Category Archives: Consumer Protection

U.S. Senate Launches Anti-Fraud Hotline

Victims of fraud are increasing on a daily basis. Everyone is a target, but some people are more at risk than others. Elderly people, lonely people, and immigrants are often targets of fraudulent activity. Scams to get credit card and other financial information include email scams for moving large amounts of money, phone calls asking for financial information because a loved one is in trouble, and online matchmaking gone horribly wrong.

People have lost their livelihoods by falling victim to these scams and schemes. The United States Senate wants to put a stop to them and wants to help victims of fraud, especially elderly victims.  A new anti-fraud hotline has been unveiled to make it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and to receive assistance.

“If you Continue reading U.S. Senate Launches Anti-Fraud Hotline

College, credit and identity theft

credit card scams

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, which help to support this site. However, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.

This post will be a little more personal in nature.  Recently I went shopping with my 25 year old son, who is getting ready to embark on the grand adventure of marriage.  Together we visited the jewelry stores.  He was hoping to find the perfect engagement ring to give to his soon to be fiance (we were pretty sure she would say yes) and I was there to negotiate the best price.  Finding the perfect ring we discuss the price.  Once we get the price the store was ready to accept we now have to find out the best way to pay for this item.

Like many college students (he graduates this December as he worked full time his way through college) he didn’t have the amount saved because every penny counts.  Having never had any credit since his car was paid for (thank you grandma and grandpa), as was his housing and other expenses we thought now would be a good time to begin to build it.  After all the cost of the ring was not that bad and it would be a good way to get started on the way to responsible credit use. Getting his bonuses over the next six months and each of them could pay for the expense, he decided to fill out the application.  After all, who knows a few years from now the next thing I hope to help him find is a new house (somewhere closer than 1900 miles away).

“I’m sorry, you weren’t approved,” the salesperson tells us.  Crushed, he quickly becomes curious, and asked to see the denial.

Lesson no. 1 If denied credit always ask to see the written response, you may be surprised.

The denial says he has unpaid credit card bills and outstanding credit (not outstanding as in really good either!).  But how can this be he asks.  Other than his monthly cell phone bill he has not had any credit cards, no monthly payments.  Not even student loans, because although he took one out his first year they are deferral because he is in school.   “Mom! What do I do?”

Lesson no. 2 Run your credit report immediately.  He can start with his free credit report, but considering these circumstances he may want to use a service like CreditSesame because they also offer additional services to help him stay on top of his credit rating.

We ran his credit report and now the work really begins.   It’s time to clean it up.  There are a number of different problems with it, from fraudulent use of his name, Social Security Number, creation of a new identity using his old address and of course the big problem, unpaid items of credit, whether it was a fast cash item or credit card.   “How did this happen?” he wonders.

Lesson no. 3 It can happen a number of ways from old mail, credit card offers in the mail, his Social Security Number used at the college or even a so called friend or roommate which had access to his information.  Stolen wallets, filled out forms, responding to spam messages, there are a whole number of different ways that this happens.  Maybe he was just unlucky.  Most identity theft takes bits and pieces of the true to create a “new you.”  That’s where this gets messy.

What can you do?  Now it’s time to take action.  Either file a dispute through the credit monitoring service that you are using or grab some pen and paper and do it the old fashioned way.   Either way you need to contact the credit reporting agencies with the information that is incorrect, correct it and include any proof that you may be able to provide.

Lesson. no 4 Some say you can file with just one agency and that all the information will be sent to all three.  However, to be safe I recommended that my son send the information to each of them if he didn’t want to file it online.

Here are some sample letters to use when filing your dispute.

Should you take the snail mail route here are the mailing addresses for each of the three reporting agencies.

TransUnion
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

Experian
P.O. Box 9530
Allen, TX 75013

Equifax
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374

Remember mistakes can be made on anyone’s credit report but it has been reported that identity theft is on the rise for college students, so pass this information on to them so that they know what to do.

 

Combating Harmful Debt Collection Practices: Debt Collectors Respond

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has put debt collection companies on notice against harmful debt collection practices. CFPB has also released new tools to help consumers communicate with debt collectors and resolve collection complaints.

CFPB explains that most collection firms treat consumers fairly, but the ones that don’t “can cause financial harm to consumers and undermine the financial marketplace.” The bureau is in the business of protecting consumers. It warns debt collectors that “any entity that is subject to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 is legally required to refrain from committing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices that would violate the Act.”

The “Action Letters” Continue reading Combating Harmful Debt Collection Practices: Debt Collectors Respond

Is Cell Phone Insurance A Rip-Off?

If you’ve just bought an expensive smart phone, you may be considering getting it insured.

Cell phone insurance plans starting at a small amount like $6.99/month might seem like a good idea, but is shelling out for insurance worth it, or is it simply a rip-off?

Financial sources indicate that there are a few circumstances in which cell phone insurance pays off. For example, if you lose your smart phone only a few months after having purchased it, your insurer can help you replace your phone for less than it would cost if you weren’t insured. For this reason, cell phone insurance might be a good idea for someone who has a track record of breaking or losing phones.

Hang on to your old phone in case you lose your break your smart phone
Image provided by flickr creative commons user ellenm1.

However, in most instances it seems that cell phone insurance hurts the consumer’s wallet more than it helps.

Fine Print:

For starters, insurance plans often come with a good deal (sometimes pages and pages) of fine print, which should be read through carefully.

Sometimes this fine print might contain an agreement on the insurer’s part to replace your phone, but with what might turn out to be a used phone or a different model to be determined at the insurer’s discretion. This caveat might apply when trying to replace a new, in-demand phone, or an older model that is no longer manufactured.

Some experts say that these contracts are usually loosely written to give insurance companies ample leeway in dealing with individual cases.

Deductible:

Depending on the insurance plan, the consumer might be responsible for a deductible as high as $199. For that amount, you might be able to find a replacement phone on eBay or a refurbished phone.

Alternatives to Insurance Plans:

Instead of spending money on a cell phone insurance plan, experts suggest:

  • Simply setting aside the money that you would be spending on a plan in an emergency cell phone fund
  • Investing the money that you would be spending on a plan
  • Asking your insurance company about adding a plan onto your existing homeowner’s insurance
  • Use an older or cheaper phone until your contract expires

When buying a new smart phone, be wary of “peace of mind” insurance offers. Read contracts carefully and consider realistic alternatives.

Sources:

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/06/24/the-pros-cons-of-cell-phone-insurance/

http://www.sfgate.com/technology/dotcommentary/article/I-take-it-back-Don-t-insure-cell-phone-3886114.php#page-2

Game of Piracy

Game of Thrones, the HBO series based off of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, is reportedly the most pirated show on television. Downloaders have been setting bittorrent swarm records this season downloading GOT.

So what makes GOT so irresistible to otherwise law-abiding citizens? There are a few different reasons that people pirate television shows:

pirate
Image provided by Flickr creative commons user Criss!

1.) The way that HBO service is set up, users are required, in many cases, to subscribe to HBO on top of their existing cable package. If a user is only interested in one particular show, the cost of an HBO subscription may seem silly, and the user is driven to download the show illegally and for free.

2.) Because of delayed distribution to international markets, many people in other parts of the world resort to pirating the show rather than having to wait long stretches of time, up to six months in some countries, to watch the show after it has aired in the U.S. Finnish actor and director Timo Vuorensola, who directed Disney’s “Iron Sky” publicly declared that the HBO service that he receives in Finland is sub-par, with long delays before the Finnish audience can view the latest episodes. Vuorensola went as far as to say that he may start downloading the show from notorious download site thepiratebay.

3.) This show is so ridiculously good that non-subscribers just do not want to wait for it to come out on DVD in order to purchase the show legally. With several different dynamic story lines evolving at once, and the author’s penchant for killing off main characters willy-nilly, this show has viewers absolutely hooked.

But is pirating really that bad for business? David Petrarca, director of GOT, mentioned that he believed in the benefit of the “cultural buzz” generated by pirated episodes. Martin called the immense levels of piracy a sort of strange compliment, although perhaps not the best sort of compliment.

Even if pirating the show is not as damaging to HBO as it may seem, potential pirates should be aware – especially Comcast users. Earlier this year, Comcast implemented the “six strikes” of copyright infringement on users who download illegally. These users will receive an email alert when Comcast catches them illegally streaming a show – and according to some reports they seem to be paying particular attention to users downloading GOT episodes. Repeat offenders could be cut off from cable or internet access. Comcast has been criticized for not properly using official channels to notify users of this new initiative.

Sources:

Comcast’s “Six Strikes” Email With Infringement Details Surfaces

I’ll Download Game of Thrones from The Pirate Bay, Iron Sky Director Tells HBO

http://winteriscoming.net/2013/03/game-of-thrones-and-piracy-pbs-and-grrm-weigh-in-hbo-responds/

Game of Thrones Director Says Piracy Is Ok While The Copyright Alert System Is Warning Consumers Against It

Oklahoma Disaster Officials Are Now Fighting Off Fraud

It might seem hard to believe, but even areas that are suffering are not immune to fraudsters and scam artists. In fact, these areas seem to draw them in like crazy. In Oklahoma, where the tornadoes and disasters touched down with regularity over the past few months, the scam artists are already trying to take advantage of insurance and government programs. The tornado outbreak started around May 19 and the anti-fraud units in Oklahoma have been on high alert. In fact, officials from North Carolina have come in to aid in the fight as well.

The fraud is multifaceted and includes fraud of the victims, fraud of the system and insurance fraud to name a few.  Tornado victims are being counseled to teach them what to look out for, but it seems inevitable that there will be victims that were victims to start with. How someone can victimize people that have been through so much is hard to understand.

The other part of policing the situation includes Continue reading Oklahoma Disaster Officials Are Now Fighting Off Fraud

Gas Pumps Are The Latest Credit Card Skimmer Scam

gas pump credit card skimmersWhen it comes to pumping your gas and getting down the road, most of us are usually in a hurry. We want to get in and get out, quick to swipe our card and pump the gas. Lately, identity theft scams are getting kind of impressive. Now, criminals are installing credit card skimmers on gas pumps and ATM machines across the country. These skimmers read the magnetic strip and provide the criminal with all the information they need to go on a spending spree.

So, how do you avoid this latest scam to take your money?

There are no fool-proof ways to avoid the scams completely but there are some ways to minimize your risks. One important first step is to look at the gas pumps and ATMs closely before sharing your card. Most of the places where a skimmer have been installed to steal your information will look changed in some way. This might be an out of place sticker, an extra layer of plastic or even a fake slide. If something looks awry, move on to another gas station and contact the police.

Another way to spot these credit card skimmers is to move the slide with your hands. If they are added after the fact, they will likely fall off or move. When they are made by the manufacturer, they are going to be solid and not move in the least. Criminals will often put in a cover or piece that will move and wiggle when you try to move it.

One of the best ways to avoid such problems Continue reading Gas Pumps Are The Latest Credit Card Skimmer Scam

What You Should Know About Chip-and-PIN Credit Cards

chip and pin technology credit cardsIn a world where keeping your information safe has become the number one priority, it is amazing that the United States has not moved wholesale to chip-and-PIN technology where credit cards are concerned. This chip system eliminates the old fashioned magnetic strip technology and is considered much more secure. Here are some things to consider about this wonderful way of doing business safely:

The primary thing to know about chip-and-PIN technology is that it uses a chip rather than a strip. The difference is that the chip is impossible to get to with readers. You have to stick the card into the reader to actually glean the information. Today’s magnetic strips are being read through our pockets, at gas stations and even at ATMs throughout the United States. This means that our technology is far outdated. Banks now are realizing this stateside and changing over slowly to chip technology. You should ask for one now if you haven’t already.

Another disadvantage of magnetic readers is that most of the world is on the chip now. Europe uses the chip almost Continue reading What You Should Know About Chip-and-PIN Credit Cards

Gambling With Your Identity

I see it all the time.

Some person will be just crazy about how they handle their personal information.

I see this because I have been aware of computer crime and mail fraud since I became a victim of it myself in 1999.

Unfortunately, I had gotten a friend involved in what I thought was a really great deal.

It turned out to be a complete scam, and not only did it cost each of us $600, just as we were entering our sophomore year of college, but it also cost me the trust of a friend, and was the start of the loss of that friendship.

That was one of the most expensive lessons I have ever learned in my life.

I still will pay back this friend, with interest, though this event is more than 14 years ago now.

Gambling with your identity is much different than playing in a casino.

In a casino, you’re intentionally walking into a Gaming Club of some kind.

When you know you’re walking into a fantasy world, either through online gaming and gambling or in a real casino, you still know that you’re there to lose some money.

In real life, you may never know you’re walking into a trap.

When you buy that fake computer from a fake guy who is offering you a deal that’s just too good to be true, chances are very good that the deal really is too good to be true.

But unless you improve your skills and knowledge, and approach transactions with a healthy dose of skepticism, you will never see the trap, until it’s too late.

 

Like we’ve been recommending for years on this site, you should probably walk away from a situation where you know something just doesn’t feel right.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

If you get involved with someone who’s trying to scam you, it can end up being like you’re gambling with your identity.

If you lose your identity due to carelessness, it’s a tough and expensive lesson.

There’s really not much more to say today than this simple reminder to be alert, be aware, and get educated.

Make sure to protect your information and your identity, and have a plan in place before identity theft takes place.