Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Secretary Dunlap releases animated version of Used Vehicle Buyer’s Guide

05/15/2017 11:16 AM EDT

AUGUSTA – Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is unveiling an animated version of the Used Vehicle Buyer’s Guide, which explains the buyer’s rights when purchasing a used car in the State of Maine.

“Many people have misconceptions about the law when purchasing a used car, so we hope that putting this information in an animated format will make it easier for the public to access the facts they need to know before making such a significant purchase,” said Secretary Dunlap.

Bureau of Motor Vehicles, is the only law enforcement agency that specializes in the enforcement of regulatory compliance and prosecutes crimes under motor vehicle and criminal law. Its detectives investigate an average of 4,000 cases a year. Their work includes enforcement of laws concerning various types of vehicle dealers, title fraud, odometer fraud, automobile identification, auto theft investigations, registration evasion, insurance fraud, driver license and state identification card fraud, and consumer complaints.

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New Maine tax credit replaces ‘Circuit Breaker’ program

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT Posted March 30, 2014, at 5:42 p.m.

A friend approached me recently, saying he was concerned that some seniors may have thrown away paperwork that they could have used to save some money.

At issue is Maine’s new Property Tax Fairness Credit, passed by the Legislature to take the place of the Maine Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund “Circuit Breaker” program. Lawmakers repealed that statute last year and put the PTFC in its place.

Qualifying for the credit are consumers who were Maine residents for any part of tax year 2013 and who lived in a home they owned or rented here for that part of the year. They must have had a Maine adjusted gross income of not more than $40,000 and paid property tax of at least 10 percent of that amount or paid rent on an apartment that was over 40 percent of their Maine adjusted gross income.

The credit of up to $300 (or $400 for those age 70 or older) became available in January and is claimed on the state individual Income Tax Form 1040ME.

To get the credit, eligible people must complete a worksheet that accompanies the form. And that’s where the confusion may have started.

Worksheets were mailed to all Mainers who filed a Circuit Breaker application on or after Aug. 1, 2012, whether they paid state income tax or not. My friend had said some seniors he knew had received the mailing from Maine Revenue Services and discarded it; since they were not liable for any Maine income tax, they reasoned, there was no need to concern themselves with whatever was in the envelope.

That’s not a problem, according to state officials and representatives of seniors groups we’ve spoken with. The forms can be downloaded from Maine Revenue Services’ website (www.maine.gov/revenue/forms) or by calling 1-207-624-7894 to request that a form be mailed. The credit is available for three years for Mainers who do not have to pay any income tax.

Volunteers from AARP will be at various area Agencies on Aging until April 15. Dyan Walsh, director of community services at the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, says the volunteers have received special training on the PTFC.

Walsh says a number of seniors have called since Jan. 1, expecting to sign up for the Circuit Breaker program and not realizing that it had been replaced by the PTFC. Walsh says if seniors cannot travel to the EAAA office, they can call Maine Revenue Services at 207-626-8475 for help. They may also seek assistance by emailing income.tax@maine.gov or by visiting in person at 51 Commerce Drive, Augusta.

Low- and moderate-income earners may qualify for free help in preparing their state and federal income taxes through a program called Ca$h Maine. You can call 211 for details or read about it online at www.211maine.org/cah-maine-2013/.

AARP also offers free tax help at the Bangor Public Library. Until April 10, help will be available Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the small conference room near the reading room.

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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Using common sense when you buy will keep your home from plunging ‘under water’

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted March 09, 2014, at 8:50 a.m.

DowneastGuide-to...yourMainehomeWe’ve all heard the ads urging us to buy, since “interest rates are near historically low levels.” With spring approaching (at least on the calendar) and those low rates expected to hold for a while, many renters are thinking about buying a home.

Many may think twice, wondering if all those horror stories about houses going “under water,” or costing more than they’re worth, might come back to bite them. Those with second thoughts might want to spend some time with a new publication from the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection.

It’s called The Downeaster Common Sense Guide to Finding, Buying and Keeping Your Maine Home. The 32-page guide was written by the bureau’s principal examiner, David Leach, and senior consumer credit examiner, Edward Myslik.

It starts in exactly the right place: asking if you should buy a home or continue to rent. Once you’ve determined that your best bet is to buy, the real work begins.

The best piece of advice in the guide is not to buy more home than you can afford. You figure affordability through a debt-to-income ratio. The “front-end ratio” is figured by dividing the monthly mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) by the borrower’s total monthly income. The ratio should not be more than 28 percent.

What’s termed the “back-end ratio” is a measure of income against the mortgage cost plus the cost of all other loans.

The guide cautions against allowing this ratio to go higher than 43 percent.

New federal lending rules are aimed at ensuring that borrowers will be able to make payments on schedule; those rules make it unlikely that a loan will be approved if the back-end ratio exceeds 43 percent.

Once you’ve ordered an up-to-date credit report ( www.AnnualCreditReport.com, 877-322-8228) you’ll have an idea what your credit score will be. The score is not part of the report; it’s a number generated by Fair Issue Corporation, also known as FICO.

The scores provided to each of the three credit reporting bureaus may be different, and lenders will use the lowest number when offering an annual percentage rate, also known as APR, on a loan.

When shopping for a mortgage, you need to decide between conventional loans and Federal Housing Authority, also known as FHA, backed loans. Under the latter type, the FHA provides a guarantee to investors should a borrower default. The guide advises that, while FHA loans are priced about the same as conventional loans, the mortgage insurance costs more (meaning higher APRs).

The guide has lots of nuts-and-bolts info on shopping for mortgages. Note rate vs. APR, mortgage points, disclosure, home inspections and other concerns are all covered. The authors also caution against falling for three advance payments that guarantee a low APR. Advance fee loans are always scams and are illegal in the U.S. and Canada.

Read the guide online at www.Credit.Maine.gov and go to “Consumer Guides.”

Maine residents can also request a free printed copy by calling 800-332-8529. For a real estate professional’s take on home mortgages, visit www.realtor.com/home-finance/mortgages/how-to-get-best-interest-rate.aspx?source=web.

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

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Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Offers Guidance for End of Year Charitable Contributions

Charitable Scams Can be More Prevalent This Time of Year  

GARDINER  –  As many Maine families consider holiday season and end of year charitable contributions, Governor Paul R. LePage and Commissioner Anne Head from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation are encouraging Maine residents to check the legitimacy of unknown charities.  Potential donors are urged to always research charitable organizations before making a donation.  A quick check with the Department can provide information to help in determining whether a charity is legitimate or a scam.

“Maine people are well known for lending a hand to others and for supporting charities,” Governor LePage said.  “We saw that earlier this week with the successful conclusion of the Maine State Employees Combined Charitable, which has raised nearly $270,000 to help those in need.  We always encourage charitable giving and want to assist donors in directing their support to legitimate charities.”

Charitable organizations are required to be licensed with the Department’s Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which collects information about charitable activity in Maine and makes it available to the public.

“Charitable solicitation scams aren’t new, but they sometimes increase during the holiday season, at the end of the year, and in the aftermath of tragedies,” Commissioner Head said.  “It’s important for the public to know that guidance and resources are available to assist people in making sure their contributions are going to real charities.”

Commissioner Head advises individuals to ask questions and seek printed information about unknown charities; to confirm their legitimacy with regulators; to never send cash or wire money when requested to do so; to always keep receipts of donations; and to report concerns or complaints about questionable solicitations with the Department and law enforcement.

Information about charities can be obtained through the Department’s website (www.maine.gov/pfr), specifically atwww.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions/charitable. Links allow for the search of licensed charitable organizations, as well as disciplinary actions.  Questions and complaints can also be made by calling the Charitable Solicitations Program at 207-624-8525.

Additional tips and advice accompany this news release and can also be obtained from the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/charityfraud/).

The Department of Professional and Financial Regulation protects the citizens of Maine and supports the economy through the oversight of State-chartered financial institutions, the insurance industry, grantors of consumer credit, the securities industry, and numerous professions providing services to the public.  More information is available at www.maine.gov/pfr.

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Tips and Advice When Considering Charitable Giving

December, 2013

  • Always research unknown charities before contributing.  And whether the charity is new or well established, you may wish to know what percentage of your contribution is spent on fundraising, employee compensation, or expenses which do not directly support the charity’s stated purpose.
  • Not all organizations with names that sound like charities are actually charities.  Some organizations select names that are similar to those of well-known charities.
  • Be cautious when contacted by telephone for a contribution.  Ask that the request be put in writing.  You may also want to ask if the caller is a paid solicitor or a volunteer for the charity.
  • Never give your bank account information or credit/debit card numbers to a caller.  And be wary if the person soliciting the contribution is willing to have someone rush to your home or business to meet with you and pick up a contribution.
  • If you wish to receive a tax deduction, make sure the organization has a tax deductible status with the Internal Revenue Service. “Tax exempt,” “non-profit,” and “tax deductible” mean different things.  Only “tax deductible” means contributions are deductible on your income tax return.  Visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov/charities) for more information.
  • Be wary of organizations which list only post office boxes or mail drop suite numbers as their address.  You may wish to inquire about the charity’s location.

 

JP Morgan Chase data breach may have affected 1,300 Mainers

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Dec. 15, 2013, at 1:01 p.m.
Breach. It’s a word that strikes fear in the hearts of company CEOs, bankers and consumer protection officials everywhere.
The breach of J.P. Morgan Chase and Company’s computer data may have affected as many as 465,000 consumers. But it’s the company’s response — rather than the breach itself — that is drawing the most media attention.

The breach occurred sometime in July and affected data on holders of U-Cards. Those are debit cards Chase issues to a variety of government bodies to pay claimants of unemployment insurance and other benefits. In Maine, roughly 1,300 people who collect unemployment benefits via the U-Cards may have been affected.

Data on claimants is usually encrypted in the Chase servers. However, during the breach some of that data appeared as plain text, there for the hackers to read. The data may have included claimants’ card numbers, dates of birth, user ID and email addresses. Their personal identification numbers apparently could not be viewed.

Maine uses unique identifiers, rather than Social Security numbers, to identify recipients. While many people whose data were accessed might understandably be concerned about their data being misused, the lack of connection to their SSNs should offer some comfort.

That does not mean those claimants should have no concerns. The Maine Department of Labor, which was informed Dec. 4 of the breach, is advising people who have the U-Cards to check their accounts for any suspicious activity. While state officials don’t believe the breach resulted in any loss of funds, they can’t check individual accounts; they suggest recipients call Chase’s customer service number at 866-315-1011 to be sure.

Chase officials have said, since there was no loss of funds, they don’t plan to issue new cards to those whose data were involved in the breach. Chase spokesman Michael Fusco is quoted as saying the bank acted appropriately.

“When we detected this issue, our first priority was to protect our systems, cardholders’ data and accounts,” Fusco said. After an internal investigation to find out what accounts and data might have been exposed, Chase alerted authorities and started notifying affected cardholders.

The word didn’t reach the Maine Department of Labor until Dec. 4, although the breach was discovered in mid-September. That gap did not make people like Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette happy. “The Department of Labor is looking into the situation surrounding the breach and why we were not informed sooner of this event,” Paquette said in a news release Dec. 6.

Maine law requires notification of those whose data were breached “without unreasonable delay” or, when law enforcement officials advise that notification will no longer impede their investigation, within seven days. Some consumer advocates are suspicious of longer delays, suspecting that companies whose data have been breached may shop around for sympathetic cops to approve delays while the firms get their ducks in a row.

The investigation into the Chase breach is continuing. Affected Mainers might also want to get a free credit report (we’re entitled to one each year from the three reporting agencies). Find the free ones online at http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

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

 

Ratewatcher and JP Morgan Chase and Co. Breach – WABI morning news

Posted Monday, December 9th, 2013 at 8:25 am.
By 

Russ and Joy had a couple of topics to talk about. VIDEO

The first topic Russ talked about is the Ratewatcher Telecom Guide. This guide helps consumers find the best services and latest prices for Internet, telephone, and cell phone service in our state. If you are not one of their subscribers, you can got online to maine.gov/meopa to download and print this years guide for free.

The second topic Russ discussed Monday morning was the JP Morgan Chase and Co. breach. In mid-September. Chase discovered that web servers used by the site for the u-card debit cards had been breached. This breach apparently happened around mid-July. The data that may have been viewed during this breach may have included claimants card numbers, dates of birth, user ID, passwords, and email addresses. The claimants Personal Identifying Numbers (PINs) were not viewed.

The Maine Department of Labor advises claimants to call Chase to find out if they were affected by this breach.

To reach JP Morgan Chase customer service call 1-866-315-1011.

Chase is emailing apologies to those affected and also offering one year of free credit monitoring. The company says that no evidence has been found where any individuals information has been used improperly, but they are asking claimants to watch their accounts and call JP Morgan Chase customer service on the back of their cards, if they see purchases they don’t didn’t authorize.

Russ also mentioned that it is a good idea for anyone to check their credit report by going online at annualcreditreport.com, this is a free credit report service.

 

‘Shop Small’ on Saturday and give Maine’s small businesses a boost

CONSUMER FORUM

By David Clough, Maine state director, National Federation of Independent Business
Posted Nov. 29, 2013, at 4:30 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 29, 2013, at 5:39 p.m.

One of Northeast CONTACT’s underlying beliefs is that strong local businesses are important to consumers. In that light, we asked David Clough for his thoughts on shopping locally this holiday season and beyond. — Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast CONTACT

Even as the economy has limped along and small-business owner confidence has waned, our faith in the men and women of Main Street has not faded, but remained constant; this is for good reason. In the face of economic struggles, many small employers, instead of laying people off, have cut their own salaries to keep their full complement of employees. Others have dipped into savings or taken out second mortgages to keep their doors open or to avoid cutting back employee hours.

These are no small feats, but they largely go without acknowledgement or recognition. So when an opportunity to thank these men and women for their daily sacrifices arises, we should take it. We find such an opportunity on Small Business Saturday.

The campaign to “shop small” on the Saturday after Thanksgiving started in 2010 as little more than an effort to give small businesses — many struggling to get out of the red after a long recession — a much-needed shot in the arm. But in the three years since, Small Business Saturday has become a powerful movement to give back to the brick-and-mortar establishments that line our Main Streets and keep our communities vibrant.

The concept is simple: Instead of sitting at home and ordering online or “one-stop-shopping” at the nearest “big-box” store, put on your boots and coat and take a walk through the small and independent establishments in your community. Make Main Street ground zero for your holiday shopping. Many local businesses around the country will be offering special deals and discounts throughout the day to encourage shoppers and to commemorate the day, so the incentive to “shop small” is all the greater.

It’s strange to think that doing something so modest — shopping at an independent business — can have such a big effect. National research on last year’s event showed that consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent a total of $5.5 billion with independent merchants that day, higher than earlier estimates of anticipated spending. Indeed, even President Obama and his family did their part last year, patronizing a local bookstore and giving its holidays sales a boost.

The biggest incentive to shop small is that in doing so, you are not only helping to keep small businesses operating but also making your community stronger. It’s likely when you purchase a product or service at a local store or restaurant you are helping to pay the salary of a neighbor, a friend or a family member. You are helping to keep the people in your town or city employed so that they can support their families. Most importantly, you are demonstrating the value that you place on the small-business people who, by providing you and your community with unparalleled products and services, work hard to keep your trust each and every day.

During times like these, we could all benefit from a boost in our faith — faith in the future, faith in our country, faith in our economy. Show your faith in America and “shop small.” Such an effort is always timely.

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

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