National Consumer Protection Week

Telemarketers And Junk Mail

Don't let telemarketers bog you down with unwanted phone calls. Tired of your mailbox and inbox being filled with offers that you didn't solicit? Find out how you can stop this madness.

We all get those robocalls and pesky junk mail. We occasionally receive that pushy telemarketer on our phone who won’t take no for an answer. I honestly feel sorry for them, because no one wants to talk to them while all the while they are just trying to make a living. What can we do about that growing pile of junk mail or those unwelcomed telemarketers? Hopefully, I can answer some of those questions today in my final post for National Consumer Protection Week.

The first thing you can do is tell companies you do business with to remove your name form customer lists they rent or sell to others. Look for information on how to opt-out of marketing lists on sales materials, order forms, and websites. You can use the services provided by the Direct Marketing Association to remove your name from most national telemarketing, mail, and email lists. Call the credit reporting agencies notification system. This will reduce the number of unsolicited credit and insurance offers you receive. All three major credit bureaus participate in this program. Lastly, under U.S. Postal Service (USPS) rules, it is illegal to send mail that looks like it is from a government agency when it is not. It is also illegal to send mail that looks like a bill when nothing was ordered unless it clearly states this is not a bill.

National Do Not Call Registry

The federal government’s Do Not Call Registry allows you to restrict telemarketing calls permanently by registering your phone number at http://www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you receive telemarketing calls after your number has been in the national registry for 31 days, you can file a complaint using the same web page and toll-free number. Contact your state’s consumer protection office to find out if your state has it’s own Do Not Call (DNC) list and how you can add your number to it.

Placing your number on this registry will stop most telemarketing calls, but not all of them. Calls that are still permitted include those from political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, and some organizations with which you have a relationship. Cell phone numbers can also be added to the Do Not Call Registry, but it is not necessary since telemarketers are already forbidden to call them.

Pre-Recorded Messages

Pre-recorded sales calls or robocalls are illegal. Companies cannot transmit these messages or send text messages to consumers who have not agreed in writing, to accept such messages due to the text message marketing laws. A company cannot contact you based on a prior business relationship. Pre-recorded calls may only be made to residential telephone numbers in the following cases:

  • Emergency calls needed to ensure your health and safety.
  • Calls that don’t include any unsolicited advertisements.
  • Calls by, or on behalf of tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.
  • Calls for which you have given prior consent.

If you receive pre-recorded telemarketing calls but have not agreed to receive them, file a complaint with the FCC the website and phone number listed above.

Telemarketing Sales Calls

The FTC Telemarketing Sales rule defines what telemarketers can and cannot do when making a sales call. Callers must do these five things below:

  1. Provide the seller’s name
  2. Disclose that the call is a sales call.
  3. Tell you exactly what they are trying to sell.
  4. Disclose the total cost and other terms of the sale before you make any payment for goods or services.
  5. Tell you if they do not allow refunds, exchanges, or cancellations.

If a prize is involved, the caller must give you the odds of winning, inform you that no purchase is necessary, and tell you how to get instructions for entering without buying anything. It is illegal for telemarketers to misrepresent what they are offering, call before 8 am or after 9 pm, or threaten, intimidate, or harass you, or all again if you ask them not to.

This FTC rule applies even when you receive a call from a telemarketer in another state or country. It also applies when you make a call to a company in another state or country in response to a mail solicitation.

The rule generally does not apply when you call to order from a catalog or in response to an ad on television or radio, or in a magazine or newspaper. It also does not apply to solicitations you receive by fax or email. Beware that certain types of businesses, including nonprofit organizations, investment brokers and advisors, banks, and financial institutions are exempt from the rule.

You Can Opt Out

Tired of unwanted email filling up your inbox? You can opt-out of most unsolicited email lists by going to the “unsubscribe” button, usually found at the bottom of the message. Some senders make the button difficult to find, so you may have to do some searching.

In addition, the Direct Marketing Association lets you opt-out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for three years. You can register with this service for a small fee, but your registration only applies to organizations that use the associations Mail Preference Service. To register, go to http://www.dmchoice.org. If you would like to opt-out of credit and insurance offers, you can call 1-888-567-8688 or go online at http://www.optoutprescreen.com, which is managed by the major credit reporting companies.

I hope you have enjoyed this National Consumer Protection Week series as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you. Remember, beware and know your rights.

 

 

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Preparing Your Estate

Don't leave your estate unplanned. If you don't have a will then set some time aside to speak to an attorney and complete your will.

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Preparing an estate is essential and people from all economic levels benefit from an estate plan. Upon death, an estate plan legally protects and distributes property based on your wishes and the needs of your family/survivors with the fewest tax consequences. Here are a few things you should know about planning your estate.

Wills

A will is the most practical first step in estate planning. It makes clear how you want your property to be distributed after your demise. Writing a will can be as simple as typing out how you want your assets to be transferred to loved ones or charitable organizations.

If you do not have a will at the time of your demise, your estate will be handled in probate, and your property could be distributed differently than how you would like. Here are a few things to remember when writing your will,

  1. Age Requirement. In most states, you must be 18 years of age or older to write a will.
  2. Validity. To be valid, a will must be written when you are of sound judgment and adequate mental capacity.
  3. Conciseness. The document must clearly state that it is your will.

You will have to name an executor of your estate. This is someone who will ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes. It is not necessary to notarize or record your will, but doing so safeguard against any claims that are invalid. For the will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses. Please know that a financial will and testament will always supersede a last will and testament when bestowing financial assets.

It may help to seek legal advice when writing a will, particularly when it comes to understanding all of the rules of the estate disposition process in your state. Some states have community property laws that entitle your surviving spouse to keep at least half of your wealth, no matter what percentage you leave him or her in your will.

Choosing an executor

As discussed earlier, an executor is the person who is responsible for settling your estate after your death. Some of the duties of an executor include:

  • Taking inventory of your property and belongings.
  • Appraising and distributing assets.
  • Paying taxes.
  • Settling debts owed by the deceased.

Most important, the executor is legally obligated to act in the interests of the deceased, following the wishes stated in the will. Here again, it can be helpful to consult an attorney to help with the probate process or offer legal guidance. In most states, any person who is over the age of 18 and who has not been convicted of a felony can be named the executor of a will.

Some people choose a lawyer, accountant, or financial consultant based on his or her professional experience. Others choose a spouse, adult child, relative or friend. Since the role of executor can be demanding, it is often a good idea to ask the person if he or she is willing to serve in that capacity.

If you have been named the executor of someone’s will but are not able or do not want to serve, you will need to file a “declination” which is a legal document that declines your designation as an executor. The contingent executor named in the will then assumes responsibility. If no contingent executor is named, then the court will appoint one.

Choosing Beneficiaries

As you write your will, you need to decide who you want to inherit your assets to ensure that your possessions are dispersed as you want. Primary beneficiaries are your first choice to receive your assets. You should also consider choosing secondary or contingent beneficiaries. If your primary beneficiary precedes you in death or does not meet a condition, such as age, for inheritance, your secondary beneficiaries will receive your assets. Designating a secondary beneficiary can also prevent going through probate, which can be time consuming and expensive. Use specific names instead of broad categories like “nieces and nephews” when naming beneficiaries in your will.

You should also add primary and secondary beneficiaries on your individual bank accounts, the deeds to your homes, titles to your cars, contents of your safe deposit boxes, investments, and insurance policies to make it easier to transfer assets. Also, remember that giving someone power of attorney does not automatically make this person a beneficiary of your assets. After your demise, this person will not have the right to the money or even the right to access your account. If you want this person to be a beneficiary you must state this in your will.

What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that takes place after your demise. It involves proving that your will is valid, identifying all of your property, paying debts and taxes, and distributing your remaining property as the will directs.

Write A Digital Asset Plan

In today’s information age, more and more things you buy and own are intangible items, such as digital books, music, and photos stored online. You may have online accounts with retailers, financial institutions, or digital media subscriptions for streaming TV and movies. In addition, some things are stored on your behalf, like social media profiles, email accounts, blogs, airline frequent flyer miles, and credit card reward points.

What happens to these after your demise? You should consider creating a digital asset plan. This document should state how you would like these assets and online accounts to be handled. You should appoint someone you trust as a digital asset executor. This person will be responsible for closing your online accounts, subscriptions, social media profiles, and handling of all of your electronic assets after you are deceased. Take the steps below to help you draft your digital asset plan.

  • Review the terms and conditions of each company where you have digital assets and profiles to know their policies when a customer dies.
  • State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to cancel your accounts or profiles completely or keep it open for friends and family to use.
  • Include a list of all the companies where you have digital accounts, along with your usernames and passwords with your will.
  • If the account is for a fee-based service, include the credit card or bank account numbers that are used to pay for the service, so that the executor can contact the companies to stop charges.
  • Stipulate in your will that the executor of your digital asset plan should have a copy of your death certificate. He or she may need this as proof for websites and service providers to take actions on your behalf.
  • Check to see if the companies have account management features that let you assign access to friends and family ahead of time.

I hope this helps you make sure that you plan your estate to your liking. No one likes to think or talk about death, but just like taxes, death is certain. Your family will be grieving, make your transition as easy on them as possible. If you don’t have a will now, please prepare one as soon as possible.

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Purchasing The Right Insurance

Insurance is a necessary evil. Be careful and don't get taken for a ride. Buy only what you need from a reputable company.

Insurance protects you from financial loss in the event of a disaster or other hardship. By purchasing insurance policies, you can receive reimbursement for losses due to car accidents, property theft, natural disasters, medical expenses and loss of income due to disability or death.

General sources of insurance information include the American Council of Life Insurers, the Insurance Information Institute, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and your state department of insurance.

When purchasing any type of insurance (home, life, auto, rental or others), you should always find out whether your state department of insurance (DOI) offers any information concerning insurance companies and rates. Check several sources for the best deal. Try getting quotes online, but be aware that many online services may provide prices for just a few companies. An independent insurance agent who works with several insurers in your area may be able to get you a better deal.

Make sure that the insurance company is licensed and covered by the state’s guaranty fund. This fund pays claims in case the company defaults. Your state DOI can provide this information.

Ask your insurance agent about discounts. You may be able to obtain a lower premium if you have safety features in your home, such as a fire extinguisher, dead-bolt locks, smoke detectors, an alarm system, storm shutters or fire-retardant roofing. Similarly, you may save on car insurance based on the safety features, the number of miles you drive, your age, your grades (if you are a student), and your driving record.

You might also be able to get discounts if you are a member of a civic or alumni association, or insure your vehicle and home with the same company. Consider increasing your deductible by a few hundred dollars. This can make a big difference in your premiums.

After the purchase

Make sure you receive a written policy. This tells you that the agent forwarded your premium to the insurance company. If you do not receive a policy within 60 days, contact your agent or the insurance company. Another caveat to that, make sure you know what your policy covers and that you understand what, if any responsibility you have in terms of paying for things that may not be covered. Working in the insurance industry, I see so many people who don’t understand their policy, and that’s okay. However, had those people taken the time to read and understand their policy, my job would be so much easier. If there is a coverage that you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask the agent before you pay for it. That will save you and your insurance company a headache in the long run.

Here is a list of different types of policies that you may need.

  • Automobile insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Homeowners/renters insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Long-term care insurance

A few other types of insurance that you may encounter but are less popular than the ones listed above are:

Catastrophic Health Care Insurance. A health plan that only covers certain types of expensive care, such as hospitalizations.

College Tuition Insurance. Get a refund of college tuition if you must withdraw because of serious injury or illness.

Identity Theft Insurance. This type of insurance provides reimbursement to crime victims for the cost of restoring their identity and repairing credit reports.

International Health Care Insurance. A policy that provides health coverage no matter where you are in the world. The policy term is flexible, so you can purchase it only for the time you will be out of the country.

Shared Services Insurance. Find out what insurance you need if you rent your home out or use your car to drive others for a fee.

Umbrella Insurance.  A policy that supplements the insurance you already have for home, auto, and other personal property. Umbrella insurance can help cover costs that exceed the limits of other policies.

Remember, make sure you are informed of your rights as a consumer and that the insurance companies you do business with are reputable.

 

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Choose A Bank That Is Right For You

Choose a bank thats right for you.

Continuing with National Consumer Protection Week, let’s talk about banks. Recently, Wells Fargo has been in the news for creating fake bank accounts. When shopping for a bank you want the one you choose to be on the up and up. After all, your bank accounts are the primary ways to store your money, pay your bills and build savings. When you shop for a bank, consider the actual products and services, the location of branches, and online and mobile banking features.

When it comes to finding a safe place to put your money, there are many options. Savings accounts, checking accounts, certificates of deposit (CD), and money market accounts are popular choices. Each has different rules and benefits that fit different needs. The bank or credit union must provide you with the account terms and conditions. When choosing the one that is right for you, consider the following.

Minimum deposit requirements. Do you have to keep a minimum dollar amount in your account to earn interest or avoid account maintenance fees?

Limits on withdrawals. Can you take money out whenever you want? Are there any penalties for doing so?

Interest. Can you earn interest on your accounts? How frequently is it paid (monthly, quarterly)? Check with banks or credit unions to see and compare their current published rates.

Online bill pay. Can you pay your bills directly from your bank or credit unions website?

Deposit insurance. Make sure the banks is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or that a credit union is insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund.

Mobile banking. Can you access your accounts and make deposits from your mobile phone or tablet? Does the bank charge fees for this access?

Convenience. Are there branches ar ATM’s close to where you work and live? Can you bank by phone or Internet?

Money transfer. Does the bank have a system that lets you transfer money to your accounts at other banks or to other people?

Considering a checking account or another type of account with check-writing privileges? Add these items to the list of things to think about.

  • The number of checks. Is there a maximum number of checks you can write per month without incurring a charge?
  • Check fees. Is there a monthly fee for the account or a charge for each check you write?
  • Holds on checks. Is there a waiting period for checks to clear before you can withdraw the money from your account?
  • Debit card fees. Are there fees for using your debit card?
  • Account fees. Does the bank charge fees on your checking or savings account to cover things like maintenance, withdrawals, or minimum balance rules?

I know choosing a bank should not be that hard, but there are a lot of things to consider. It is your money and you want it to grow, not dwindle due to unforeseen fees.

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Buyer Beware Be A Savvy Consumer

Buyer beware is something we have all heard before. Learn how to be a savvy protected shopper.

We as consumers should be wary of many things before we buy. After all, we are spending our hard earned money and we do have rights. Use this checklist BEFORE you make a purchase to avoid problems and make informed choices.

  1. Decide in advance exactly what you want and what you can afford.
  2. Do your research. Ask family, friends, and others you trust for advice based on their experience. Gather information about the seller and the item or service you are purchasing. We’ve all seen those online trading groups or Etsy shops and we get what we pay for. Be vigilant and vet these sellers before you buy,
  3. Review product test results from consumer experts and comments from past customers. That is exactly what I do when I shop on Amazon. I don’t care how many reviews there are, I read them all before I buy that product.
  4. Get price quotes from several sellers.
  5. Make sure the seller has all appropriate licenses. Doctors, lawyers, contractors, and other service providers must register with a state or local licensing agency.
  6. Check a company’s complaint record with your local consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau.
  7. Get a written copy of guarantees and warranties.
  8. Get the sellers refund, return, and cancellation policies.
  9. Ask whom to contact if you have a question or a problem.
  10. Read and understand any contract or legal document you are asked to sign or give agreement to online (by clicking “I Agree”). Make sure there are no blank spaces or incomplete terms. Insist that any extras you are promised be put in writing.

Quick Tips For Avoiding Fraud

There are many varieties of consumer fraud, but the most common ones are variations of fake check scams, credit repair, free trip offers, and sweepstakes. Here are a few tips to help you avoid being a victim.

  • Don’t give out personal information. Be suspicious of anyone you don’t know who asks for your Social Security number, date of birth, credit card number, bank account number, password, or other personal data.
  • Don’t be intimidated. Be suspicious of calls or emails that want you to provide or verify personal information immediately. Answer that you are not interested and hang up or don’t reply to the email.
  • Monitor your accounts. Review bank and credit card statements carefully, and report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution immediately.
  • Use a shredder. Tear or shred credit offers, bank statements, insurance forms, and other papers with personal information.
  • Ignore unsolicited offers. Don’t respond if someone you do not know asks you to send money or money orders to claim a prize, lottery, credit card, loan or other valuable offers.

When Prices Aren’t Final

Retailers, both online and brick and mortar, sometimes use aggressive strategies to change the price of an item. It’s called drip pricing and it’s a pricing strategy where a seller adds fees, some of them mandatory, to the advertised price for the product or service. This practice makes it difficult for you to determine the full cost and compare similar options when all the fees are not disclosed up front. You can protect yourself by asking questions of sales personnel about fees before you buy, or asking for a complete price list.

Another strategy is dynamic pricing, when a retailer adjusts an item’s price multiple times over a few days, or even within hours. The changes may be based on inventory, changes in demand, your browsing history, and even your personal information. Dynamic pricing is common with online retailers and airlines. Make dynamic pricing work to your advantage by using price tracker websites to compare the prices at different retailers. Use price predictor websites to track if the price is expected to go up or down. Clear your internet cookies so online retailers cannot use your browsing history to adjust prices.

Look for Grey Charges

Have you ever seen charges on your credit card statement that you can’t figure out? These very well may be grey charges and there are several common types.

  1. Unintended subscriptions. You thought you made a one time purchase, but it was really a subscription.
  2. Zombie Fees. Membership fees that you previously canceled but the fees will not stop.
  3. Free trial to paid. When a free trial is over the seller converts it to a paid subscription.
  4. Negative option. You bought one product but did not realize you were buying others at the same time.

Take the following steps to protect yourself from grey charges:

  • Read the terms of service before you buy. Disclosures about fees may be hidden or near the end, so read the entire document.
  • Mark your calendar as a reminder to cancel free trials by a set date.
  • Read your credit card statements closely. Pay attention to the names of companies and charges for small amounts.
  • Contact the seller to have the grey charges removed.
  • Dispute charges with your credit card company.

After You Buy

Even careful buyers can run into unforeseen problems after the purchase. Just in case, save all of the papers that come with your purchase. Keep all contracts, sales receipts, canceled checks, owner’s manuals, and warranty documents. Read and follow produce and service instructions. The way you use or take care of a product might affect your warranty rights. You may be able to get a refund for the difference if the price of the item you bought has decreased within a certain number of days. Find out how to dispute a purchase, based on if you paid with cash, credit, or a mobile app, or payment device.

Remember, be a savvy PROTECTED shopper

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

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Protect Your Identity

In today's technology filled world, identity theft is at an all time high. Find out how to protect your self and your family from dangers unseen.

Identity theft is real, and with all the accounts affected by the Equifax breach, it is imperative that we as consumers protect our identity. Your personal information is a valuable resource for identity thieves, scammers, and even corporations. Data breaches of customer databases and payment processing systems at retailers highlight the importance of protecting your privacy and making sure companies with which you do business do the same.

Identity thieves steal your personal information to commit fraud. They can damage your credit status and cost you time and money to restore your good name. You may not know that you are a victim of identity theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your identity. Follow these tips to protect yourself.

  1. Secure your Social Security Card. Don’t carry it in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your social security number when absolutely necessary. In the industry, I work in, it amazes me how many people are ready and willing to give you their social security number versus their account number.
  2. Protect your pin. Never write a PIN on a credit or debit card or on a slip of paper in your wallet.
  3. Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” I have no problem telling the person behind me in line to please back up as I enter my card information, and you shouldn’t either. Yes, I have been met with some nasty words or looks, but at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to protect myself. Sheild the keypad when typing in your PIN number.
  4. Be skeptical. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, date of birth, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail or online.
  5. Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home more than a day or two.
  6. Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  7. Keep your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.

Beware of synthetic identity theft

Synthetic identity theft is a more complicated version of identity theft. In traditional identity theft, the thief steals all of the personal information of one person to create a new identity. With synthetic identity theft, the thief steals pieces of information from different people to create a new identity. For example, the thief may steal one person’s name, and use someone else’s address to create a brand new identity. The thief can then use this fraudulent identity to apply for credit, rent an apartment, or make major purchases.

Unfortunately, synthetic identity theft is difficult to detect because the fraud isn’t directly tied to just one person. Fraud alerts and monitoring services would not be able to stop or prevent these scams. Also, children’s social security numbers are often targeted in these frauds, because no one would be checking their credit scores until they are much older.

While you cannot prevent synthetic identity theft, you should still get copies of your credit report to check for accounts you did not open. Also, contact the credit reporting agencies to ask if there is a fragmented file ( a sub-account that uses your social security number but not your name) attached to your main credit file. If this is the case, you may be the victim of synthetic identity theft. Report all cases of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is another version of phishing where the scammer already has some of your personal information, often a result of hacking another company’s network, The scammer will then send you an urgent email that seems to be from a company that you already do business. The message will require you to click on a link that directs you to a fake, but realistic, webpage to confirm an account number, or install malware on your computer. Remember, legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number via email. If you are not sure whether the email is trustworthy, call the company directly and forward the email to the spam@uce.gov.

Some other things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is tear up or shred unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements and expired cards to prevent dumpster divers from getting your personal information. Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work. Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer. Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Order your credit report once a year. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.

Report Identity Theft

If you are the victim of identity theft you should:

  • Report it to your financial institution. Call the phone number on your account statement or on the back of your credit or debit card.
  • Report the fraud to your local police. Keep a copy of the police report, which will make it easier to prove your case to creditors and retailers.
  • Contact the credit reporting agencies. Ask them to flag your account with a fraud alert, which asks merchants not to grant new credit without your approval.

The FTC recommends that you create an identity theft report if your ID is stolen. This report will help you deal with the credit reporting agencies and companies that extended credit to the identity thief using your name. First, report the crime to the FTC and print a copy of the details. This detailed report is also called an ID theft affidavit. Then file the crime with your local police department and get a copy of that report. Together, your ID theft affidavit and your police report make up your ID theft report.

Protect Your Privacy

Your personal data is always being shared. Companies,  known as data brokers,  compile information about your income, family size, email addresses, stores and websites you visit, the brands you buy, credit cards used, hobbies, and your demographic information to create a profile about you and your lifestyle.

Some of the information you give willingly, but other bits of your personal information are collected in ways you may not realize. Data brokers often collect location-based data from the GPS on your mobile phone, the fitness tracking bracelets that we wear, or from certain apps. These brokers then analyze all of your information, develop scoring and models to help them understand your behavior. Then they sell these consumer profiles to retailers and marketers.

Retailers use your information to offer targeted special promotions, customize the ads you see, and even the prices you are charged for items. While this can be a bonus and help you get good deals, it all comes at the cost of your personal privacy. Unlike credit reports or scores, you cannot access or review the data files that have been created about you, or even know the data brokerage companies you should contact to correct inaccuracies.

These data reports can also result in discrimination, where some consumers are only targeted with high-interest loans or inferior financial products. There are steps you can take to protect your privacy.

  • If you apply for store loyalty cards, do not include your full name so that it, and your purchase behavior, cannot be connected to your other consumer profiles.
  • Do you want to keep your purchase behavior private? Consider using cash rather than electronic payment options.
  • Maintain a separate email address for your coupons and promotions from retailers.
  • Be careful about what you post on social media. Data brokers may scrape information you post to enhance the information that they have on your consumer profile.
  • Disable cookies when shopping online, to prevent companies from tracking your online browsing behavior.
  • Beware of using cell phones in stores or using public Wi-Fi in a store. By using these networks, stores may know which items you looked at and which aisles you visited.
  • Look for privacy statements on websites, sales materials and forms you complete. If a website claims to follow a set of established voluntary standards, read the standards. Don’t assume it provides the level of privacy you want.
  • Ask how your personal information will be stored and used.
  • Only provide the purchase date, model and serial numbers, and your contact information on warranty registration forms.
  • Opt-out if you don’t want the company to share your email address with other companies.

Check with your state or local consumer agency to find out whether any state laws help protect your privacy. Some companies and industry groups have also adopted voluntary policies that address privacy concerns.

Finally, remember privacy is no longer private anymore. They, whoever they are, are watching. Take the necessary steps to protect your identity and your privacy.

 

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What Consumers Need To Know When Purchasing An Automobile

Purchasing an automobile is exciting. Make sure that you are informed of your rights when doing so and make sure you know what to look for.

During this time of year, there are many people buying cars. I have bought a lemon or two in my day, so I thought with this being  National Consumer Protection Week I would share some things consumers need to know when purchasing an automobile.

Tips for purchasing an automobile

Whether you are buying or leasing an automobile, these tips will help you get the best deal and avoid problems.

  • Decide what kind of vehicle best suits your needs and budget. That’s a no-brainer, right? No so. You would be surprised how many times slick talking car salesmen convince consumers to purchase a vehicle that may not be right for them.
  • Check out the seller. Research car dealers with your state or local consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau. If you are buying from an individual, check the title to make sure you are dealing with the vehicle’s owner.
  • Take a test drive. Another no-brainer I am sure. Drive at different speeds and check for smooth right and left turns. On a straight stretch, make sure the vehicle does not pull to one side.
  • Handle trade-ins and financing separately. When trading in one vehicle to finance purchasing another, do it separately. This will ensure you get the best deal on each. Get a written price quote before you talk about a trade-in or dealer financing.
  • Shop in advance. Compare financing options at your credit union, bank or finance company. Look at the total finance charges and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) not just the monthly payment. It may also be worth checking out a website such as Auto Finance Online to give you help and advice.

Make sure to read and understand every document you are asked to sign. I had a car salesman ask me once why I was reading everything and asking all those questions. I told him because it is my right to be an informed consumer. This is my money we are talking about and I have the right to know and understand everything pertaining to it. Because of his question and what I felt was an underhanded rush tactic, I decided that I did not want to do business with this dealership and left that vehicle right there.

Buying new

When buying a new car, do your research first and compare vehicles. Research the dealer’s price for the vehicle and options available. It is easier to get the best price when you know what the dealer paid for the vehicle. The dealer invoice price is available on a number of websites and in printed pricing guides. Try to locate the wholesale price; this figure factors in dealer incentives from a manufacturer and is a more accurate estimate of what a dealer is paying for a vehicle.

Find out if the manufacturer is offering rebates that will lower the cost. Get price quotes from several dealers. Find out if the amounts quoted are the prices before or after the rebates are deducted. Avoid low-value extras such as credit insurance, extended warranties, auto club memberships, rust proofing, and upholstery finishes. You don’t have to purchase credit insurance to get a loan.

Buying used

When buying a used car, learn what rights you have by contacting your state or local consumer protection office. Contact your state’s motor vehicle department to find out what paperwork you will need to register a vehicle. Check prices of similar models using the NADA Official Used Car Guide, published by the National Automobile Dealers Association, or the Kelley Blue Book. These guides are usually available at your local library.

Research the history of the vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for details concerning past owners, use, and maintenance. Find out whether the car has been damaged in a flood, crash, or labeled a “lemon.” Research the car’s title history with your state motor vehicle department. The Center for Auto Safety provides information on safety defect recalls, complaints, and technical service bulletins.

Make sure any mileage disclosures match the odometer reading on the car. Check the warranty. If a manufacturer’s warranty is still in effect, contact the manufacturer to make sure you can use the coverage. Ask about the dealer’s return policy. Get it in writing and read it carefully. Have your mechanic inspect the vehicle. Talk to the seller and agree in advance that you will pay for the examination if there is a charge for it, but the seller will pay if significant problems are discovered. A qualified mechanic should check the vehicle’s frame, tires, air bags, and undercarriage as well as the engine.

Examine dealer documents carefully. Make sure you are buying, not leasing the vehicle. Leases use terms such as “balloon payment” and “base mileage” disclosures.

Dealer vs Private Party Purchases

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires dealers to post a Buyer’s Guide in the window of each used car or truck on their lot. This guide specifies whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” (in the vehicle’s current condition, without a warranty) or with a warranty, and what percentage of repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty. When buying from a private party, this guide is not required. Private sellers generally have less responsibility than dealers do for defects or other problems. FTC rules do not apply to private-party sales.

You can expect to pay higher prices at a dealer than if you buy from an individual. Many dealers inspect their vehicles and provide an inspection report with each one. However, there is no substitute for your own inspection. Some dealers provide limited warranties, and most sell extended warranties. Steer clear of dealer warranties that are “power train” only warranties and not “bumper-to-bumper, ” full-coverage warranties. It is best to compare warranties that are available from other sources.

Some dealers sell “certified” cars. This generally means that the cars have had a more thorough inspection and come with a limited warranty. Prices for certified cars are generally higher. Be sure to get a list of what was inspected and what is covered under the warranty.

In general, buying a used car from a dealer is a safer option because you are dealing with an institution, which means you are better protected by law. Purchasing a vehicle from a private seller may save you money on the front end, but there are risks. The car could be stolen, damaged, or still under a finance agreement. If a private seller lies to you about the condition of a vehicle, you may sue the individual if you have evidence and you can find the seller. An individual is very unlikely to provide a warranty,

Recalls, “Lemon” Laws, and Secret Warranties  

Sometimes a manufacturer makes a design or production mistake on a vehicle. A technical service bulletin notifies the dealer of the problem and how to resolve it. Because these free repairs are not publicized, they are called “secret warranties.”

If you have a problem with a vehicle that is a safety hazard, check whether the manufacturer has recalled your vehicle. When a safety-related defect exists, the maker MUST fix it at no cost to you, even if your warranty has expired.

If you have a vehicle with a unique problem that just never seems to get fixed, you may have a “lemon.” If your car is declared a “lemon” you will have the right to return the car for a refund. The “lemon” law requirements vary from state to state, but the criteria to qualify as a lemon often depends on things like:

  • The defects must occur early within the cars first year or within the first 12,000 to 15,000 miles.
  • The car must have a substantial defect with parts like the engine, transmission, or steering controls.
  • You have to have given repair shops a reasonable number of attempts to fix the problem.
  • Your car was in a repair shop and you were unable to use it for a certain number of days within the year.

Contact your state or local consumer protection office to learn whether you have such protections and what steps you must take to get your problem solved.

If you believe your car is a “lemon” give the dealer a list of the problems every time you bring it in for repairs. Get and keep copies of the repair orders listing the problems, the work done, and the dates the car was in the shop. Contact the manufacturer as well as the dealer, to report the problem.

As you can see, making an automobile purchase is more than just walking onto a car lot and picking a car. Make sure as a consumer, you are informed before you drive off the lot.

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Protecting Your Child From Child Identity Theft

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protect your child from identity theft

Imagine learning that a thief has stolen your child’s identity and used it to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, a car loan – even a mortgage. You can do a lot to protect your kids’ personal information – and to minimize the damage that child identity theft can cause.

Warning Signs

Several signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information and committing fraud. For example, you or your child might:

  • get bills or notices for products or services  you didn’t receive, including medical care
  • be turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number
  • get a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay taxes on income or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return

Check for a Credit Report

If you suspect that your child’s information may be at risk, check whether your child has a credit report by contacting each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies:

Ask them to search using your child’s name and Social Security number; if nothing turns up, ask for a so-called manual search using just your child’s Social Security number.

If there is a credit report for your child, follow up with each credit reporting company. You’ll need to provide proof that your child is a minor, and that you are the parent or legal guardian. Ask each company to remove all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices from any file associated with your child’s name and Social Security number.

Repair the Damage

If you know that your child’s identity is being misused, call one of the credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert on your child’s credit report:

  • Equifax 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

That company will contact the others, and shortly, all three will have placed fraud alerts on any reports associated with your child’s name or Social Security number. These alerts are in force for 90 days.

Next, file a report with the FTC. Do it at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-438-4338. If the fraud relates to medical services or taxes, you might need to file a police report, too. Finally, contact every company where your child’s information was misused. Ask each to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft.

Prevention = Protection

You can take some steps to protect your child’s identity from misuse:

  • Keep all documents that show your child’s personal information locked up.
  • Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask to use another identifier, or at the very least, the last four digits of the Social Security number.
  • Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
  • Be pro-active in the face of certain personal circumstances, say an adult in financial hot water who might “adopt” a child’s identity to start over; a lost wallet or stolen purse that had your child’s Social Security card; a break-in at your home; or a notice that your child’s information was compromised in a data breach.

When Your Child Turns 16

It’s a good idea to check whether your child has a credit report close to the child’s 16th birthday. If there is one – and it has errors due to fraud or misuse – you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, or a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.

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Protecting Your Child’s Privacy Online

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protect your childs identity

 

As a parent, you have control over the personal information companies collect online from your kids under 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act gives you tools to do that. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the COPPA Rule. If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.

What is COPPA?  

The COPPA Rule was put in place to protect kids’ personal information on websites and online services — including apps — that are directed to children under 13. The Rule also applies to a general audience site that knows it’s collecting personal information from kids that age.

COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents directly and get their approval before they collect, use, or disclose a child’s personal information. Personal information in the world of COPPA includes a kid’s name, address, phone number or email address; their physical whereabouts; photos, videos and audio recordings of the child, and persistent identifiers, like IP addresses, that can be used to track a child’s activities over time and across different websites and online services.

Does COPPA affect the sites and services my kids use?

If the site or service doesn’t collect your child’s personal information, COPPA is not a factor. COPPA kicks in only when sites covered by the Rule collect certain personal information from your kids. Practically speaking, COPPA puts you in charge of your child’s personal information.

How does COPPA work?

COPPA works like this: Let’s say your child wants to use features on a site or download an app that collects their personal information. Before they can, you should get a plain language notice about what information the site will collect, how it will use it, and how you can provide your consent. For example, you may get an email from a company letting you know your child has started the process for signing up for a site or service that requires your child to give personal information. Or you may get that notice on the screen where you can consent to the collection of your child’s personal information.

The notice should link to a privacy policy that’s also plain to read — and in language that’s easy to understand. The privacy policy must give details about the kind of information the site collects, and what it might do with the information — say, if it plans to use the information to target advertising to a child or give or sell the information to other companies. In addition, the policy should state that those other companies have agreed to keep the information safe and confidential, and how to contact someone who can answer your questions.

That notice also should have directions on how to give your consent. Sites and services have some flexibility in how to do that. For example, some may ask you to send back a permission slip. Others may have a toll-free number you can call.

If you agree to let the site or service collect personal information from your child, it has a legal obligation to keep it secure.

What are my choices?

The first choice is whether you’re comfortable with the site’s information practices. Start by reading how the company plans to use your child’s information.

Then, it’s about how much consent you want to give. For example, you might give the company permission to collect your child’s personal information, but not allow it to share that information with others.

Once you give a site or service permission to collect personal information from your child, you’re still in control. As the parent, you have the right to review the information collected about your child. If you ask to see the information, keep in mind that website operators need to make sure you are the parent before providing you access. You also have the right to retract your consent any time, and to have any information collected about your child deleted.

What if it looks like a site or service is breaking the rules?

If you think a site has collected information from your kids or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

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Cramming – Unauthorized Charges on Your Phone Bill

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Cramming - Unauthorized Charges on Your Phone Bill

 

 

What is cramming?

Cramming is the illegal act of placing unauthorized charges on your wireline, wireless, or bundled services telephone bill. The FCC has estimated that cramming has harmed tens of millions of American households.

Deception is the hallmark of cramming. Crammers often rely on confusing telephone bills to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe.

Wireless consumers should be particularly vigilant. Smartphones are sophisticated handheld devices that enable consumers to shop online from wherever they are or charge app purchases to their phone bills. The more your mobile phone bill begins to resemble a credit card bill, the more difficult it may become to spot unauthorized charges.

How does cramming occur?

Cramming most often occurs when telephone companies allow other providers of goods or services to place charges on their customers’ telephone bills, enabling a telephone number to be used like a credit or debit card account number for vendors. Crammers may attempt to place a charge on a consumer’s phone bill having nothing other than an active telephone number, which can be obtained from a telephone directory.

What do cramming charges look like?

Cramming comes in many forms.  Charges – such as those described below – may be legitimate if authorized but, if unauthorized, are cramming:

  • Charges for services that are explained on your telephone bill in general terms such as “service fee,”  “service charge,” “other fees,” “voicemail,” “mail server,” “calling plan” and “membership.”
  • Charges that are added to your telephone bill every month without a clear explanation of the services provided – such as a “monthly fee” or “minimum monthly usage fee.”
  • Charges for specific services or products you may not have authorized, like ringtones, cell phone wallpaper, or “premium” text messages about sports scores, celebrity gossip, flirting tips or daily horoscopes.

How can I protect myself against cramming?

  • Carefully review your telephone bill every month, just as closely as you review your monthly credit card and bank statements.
  • Ask yourself the following questions as you review your telephone bill:
    • Do I recognize the names of all the companies listed on my bill?
    • What services were provided by the listed companies?
    • Does my bill include charges for calls I did not place or services I did not authorize?
    • Are the rates and line items consistent with the rates and line items that the company quoted to me?
  • When in doubt, ask questions.  You may be billed for a call you placed or a service you used, but the description listed on your telephone bill for the call or service may be unclear.  If you don’t know what service was provided for a charge listed on your bill, ask your telephone company to explain the charge before paying it.
  • Make sure you know what service was provided, even for small charges.  Cramming often goes undetected as very small “mystery charges” – sometimes only $1, $2, or $3 – to thousands of consumers.  Crammed charges can remain on bills for years.
  • Keep a record of the services you have authorized and used. These records can be helpful when billing descriptions are unclear.
  • Carefully read all forms and promotional materials – including the fine print – before signing up for telephone or other services to be billed on your phone bill.

What should I do if I think I’ve been crammed?

Take the following actions if your telephone bill lists unknown or suspicious charges:

  • Call the telephone company responsible for your bill, explain your concerns about the charges, and ask to have incorrect charges removed. You can also call the company that charged you, ask them to explain the charges, and request an adjustment to your bill for any incorrect charges.
  • If neither the telephone company sending you the bill nor the company that provided the service in question will remove charges you consider to be incorrect, you can file a complaint:
    • With the FCC about any charges on your telephone bill, whether they relate specifically to telephone service or to other products or services that appear on your bill
    • With your state public service commission for telephone services within your state (http://www.naruc.org/commissions.cfm)
    • With the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov) about charges for non-telephone services on your telephone bill

Filing a complaint

You have multiple options for filing a complaint with the FCC:

  • File a complaint online
  • By phone: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322); ASL: 1-844-432-2275
  • By mail (please include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible):

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

Truth-in-Billing

The FCC’s Truth-in-Billing rules require:

  • Clear, non-misleading, plain language describing services for which you are being billed.
  • The billing telephone company to identify the service provider associated with each charge.
  • The billing telephone company to distinguish between charges that will result in disconnection of basic, local service if not paid and charges that will not result in disconnection if not paid.
  • The billing telephone company to include one or more toll-free numbers you can call to ask about or dispute any charge.

In addition, wireline telephone companies must:

  • Inform consumers of any blocking options offered for third-party billing.
  • Place third-party charges in a distinct section of the bill separate from carrier charges.
  • Include a separate subtotal for the third-party charges in the distinct bill section and on the payment page.
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