Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category

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

Treasurer Hayes Warns of Suspicious, Unofficial Unclaimed Property Websites or Notices

State Treasurer Seeking Rightful Owners of Property, Urges Caution Against Suspicious Websites

PRESS RELEASE
04/13/2017 12:28 PM EDT

AUGUSTA – New scams, promising to return unclaimed property for a fee, are targeting Maine residents through unofficial websites and notices in the mail.

State Treasurer Terry Hayes is warning residents to be wary of these websites and to be cautious of mailings or emails stating that you have unclaimed property with the State of Maine. “Each year, new schemes are created that attempt to take advantage of Mainer’s familiarity with our Unclaimed Property Program. While there are many differences between our program and these schemes, the easiest way to spot a scheme is if it asks for payment information.” says Treasurer Hayes.

The Office of the State Treasurer does maintain a list of unclaimed property, and receives new properties each year. However, there is no fee for you to review the list, or to claim your property. To ensure that you are obtaining the correct information for unclaimed property with the State of Maine, go to the official website  or call the Treasurer’s Office at (207) 624-7470. To search for unclaimed property in other states, visit www.missingmoney.com, a nationally recognized database of state unclaimed property programs.

Unclaimed Property consists of cash and other financial assets that are considered lost or abandoned when an owner cannot be located after a specified period of time. It includes, among other items, checking accounts, certificates of deposit, over payments, gift certificates, life insurance policies, unpaid wages, uncashed checks, death benefits, dividends, insurance payments, refunds, savings accounts, stocks and contents of safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed Property does not include real estate, animals or vehicles. During the period from July 2016 through March 2017, over 17,000 Mainers reclaimed more than $13 million of lost funds.

Information for Maine JobLink Account Holders

More than 12,000 resumes in the database

America’s JobLink (AJL) Data Incident

Press Release
TOPEKA, Kan., March 21, 2017 – America’s JobLink (AJL), a multi-state web-based system that links job seekers with employers, has been the victim of a hacking incident from an outside source. AJLA–TS is developed and maintained by American’s Job Link Alliance–Technical Support (AJLA–TS). AJLA–TS has been in business for almost 50 years; this is the first known intrusion AJLA–TS has experienced.

On March 21st, AJLA–TS confirmed that a malicious third party “hacker” exploited a vulnerability in the AJL application code to view the names, Social Security Numbers, and dates of birth of job seekers in the AJL systems of up to ten states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, and Vermont. Upon discovery of this activity, AJLA–TS immediately intervened and deployed its technical team to assess and stop the incursion, disabling the hacker’s access to the AJL systems.

AJLA–TS is working diligently with law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend the perpetrator. An independent forensic firm is completing work to determine how many job seeker accounts may have been viewed and where those individuals are located. The firm has verified that the method of the hacker’s attack has been remediated and is no longer a threat to the AJLA–TS system.

AJLA–TS also develops and maintains ReportLink, a workforce program data management system, and CertLink, a Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) management system. The forensic firm has concluded that the code vulnerability did not affect those systems.

Media and individuals with additional questions should contact Christine Bohannon, Director, AJLA–TS at christineb@ajla.net.

Information for Maine JobLink Account Holders, Especially Those Containing Valid Social Security Numbers

New accounts created on or after March 16 are not affected.

Job seeker accounts that include a valid Social Security Number are potentially at most risk. To check this please log into your JobLink account; as long as you were not actively filing for unemployment benefits you can delete your Social Security Number from your JobLink account. You can do this online without calling the department.

Additional information will be sent to the email on file in Maine JobLink to individuals determined most at risk in accordance with state law.

The department recommends that you put a freeze on your credit report if you had a valid Social Security Number in your JobLink account. Maine law allows you to freeze your credit report for free.

A credit freeze will prevent unauthorized parties from accessing your credit report unless you give them specific permission. Freezing your credit will not affect your credit score. The three Credit Reporting Agencies are Equifax, https://www.freeze.equifax.com ; Experian, https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html ; and Trans Union, http://www.transunion.com/securityfreeze .

It is possible for you to place a free, 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting organizations, and to extend the 90-day alert by calling for an extension after the initial 90 days.

Under Maine law, you are also entitled to a free credit report from the three reporting agencies each year. Detailed instructions for taking these steps are available on the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation’s website, http://www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/consumer/credit_report.htm .

Questions can be addressed by calling the Maine Department of Labor at 1-888-457-8883. Due to an expected high call volume, your patience is appreciated.

 

In First Move on Student Loans, Administration Announces Fee Hike on Struggling Borrowers

Education Department to Allow Debt Collectors to Charge 16% Default Penalty

The Consumer Federation of America press release

Washington, D.C. – In its first major policy decision on student loan issues, the U.S. Department of Education took action to give agencies collecting on certain defaulted student debt the right to charge a 16% fee to borrowers who promptly seek to back their loans. The action reverses previous guidance that forbid fees that lead to ballooning borrower costs.

“The Administration’s first move on the student loan default crisis will do nothing to stop the tidal wave of defaults that is sweeping across the nation,” said Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and the former Student Loan Ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “With more than 3,000 Americans defaulting on a student loan every day, this just adds insult to injury.”

Current guidance forbids the guaranty agencies that collect on defaulted debt to tack on large collection fees if the student loan borrower makes – and honors – a repayment arrangement within 60 days of the notice of default. Federal student loans typically enter a default status when borrowers are 270 days late on their payments. Due to servicing mistakes, many borrowers may be learning about problems with their loan for the first time. These agencies are entitled to “reasonable” collection costs under existing law, but hefty fees were considered inappropriate for borrowers who promptly seek to address their default.

The action applies only to borrowers who took out loans from banks and other institutions, not Federal Direct Loans.

One of these agencies, USA Funds, fought the Education Department for the right to charge large collection fees to these borrowers who quickly make arrangements to get out of default.

Last week, the Consumer Federation of America released an analysis that showed that 1.1 million Americans defaulted on a federal student loan in 2016. Americans are now in default on $137 billion in federal student loans.

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.

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Link for managing student loans

Maine Ranks Among Most Affordable States for Personal Auto and Homeowners Insurance

PRESS RELEASE – Bureau of Insurance, 2/10/2017

The State also has the nation’s second lowest percentage of uninsured drivers at 4.7%, and continues to have the lowest average homeowners premiums in New England

GARDINER –Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa announced that Maine continues to be among the top states in the nation for most affordable homeowners and personal auto insurance rates.

For the fourth year in a row, Maine ranks 3rd for lowest average auto insurance premiums, nationally, and for the third year in a row the state ranks 10th for lowest average homeowners premiums nationally, according to recently released reports by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Maine continues to have the lowest average homeowners premiums in New England.

  • The NAIC’s Auto Insurance Database Report provides the average costs associated with personal automobile insurance and includes state-by-state auto insurance data and analysis for insurance regulators, consumers and lawmakers.  The types of auto insurance coverage included in the report are bodily injury and property damage liability, uninsured and underinsured motorist, medical payment, collision, and comprehensive.
  • The NAIC’s Homeowners Insurance Report provides data on market distribution and average cost by policy form and amount of insurance.  Data is collected from insurance statistical agents or reported directly to the NAIC and includes national and state-specific premium and exposure information for homeowners policies, as well as non-commercial dwelling fire insurance policies.

“Despite having coverage requirements that exceed those in most other states, Maine continues to have consistently low average auto premiums,” Superintendent Cioppa said.  “And our State also remains among the most affordable for homeowner’s insurance.”

According to the Insurance Research Council, Maine also continues to have one of the lowest percentages of uninsured motorists, at 4.7%.

More information is available from the NAIC (www.naic.org).  Maine consumers and business owners with questions about auto, home, business or other lines of insurance are encouraged to contact the Bureau of Insurance by calling 1-800-300-5000 or sending a message to Insurance.PFR@maine.gov.

State Consumer Protection Officials Announce ‘Top 10’ New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Financial Health

PRESS RELEASE

GARDINER – With a New Year approaching, it’s time for resolutions.  While most people think of resolutions related to their physical health, such as eating better and getting back in shape, staff at Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection are encouraging individual and families to also resolve to improve their “financial health” in 2017.

Bureau Superintendent Will Lund announced a Top 10 list of Financial Health New Year’s Resolutions, based on the agency’s discussions with hundreds of consumers who called the Bureau’s hotline (1-800-DEBT-LAW) for assistance and advice during 2016:

1) I resolve to check my credit reports with each major credit reporting agency (Trans Union, Equifax and Experian) at least once this year, which I can do for free by going to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

2)  I resolve to reduce or eliminate credit card balances, and to use cash or a debit card whenever possible. I resolve to consider doing business with banks or credit unions that have offices here in Maine, because then if a problem arises I can go visit a real live person to resolve it.

3)  I resolve to be suspicious of offers that involve romantic relationships with individuals I have “met” only online, and offers involving Nigerian finance ministers who claim to need my help moving large amounts of money out of their country.

4)  I resolve not to send funds in order to claim foreign “sweepstakes” winnings when I didn’t even enter the sweepstakes contest.

5)  I resolve to purchase a telephone Caller ID and an answering machine for my elderly relatives who are bothered by too many junk calls, and teach them how to use the system, reminding them that “real” friends and family who call will leave a message.

6)  I resolve to stay in touch with elderly relatives, encouraging them to tell me or their friends if they are presented with investment opportunities. Further, I will remember that investments are governed by the Maine Office of Securities, whose helpful staff can tell someone whether the investment they are being offered has been properly registered with the state.

7)  I resolve to take my time when making a big purchase like an automobile or major appliance, learning all I can about the product beforehand, visiting more than one retailer, negotiating the best price, getting all aspects of the deal in writing, and walking away if the sales pitch becomes pressured.

8)  I resolve not be intimidated by collection calls demanding payment for debts I do not owe. I will remember that debt collectors must be licensed by the state, and that the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection stands ready to provide assistance and to enforce the laws.

9)   I resolve to be suspicious of any phone call I receive from someone I don’t know, including callers who tell me that a virus has been detected on my computer and that I must turn on my computer and give the caller access in order to fix the problem.

10)  If I find myself providing credit card numbers over the phone to someone I don’t know on a call I did not initiate, or if I find myself at the Western Union window or purchasing prepaid cash cards to send money to someone I don’t know, I resolve to recognize that I am likely being scammed, and I will seek advice and assistance.

 Superintendent Lund urges people with questions about items in this Top 10 list, or any other issues related to consumer credit or financial concerns to contact the Bureau.  The website is www.Credit.Maine.gov and the phone number is 1-800-332-8529 (toll-free in Maine) or 624-8527.

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.

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