use the word “veteran” to try and trick unsuspecting donors into giving money to fraudsters.

“Veterans Day is a day to honor and thank those who served in our nation’s armed forces” said Senator Collins. “Despite our deep gratitude for their service and sacrifice, the unfortunate reality is there are criminals and scammers who will always exploit others to make a quick buck. We must keep working to ensure the public is aware of these scams, which can either target our nation’s heroes or prey on those who want to support them.”

“On Veterans Day, and every day, it is important that we honor the extraordinary sacrifice of those who put their life on the line to serve, defend and protect our country and fellow citizens,” Senator Casey said. “It is our duty to ensure that our veterans, their families and caregivers do not become victims to scam artists who seek to defraud them of their hard-earned benefits. I will continue working to stop unscrupulous people who try to profit in the name of patriotism.”

Charity scams that target people’s sense of giving and patriotism are particularly prevalent around Veterans Day.  Criminals posing as charitable organizations and claiming to benefit veterans and their families will often use the word “veteran” to try and trick unsuspecting Americans.

Donors who want to give money to a legitimate veteran’s organization this Veterans Day should make sure to look into the charity and make a direct payment rather than making a payment through a wire transfer or gift cards.

Benefit scams, or pension advances, will try to charge veterans who are seeking to claim benefits they rightfully earned through the Veterans Administration (VA).  Advisers, who are approved by the VA to help veterans file a pension or other claims, are never allowed to charge for their services.  In addition, imposter scams involve someone claiming to be from the VA seeking personal information.  If you are contacted by someone, either by phone or email, claiming to represent the VA and requesting payment for services or wanting to confirm your personal information, disregard the solicitation and contact the VA directly for assistance.

Other scams can involve phony sales or rentals on the Internet offering veterans or military discounts.  Always be suspicious of anyone requesting upfront payments via wire transfer or gift cards.

Americans who suspect fraud can contact experienced investigators at the Senate Aging Committee’s toll-free Fraud Hotline.

If you have questions or believe you are the victim of a scam, call 1-855-303-9470.

###

Mainers Encouraged to Document and Report Wind Storm 2017 Damage

PRESS RELEASE

November 3, 2017
Maine Emergency Management Agency

 

AUGUSTA, MAINE — As the state-wide response and recovery effort continues in Maine following a devastating wind storm that caused power outages to nearly a half million electricity customers as well as tree damage, flooding and property damage, many are asking how to report those damages.

Individuals

  • Report damages to 2-1-1 Maine. This information will be used to assess damages and will be provided to the individual’s town to enable them to learn who has storm-related damages. Callers will be asked a series of questions. By reporting this damage, callers are not applying for assistance, and should continue to pursue the steps and resources below.
  • Callers should keep their documentation of the damage and cost of items damaged or spoiled as well as receipts for any repairs in a safe place (receipts, photos and other documents).
  • File a claim with homeowner’s or auto insurance.
  • Those who cannot afford to fix damage from the storm should contact their municipal General Assistance Officer for assistance that may be available under 22 M.R.S.A. � 430.
  • Check with local food pantries if you lost food.
  • Community Action Programs may be able to provide some assistance to those who meet certain income guidelines.
  • Current SNAP benefit recipients may be able to obtain a voucher to replace lost food. Contact the Office of Family Independence at 855-797-4357.
  • Individuals can also contact 2-1-1 Maine for referrals for assistance.

Farmers

  • Farmers who experience losses and need assistance should contact USDA Farm Service Agency at 207-990-9140.

Businesses

  • Businesses should report losses to their local Economic Development Corporation.

For additional preparedness, shelter, resource and safety information, please visit MainePrepares.com, or visit MEMA on Facebook or Twitter.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills warns public about new phone scam

Callers claiming to alert recipient of grant award from DHHS

AUGUSTA – Attorney General Janet Mills is warning the public of a new phone scam in which the caller tells the recipient that they have received an award from Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. The call recipient is then asked to pay $200 for an access code to get the award.

AG Mills stated that one individual received a phone call claiming that the consumer had awarded a grant of money from the Department of Health and Human Services. The caller asked the individual to pay $200 for an access code to receive the grant.

“If you receive a similar call, don’t be fooled,” said Mills. “The government will not call you to ask for your credit card information over the phone.”

Recently, many Mainers have encountered similar scams via Facebook messenger, where someone they “know” has heard of some grant and wants to share their good fortune with you. Often, the person you know is a spoofed profile of your friend, and it is a scam.

Sometimes the scammer poses as a government official. The scammer may even have an account with a name and photo that matches that of a real office or public official. The scammer tells the potential victim that they have qualified for a free monetary grant from the government that does not have to be paid back. All the victim has to do is pay a small processing fee and the larger sum of money will be released. No matter how much money is sent to the scammers, no grants are ever released.

“Scammers are always coming up with new ways to convince you to part with your hard-earned money,” said Attorney General Mills. “If any one tells you that you can have something for nothing – they are lying to you. No governmental agency conducts business or financial transactions via Facebook or instant messenger and they will never demand that you wire money or make a payment by a prepaid money service or any card you can buy in a convenience store. If you receive one of these offers, ignore it, delete it or block the sender. If you send them any money, you will never see it again.”

If you receive a message like this, you should report it to the service provider (for instance if you are using Facebook, report it to Facebook), as they may be able to shut down the suspect account.

Consumers can contact the Maine Attorney General’s Office with questions or concerns about these kinds of scams or other issues they have had with a business. They are encouraged to contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division State House Station 6 Augusta, ME 04333-0006 Consumer.mediation@maine.gov Tel: 1-800-436-2131

The Office of the Attorney General also offers tips on how to avoid scams at http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/scams.shtml.

###

Maine Insurance Superintendent Clarifies Issues Related to Open Enrollment Period of ACA Individual Market

Press Release

October 24, 2017
Contact: Judith Watters, Consumer Outreach Specialist
Phone: (207) 624-8455

AUGUSTA – “Most Maine residents who purchase insurance through the ACA Marketplace will have several plan options and, for those who qualify for federal subsidies, may find that they don’t have to pay much more for coverage in 2018,” Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa stated. He shared these key points:

Those who qualify for premium subsidies will still receive them in 2018, and those who qualify for cost savings reductions will still receive them.

• Even though premium rates are increasing, individuals and families with premium subsidies will likely see them off-set by increases in premium subsidies.
• Even though insurance companies will not receive reimbursements from the federal government for providing cost savings reductions (CSR), the insurance companies must still provide the cost savings reductions to low-income individuals and families who qualify, and who purchase a Silver plan through healthcare.gov.

Those without subsidies are advised to avoid inadvertently purchasing a higher priced Silver plan.

• To cover the loss of CSR payments, insurance companies priced Marketplace Silver plans higher than they otherwise would have. Because any plan offered on the Marketplace must also be offered off the Marketplace, these higher priced Silver plans could potentially be sold to individuals without subsidies.

• Some less expensive Silver plans will be offered off the Marketplace, only; these, along with Bronze and Gold plans, will be a better value to those without subsidies.

• Individuals without subsidies who currently have a Silver plan will want to guard against being automatically re-enrolled into a high priced Silver plan, by actively shopping.

Those with subsidies may find that Bronze and Gold plans are more affordable than in the past.

• Those who qualify for cost-savings reductions will still only qualify for them by purchasing a Marketplace Silver plan.

• However, because the cost of Silver plans on the Marketplace has increased disproportionately compared to Bronze and Silver plans, a premium subsidy applied to a Bronze plan will stretch further (though cost-sharing will be higher); and a subsidized Gold plan may not cost much more than a subsidized Silver (and cost-sharing will be lower).

Compare all costs, not just the premiums, as well as networks, providers and drug formularies.

• Look at deductibles, co-insurance, copays and maximum out of pocket amounts to determine the total cost of a plan, based on your health and anticipated use of services.

• The Bureau’s rate calculator at maine.gov/insurance makes it easy to find out which plans are available and their estimated rates. The calculator does NOT apply premium subsidies. Individuals who purchase plans through the Marketplace will be able to calculate their estimated premium subsidy at healthcare.gov.

• Make sure your preferred providers and medications are covered by the specific plan you are considering. Bureau staff, ACA Navigators and Assistors, as well as Agents and Brokers can help with this.

Don’t wait until the last minute – start now. Open Enrollment is just six weeks – Nov 1 – Dec 15.

• New plans must be purchased by December 15 to have coverage for 2018 and to avoid a tax penalty. Look at your options, ask questions, choose a plan, complete an application and (if applicable) update financial and household information on healthcare.gov soon, to avoid encountering a bottleneck as enrollment comes to a close.

Letters from Insurers to Current Members

Individuals who are either 1) currently enrolled in a plan with Community Health Options or Harvard Pilgrim on or off the Marketplace, or 2) are currently enrolled in an off-Marketplace Anthem plan, and who continue to pay their premium, will be auto-enrolled in their current plan for 2018 (or one like it, if their current plan is terminating), unless they shop and sign up for a different plan.

Anthem, Community Health Options and Harvard Pilgrim will send letters to their members informing them of their right to purchase a new plan, or to simply auto-re-enroll by continuing their payments. The letters will explain any changes to members’ current plans.

Anthem members who currently have a Marketplace plan can actively choose to stay with Anthem by selecting a new Anthem off-Marketplace plan without subsidies, or they can actively shop for a new Marketplace plan with another company. Otherwise, they will be assigned to another Marketplace plan with another company by healthcare.gov, based on their geographical location (they will receive a letter from healthcare.gov explaining the new plan they’ve been assigned).

Additional Information and Resources

Consumer Health Care Division: Bureau staff members are available to answer questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached by dialing 1-800-300-5000 or 207-624-8475 (TTY please use Maine Relay 711). Emailed questions can be sent to insurance.pfr@maine.gov.

Other sources of assistance: Find an insurance broker or agent, a Marketplace Navigator or Assister near you at enroll207.com. Consumers can also contact the insurers directly to ask questions about covered services, providers, medications, and cost-sharing or to purchase unsubsidized plans.

Last Updated: October 24, 2017 4:05 PM

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.

%d bloggers like this: