Keep up with the latest trends and warnings in consumer fraud, identity theft and other issues that affect your wallet with this consumer blog. Our bloggers cover fraud, ID theft, credit, cell phones, used cars and other every other topic that affects consumers in today's world. Your comments and questions are welcome.
The St. Louis area Better Business Bureau is warning of a new scam claiming to be a secret (mystery) shopper opportunity run by something called Edward Jones Market Research, with a St. Louis address. Turns out it's based in Canada and not affiliated with the Edward Jones company.
With the crisis in the nation's financial industry, lenders are getting much more stingy with extending credit to applicants. One thing you'll probably see: a higher credit score is now needed to qualify for the best deals, interests rates, etc. The consensus among lenders, credit card companies and others seems to now be:
Credit score of:
720-850 Very good
620 or less Bad (subprime)
These numbers are about 20-40 points higher than they used to be. In other words, in the past if you had a credit score of 620, you were considered "good." Now, that would put you in the "subprime" category, which means a lot of lenders would either turn you down or give you less favorable terms for your credit.
The federal bailout plan signed by President Bush today is a huge, complex law. That's an understatement. But one of the parts that affects you and is easy to understand is that FDIC insurance for now covers bank accounts up to $250,000 - as opposed to the old number that's been around forever of $100,000.
Here is an excerpt from a CNN article:
The bill temporarily raises the FDIC insurance cap to $250,000 from $100,000. The bill allows the FDIC to borrow from the Treasury to cover any losses that might occur as a result of the higher insurance limit.
Federal bank regulators, who first floated the idea to Congress late Tuesday, said that bumping up the insurance limits would help improve liquidity at banks across the country. It may also provide a much-needed dose of confidence for consumers who may be worried about the health of their bank.
The bill will also temporarily increase the level of federal insurance for credit union savings to $250,000.
This a temporary measure intended in part to help consumer confidence in the banking system during the financial hard times.
Missouri consumer writes:
My Utility Company has received a request to turn over my information under a Missouri Sunshine Law request. I do not want the people requesting this to have any of my personal information. I fear identity theft.
Here's the way this works. First, a reminder that a utility is only subject to the Sunshine Law if it's publicly owned. So if the local water works is run by the city, the Sunshine Law applies. That means the utility must turn over the records requested.
However, as far as ID theft goes, there is no cause for concern. The Sunshine Law says Social Security numbers are closed, even when they're part of a record held by a public body. So in the case above, the consumer's utility bill records would be public except for the SSN.
Could this be the next tidal wave of consumer anger spilling over at the cell phone companies? A Florida woman is suing the big 4 providers - Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, alleging they have conspired to raise their text-messaging rates at the same time. A US Senator is also irked at the wireless companies over this issue.
The last tidal wave was regarding early termination fees. Consumer lawsuits and government action have caused the wireless companies to lower those fees in a lot of cases. We have blogged in the past about how consumers are starting to win battles against the formerly unbendable wireless carriers.
Technorati Tags: att, early termination fee, mobile phone, shopping and spending, sprint, text message, text messaging, text rates, tmobile, verizon, wireless phone, cell phone, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
The Federal Trade Commission is announcing the shutdown of some kind of global spam gang - yes, they are using the word "gang." They send out those sexual enhancement messages we're all familiar with. Will be interesting for IT managers around the world to see if the amount of junk hitting their spam filters is down at all as a result of this.
PS: There have been other such announcements before - here's one we blogged about last year.
Many of us have received and probably spent our stimulus checks long ago but some are still waiting. There was a mix-up with about 260,000 married couple's checks. Apparently, some names and social security numbers were not matching up on the 2007-tax returns. The reason for this is that some newlyweds forgot to register their new names with the Social Security Administration.
When the glitch was discovered, the IRS began making efforts to make amends. Rest assured recently married couples! The IRS will be mailing letters explaining what happened (in mid-October), and you should expect your check two weeks after receipt of the letter. And this might be just the time you could use it!
Last week, I blogged about a name-change glitch that prevented hundreds of thousands of rebate checks from being mailed. That got me thinking - as a recent bride, myself - I need to get my paperwork started as soon as possible to prevent any mishaps, - like not getting a potential rebate check!
The problem exists with the follow through. You can't once have been "Ms. Jane Doe" and suddenly start calling yourself, "Mrs. Jane Smith" because there is no legal proof that your name has been changed. So, you must first start by visiting your local Social Security Administration office. Remember to bring a certified copy of your marriage certificate. Once you have your new Social Security card, you can present it to the MO Department of Revenue to change your name on your driver's license.
You should contact your local County Clerk to ensure a hassle-free voting process. You will also want to call your County Assessor to make the changes on your personal property taxes.
Of course, if applicable, you'll want to talk to your employer to make sure your W-2, forms etc., are correct. You will want to contact your health and car insurance providers. Then, it is time to go to head to the bank. You do not want to be writing checks with a different name than what is on your license! Further, make sure to call your credit-card company to get your cards updated.
Obviously, you want to make sure that your vote will count and that your taxes are filed appropriately, and if there is another rebate check in the future, there won't be a delay because of a name mix-up.
We have all heard about data breaches and other identity theft involving business, schools and government agencies that lose Social Security or credit card numbers of thousands - even millions - of people. Now, new federal regulations are going to put more of an onus on businesses to protect personal information.
Starting November 1 of this year, companies that deal in the credit world are required to have a written action plan to prevent, detect and recover from identity theft if it happens to their customers. The so-called red-flag rules naturally apply to companies like banks and credit card companies. But they also apply to retailers and others who pull credit reports as part of their decision making. In other words, if you check the credit of potential customers, this rule applies to you. We're talking banks and credit cards. We're also talking retailers like car dealerships and furniture, jewelry and appliance stores. Even government agencies that allow citizens to pay on credit are subject to these rules.
This is important ground to cover because in about 30% of all ID theft cases, a third-party organization is the culprit, through a data breach, crooked employee, etc. This blog post has a breakdown of how ID's get stolen.
Are you one of the 70 million Americans who has a profile on a social networking site like MySpace or Facebook? While all may seem fun and harmless, there are risks. There are serious risks to your safety if you get hooked up with the wrong people. You can find suggestions on how to stay safe at the Web site netsmartz.org. This focuses mainly on kids, but the same advice applies to adults.
But there are also financial risks - and the good folks at scambusters.org have put together a list of the top 5 social networking scams. This isn't mentioned in the article, but monitor your kids' online activities - they could easily compromise your computer security or give out information. Either one puts you at risk for identity theft.
One other note: if you use Web sites to meet potential dates, check out our cautions against dating scams.
Technorati Tags: dating scams, facebook, flickr, id theft, internet, internet safety, linkedin, myspace, scambusters, scams, social network, social networking, identity theft, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
State and federal money is available to help low-income Missourians pay their heating bills this winter. Federal money is part of the LIHEAP program, and state money comes from the Utilicare program. The Missouri Department of Social Services Web site has more information on these programs.
Also, remember Missouri has a Cold Weather Rule, which protects consumers from having their heat shut off by utility companies on cold days. The Missouri Public Service Commission has tips for keeping your heating costs down here.
The Federal Trade Commission is reporting heavy complaints recently about companies offering to fix consumers' credit reports, thus improving their credit scores. These are essentially worthless services. Here's why I say that:
- If you have negative information on your credit report that's incorrect, you have the right under federal law to have that removed. No need to pay a company to do that. You can either go through the credit bureau that lists the inaccurate info, or file a consumer complaint with our office.
- If you have negative info that's accurate, there is nothing you can do about that. Negative information can stay on your credit report for seven years under federal law - or 10 years if it's a bankruptcy.
For more info, see our publication on credit repair scams.
Some government and non-government organizations are providing assistance for renters.
More and more property owners are finding themselves in foreclosure, thus forcing their tenants to vacate their homes. States like Ohio and California are passing laws that will prevent renters from ending up homeless due to their landlords inability to pay their mortgages.
Assistance is also coming from more localized organizations; read here for more information.
Seventeen people have been arrested in what appears to be a significant mortgage fraud case. According to the KC Star, this complicated ring provided opportunities for a real-estate agent, mortgage officers and homebuyers to earn some extra cash, while duping the mortgage companies in the process.
Allegedly, the real-estate agent sought out potential buyers who then provided false information while applying for their loans. After the homes were acquired, the homeowners received a bonus for their fraudulent information – somewhere between $60,000 -$125,000.
All of the deception distorted the property values for the neighborhoods of Kansas City. Even more, most of the homes are in foreclosure or abandoned. Now those empty homes are in disrepair and thus, have decreased the value of the surrounding homes.
First a major insurance company, then the financial industry got big federal bucks for a bailout. Now there is talk of federal money possibly being used to help forgive some consumer credit card debt. The interesting thing is that banks and consumer advocates are teaming up in pushing for this. What are the chances? USA Today story has more.