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.