Consumer Contact: Tech Support Phone Scams – WABI-TV

Russ and Joy discussed tech support phone scams that have been gaining popularity. Russ says due to Maine’s older population, our state is a prime target for these phone calls.

One key tip-off that Russ mentioned, is many of these scammers will drop the name “Microsoft,” saying they’ve “detected trouble with your computer.” Right away this should tip you off: Microsoft does not make “cold calls.” They will give technical help ONLY if a customer initiates the dialogue.

Scammers using this technique have been known to:

  • Try to get you to download malicious software that can capture personal information
  • Get you to visit phony websites that connect you to malicious software
  • Ask for credit card information to make phony charges
  • Send you to fake websites to enter personal information

Russ says the number one rule to remember when you think you might be dealing with one of these scammers: “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

Identity thieves try to cash in during tax filing season

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 01, 2015, at 9:53 a.m.

click image to report scams, waste and abuse

Two headlines top the news near the start of this income tax season.

Thieves who steal Social Security numbers and other personal data do so in order to file phony tax returns and claim rebates they’re not owed.

And crooks posing as Internal Revenue Service officials are calling people and, in many cases, bullying them into sending money they don’t owe.

They use common names and all kinds of tricks. They may say they’re calling from the IRS criminal division. They might have technology that will spoof a caller ID, making it appear they’re calling from a real IRS office. They threaten those they consider easier targets — such as older people and recent immigrants — with fines, jail terms, job loss, even deportation.

The crooks do their homework before calling. They might know a person’s Social Security number — or at least the last four digits — and other personal details that lend credence to their pitch. Demanding immediate payment is a tipoff it’s a scam — the real IRS first would notify you by letter of any official action — and the agency never would demand payment by a debit card or wire transfer.

Losing a one-time payment is bad enough. Thousands of taxpayers have filed their income taxes only to find a crook has stolen their identities, filed fraudulently and collected their refunds illegally.

The IRS says after such discoveries, it takes an average of four months to get a refund to its rightful recipient. That person also needs to go through the hassle associated with identity theft. Perhaps ironically, prisoners’ Social Security numbers often are tempting targets, because inmates are less apt to be on top of their tax or banking activities.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, says it has received reports of 290,000 scam calls since October 2013, and nearly 3,000 victims have lost a total of $14 million. The IRS has been working to curb these crimes, saying it spotted 19 million suspicious returns since 2011 and prevented more than $63 billion in fraudulent returns. Read about ways to spot impersonators and report scams at Treasury.gov/tigta.

Consumers can and should take all the usual steps to prevent fraud: use firewalls and antivirus software, use strong passwords and change them often on all online accounts and reveal your Social Security number only when it’s absolutely necessary.

If you become a victim, the IRS says it wants to help. Read about the agency’s prevention and detection efforts at IRS.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection.

The IRS is also warning consumers about unscrupulous preparers who push filers to make inflated claims. Often, these preparers will demand an up-front fee; they may also refuse to give the taxpayer a copy of the return. Both are things that legitimate tax preparation pros don’t do.

You may qualify for free help preparing your income tax filings. Seniors can check with AARP or the local agency on aging. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program gives free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, have disabilities, are older or who speak little English and need help preparing their returns.

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 necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Sunbeam Recalls Holmes Oil Filled Heaters Due to Scald Hazard | CPSC.gov

Recall Summary

Name of product: Oil-Filled Heater

Hazard: The oil-filled heaters can spray heated oil, posing a scald hazard.

Refund

 

Remedy

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heater, unplug it and contact Sunbeam for instructions on how to obtain a full refund.

Sold at

Target and small department stores nationwide from August 2014 through November 2014 for about $50.

Description

This recall involves Holmes brand oil-filled heaters that are black or white in color. The heaters included in the recall are about 23 inches tall, 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide and have model number HOH3000 or HOH3000B printed on a label on the bottom of the product. The “Holmes” logo is near the power switch and temperature control. Products affected have a code on the heater plug blade within the following range: G192 through G298.  No other codes are affected.

Incidents/Injuries

The firm has received approximately 40 reports of units that unexpectedly sprayed heated oil, resulting in reports of property damage involving damaged carpet and fabrics. No injuries reported.

Consumer Contact:

Sunbeam Products, Inc. at (800) 515-4715 anytime, or online at www.holmesproducts.com and click on “Oil Filled Heater Recall” for more information.

 

Who keeps track of whether financial advisers give good advice?

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Jan. 25, 2015, at 12:18 p.m.

We’ve all heard stories about people who lose money through bad investments.

Some put money into schemes advanced by friends or family members. Other people might get “tips” from a variety of sources that promise their advice will lead to a “sure thing.” Still others might overhear investment advice from a professional but misunderstand and invest unwisely.

Smart investing is critical when planning for retirement; that’s why many people turn to professionals for investment advice. However, not all advisers are created equal, just as not all investments are right for everyone who has money to invest.

Stockbrokers and some financial advisers are held to a “suitability” standard. They recommend investment products considered “suitable” for a given client. Another standard is termed “fiduciary,” meaning the adviser must act in what’s believed to be the client’s best financial interest.

A range of investment products might meet the suitability standard, with some returning more in fees to the adviser than others. It’s in the adviser’s interest to recommend a product that will earn the pro a higher fee; even if it’s not the best fit for the client, it’s still “suitable.”

Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation cautions investors that “brokers may recommend investments that appear suitable but may not be optimal for investors’ objectives.” The PFR website goes on to say, “Because of the manner in which they are compensated, it is possible for brokers to have incentives to sell financial products that may not entirely align with clients’ goals.”

With that bit of background, we come to a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to update rules governing financial advising. Current rules were written during the Ford administration. Since then, total investments in IRAs, 401(k) plans and other defined distribution plans have swelled and will reach $7.3 trillion by 2016. That’s an estimate by the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association, or SIMFA, a trade group representing securities firms, banks and asset managers.

The Labor Department has for several years proposed changing the definition of fiduciary regulation; the department said recently it will withdraw its current proposal and issue a new one shortly. A coalition of consumer and labor groups is calling for rules requiring all financial advisers to put clients’ interests first when giving retirement advice. On its website, the coalition charges that the financial advising industry “wants to continue slicing off large pieces of that pie by selling retirement investments with hefty costs, poor returns, and high risks.”

SIMFA calls the last proposed rule “overbroad” and said it would “limit investment choices and drive up costs for the individuals it is intended to protect.”

SIMFA says 149 U.S. representatives and 34 senators have written to the Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget in opposition to the proposed regulation and the expected new proposal.

Meanwhile, the Financial Planning Association, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standard Inc. and National Association of Personal Financial Advisers are calling for certification of financial planners who operate “with fiduciary accountability and transparency.”

This coalition argues that the “title ‘financial planner’ should be recognized as distinct from sales persons – and held to corresponding competence and ethical standards similar to those required of a CPA, doctor or lawyer.”

When choosing a financial planner, ask “How will you be compensated? What are your qualifications? What is your general philosophy on investing? What kind of client turnover have you had in recent years?”

When asking for advice on investing your money, you want to feel comfortable with answers to those and related questions.

The state of Maine licenses broker-dealers and prosecutes violations of securities laws. Learn more at www.investors.maine.gov.

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 NEContact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

Consumer watchdog says credit reports for 1 in 4 Mainers are wrong

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 18, 2015, at 9:05 a.m.

Maine’s credit watchdog agency has published the latest in its series of consumer guides, this one focusing on credit reports and credit scores.

Downeaster Guide

Click image to access report

A good deal of misunderstanding surrounds the ways credit scores are figured and the need for continually updating your credit report. Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (BCCP) just released the Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Credit Bureaus and Credit Reports.

Creditors, employers, banks and others with whom we have dealings use credit report information when making financial decisions. As the guide states, lenders believe someone’s credit report gives the best indication of whether that person will be able to repay a loan. Credit reports are produced by credit reporting agencies (credit bureaus); the findings of those entities may not always agree.

William Lund is superintendent of the BCCP. He says as many as one-quarter of all Mainers may have errors or incomplete information in their credit reports. One reason is because credit bureaus use different formulas to determine credit scores, the numbers that indicate our credit worthiness. The most widely used model is the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) score, ranging from a low of 300 to a high of 850.

Lund said a consumer needs to check his or her credit report frequently to make sure errors or omissions do not negatively affect the person’s credit rating or score.

There are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. The law allows consumers a free credit report from each of them every year. Request one in January, another in May and a third in September — or another four-month rotation — to keep a constant check on your report status.

You can order your free report online at AnnualCreditReport.com, by phone at 1-877-322-8228 or by writing to Annual Credit Report Request Service, POB 105281, Atlanta GA 30348-5281.

The guide contains several tips for improving your credit:

— Pay loans on or before the due date; set up automatic payment or payment reminders to be sure you’re current.

— Limit yourself to three or fewer credit cards; limit card balances to no more than one-third of your credit limit.

— Try to keep your oldest credit card accounts indefinitely, if the annual fees are favorable.

— Reduce debt on other loans as much as possible.

David Leach is principal examiner at the BCCP and a principal author of the guide. “Through this guide, we encourage all Maine consumers to order free copies of their credit reports each year and to carefully review them for errors and even the occurrence of identity theft.”

The guide offers some cautions, one involving co-signing for a loan. You’ll go through the same credit check as the primary borrower; if that person can’t keep up with the payments, a delinquency will appear on your credit report. You’ll then be responsible to repay the loan, and your ability to get new credit could suffer.

Another caution involves credit repair scams. People may promise to “fix” your credit if you pay up-front fees, tell them your account number and bank’s routing number or wire cash; these are all signs of scams. Trust your instincts and just say no.

You can call the BCCP for help on credit matters. The toll-free number is 1-800-332-8529. You can get copies of all the Downeaster Guides at maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/publications.htm.

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, visithttps://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Teaching young consumers how to invest wisely, complain effectively

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Jan. 11, 2015, at 7:36 a.m.

As consumers, we’re well advised to do our research before making major purchases. We’re also wise to educate ourselves on matters affecting our financial well-being.

Beyond these basics, it’s more challenging to find consensus on how much education is enough when it comes to financial literacy. Across the United States, several states require students to pass a one-semester course in financial literacy to graduate high school. Others require some sort of coursework in the smart handling of finances.

In Maine, there’s no across-the-board requirement. Instead, groups interested in financial savvy have organized programs to spur student inquiry into money matters. One of the best publicized efforts, called the Stock Market Game, has involved some 15 million students nationwide. The goal is to teach young people about global marketing and long-term saving and investment strategies through stock trading simulations.

Fort Fairfield Middle/High School ranked second in the nation last year, with student investments yielding a whopping 68.6 percent return. Marc Gendron, superintendent of schools in Fort Fairfield, says the town’s elementary team has “come in first or second every year in the state game for at least four years.”

While noting that it is a game, Gendron says it has real-life lessons.

“We teach our kids most of the time in life to avoid risk. This game teaches you to find as much risk as you can,” he said, adding that taking risks is essential to doing well in these national contests.

Another competition focusing broadly on consumer issues is called LifeSmarts. The contest kicked off last week for middle and high school students — Waynflete in Portland was last year’s Maine state champion. LifeSmarts offers free online tutorials, quizzes and other resources to teach a variety of consumer skills.

The LifeSmarts offerings include videocasts on a range of topics, from shopping online to buying a car to complaining effectively. One videocast focuses on scholarship scams and ways students can avoid them. To learn more, visit lifesmarts.org.

Another program is the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. In Maine, organizers hold a conference in the spring on boosting financial literacy in schools. Maine’s Jump$tart Coalition recently was recognized as the State Coalition of the Year.

Perhaps the best-known program that’s not focused on contests is Junior Achievement. The program links volunteers who deliver the JA curriculum with students interested in learning about job creation, money management and entrepreneurship.

The Maine Department of Education has a list of Maine-based resources for boosting financial literacy. It also includes a number of Web-based sites. Visit maine.gov and search “financial literacy” to find the list. The Finance Authority of Maine, or FAME, maintains a website on financial assistance at famemaine.com/files/StaticPages/Education/Clearinghouse/Index.aspx.

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, visithttps://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

The best New Year’s resolution: No new resolutions

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 04, 2015, at 1:28 p.m.

The lion’s share of New Year’s resolutions many of us made have to do with better health. The online health adviser WebMD has a common-sense suggestion in this regard: Resolve not to make any more resolutions.

Doing so lessens the unhealthy cycle of denying yourself, then binging to satisfy your craving. Instead, the one-day-at-a-time approach of 12-step and other lifestyle changing programs works on a more realistic theory: achieve one small success, then do it again.

This practice eliminates the need for a self-improvement laundry list on Jan. 1. You could pledge to lose weight, exercise more and volunteer 10 hours per week, all with the aim of feeling better. Or you could pledge to do one thing every day to feel better.

You could start now. Put down the paper (or push away from the screen), get up and take 100 steps. Walk around the house, find something that’s out of place and put it away. Or go outside and get the mail. You’ve moved, gotten a bit of exercise and put something material in its place; you haven’t expended that much effort, but you probably feel better.

Contrast this with those of us who have bought year-long gym memberships and not used them.

Many gyms count on this phenomenon — they can sell thousands of memberships at bargain prices when their facility holds a few hundred people at most. What behavioral economists term “pre-commitment” acts serve to subsidize the truly motivated members; those who don’t go are just poorer by the membership fee.

Make similar plans to lose weight, if that’s among your goals. Losing 1 pound every 10 days will leave you 36 pounds lighter by next New Year’s Day. That one-pound-at-a-time goal makes sense; visualizing the removal of 36 pounds all at once is neither medically advisable nor realistic.

While we’re focused on health, avoid products that claim quick fixes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has articles about scam products at www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/default.htm.

Use your internal radar on flimsy claims including “quick results,” “no-risk trial” and “money-back guarantee.”

Take small steps to feel better about protecting your identity. When you need to provide a password — on secure websites only, please — use a strong series of letters, numbers and symbols that you haven’t used anywhere else and which only you know. Check for computer system updates and patches often, and keep your security software updated. Don’t click or download anything from any unknown source, and delete suspicious looking emails without opening them.

Read the Federal Trade Commission’s list of what to do and what not to do in keeping your identity safe at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0272-how-keep-your-personal-information-secure.

Review the list frequently and try one new tool every time you read it. Find out how to get your truly free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to one annually from each of the three reporting agencies; get one now, one in early May and one in early September.

Being a smart consumer involves much more than looking for deals. It means taking single steps on our long journeys through the marketplace.

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.

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