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.
Investment regulators from around the country are getting a little worried that consumers may start falling for some investment scams because of the madness in the stock market these days. As always, the best advice when dealing with long-term investments is to take a long-term view, and don't make rash decisions because of a volatile time like this.
We have blogged about this before, but it's worth repeating since debit cards are so wildly popular.
Readers Digest recently covered some of the traps you can fall into with these. Pay close attention to the part about hotels, airlines, gas stations and rental car companies putting holds on your cards. Remember, they only keep this money temporarily, but during that time, it's gone from your bank account. For background on how these holds work, see our recent blog post.
The answer is both. There are plenty of mystery shopper / secret shopper scams out there, but there are hundreds of legitimate companies that hire and pay people to do this. Scambusters.org has a nice article that explains how to become a mystery shopper, how to spot the real opportunities from the scams and how to find a reputable company. There is actually an association of these companies.
When it comes to real vs. scams, two big pointers: if they contact you unsolicited, it's probably a scam. If they want money up front, probably a scam. And if they send you a check, then ask you to send some of the money elsewhere, that's the overpayment scam.
You can check to see if our office has complaints against one of these companies at our KnowMO link.
Article in the news today suggests that may be happening - consumers are deciding to pay for more things with cash. This is a positive development. And it's especially good news for those consumers, considering another article today that says banks are starting to raise credit card rates. That's because of the consumer debt crisis - so many consumers are having trouble paying off their loans and mortgages, the banks are hurting. So they are trying to generate revenue from another part of their business: credit cards.
This should be your mantra. Observe what a Missouri consumer wrote:
I purchased a car from a dealer who has since gone out of business. They told me I would recieve my title in the mail in about two weeks, but I never recieved it and I can not get a hold of them anymore. How can I go about getting the title to the vehicle?
You can file a consumer complaint with our office. We get hundreds of complaints like this - people buy a car, the seller says the title will be sent in the mail, and it never arrives. AG Nixon in 2005 filed felony charges against a dealer for this. Do not pay for a car without the title. That is your proof of ownership. Without it, you literally can not prove you own the car.
Want to test your consumer savvy when it comes to cars? Take our quiz.
Missouri consumer writes:
I received an E-Mail from: Internal Revenue Service Subject: Tax Refund (Message ID JN237A). "A Secure Way to Receive Your Tax Refunds." They ask you to click to fill out a form. I have not done this.
Good for you. This is a scam. The form will no doubt ask for your Social Security or bank account number. This is simply a way to steal your identity. You can read more about the IRS phishing scam e-mail in our consumer encyclopedia and see a sample(PDF). No legitimate organization, including the IRS, will e-mail you asking for personal information. The IRS itself puts out warnings about this every year.
You've no doubt heard the news about the drastic interest rate cuts from the Federal Reserve. "The Fed" has announced several cuts as a way to stimulate the economy, in hopes of avoiding a recession.
You may be wondering if that will give you any relief on your credit card interest rates. The answer is most likely no.
The rate cuts just lower the rates banks have to pay. Usually that translates into a lower rates for consumers, but not always. Here is an explanation of what the cuts do affect and what they don't.
Editor's note: Here is a blog post from Valentine's Day last year - but it still applies. The article in the link below has been updated.
To mark Valentine's Day, here's an item that goes to show you can get ripped off doing just about anything -- including looking for a date online. If you're getting to know that special someone on a dating Web site and you hear sob stories and an eventual request for money, look out.I personally took a call from a consumer three years ago who was convinced she had met (though never in person) her soul mate. The man claimed to live in another country and wanted to move to Missouri to marry her... after he bribed an African government to get his kids released from captivity. Naturally, he needed some of her money to pay the bribe. I couldn't convince her it was a scam. Never heard the outcome of that story, but good chance he broke her bank account as well as her heart.
Page 18-19 of AG Nixon's publication Know Your Rights gives our 4 critical consumer rules. If consumers followed these rules, most disputes, scams, etc, would be avoided.
1. Never give out your personal information to anyone who contacts you. Only give it when you initiate the contact. ID thieves and scammers who send phishing e-mail and phone calls hope you will violate this rule. Unless you contact them, you simply can't be sure who they are, no matter how important or convincing they sound. And they will sound convincing.
2. Don't pay full price for a product or service you haven't yet received. Home repair fraudsters who come door to door hope you'll violate this rule. Only pay when the work has been done or product received according to the terms of your agreement. If a service provider insists on a down payment, agree to no more than 25%.
3. Do business with companies that you know or have been recommended to you by someone you trust. Again, doing business with a door-to-door home repair stranger violates this rule. You can also contact our Consumer Protection Hotline (800-392-8222) or Web site or your local Better Business Bureau to ask what companies have received consumer complaints. You can check KnowMO, our online database of consumer complaints.
4. Never make financial decisions under pressure. Any high-pressure sales situation is suspicious. Make decisions on spending money or giving to charity only when you've done your homework and you're comfortable with it. If you say no to a high-pressure salesman or telemarketer, you are not going to hurt his feelings. Well, you might - but he'll quickly get over it and move on to the next prospect.
7 years is usually the number given on this, and an article in the Columbia Tribune confirms that and explains why. Also, there's a link to an IRS site that answers many of those questions.
Seniors groups have long been among the critics of payday lenders, and here's more reason for them to be alarmed.
A recent study says payday loan operators are setting up shop near senior populations. It's long been documented that there's a large number of stores in minority and low-income neighborhoods and military bases. One reason, as the article explains, payday lenders like seniors is they have a very reliable paycheck: Social Security.
AG Nixon for years now has been calling for an overhaul of Missouri's payday loan laws, which are among the most permissive in the nation.
AG Nixon is sponsoring an event in Columbia this Saturday where parents can bring in their kids' belongings to have them screened for lead content. It's free and quick - there's a scanner that looks like a police radar gun - the operator will hold it on the item for about 30 seconds and get a reading as to whether the thing has lead in it. Bring toys, cups, bibs, plates - anything likely to come in contact with a young child's mouth. Young = roughly age 6 or under.
Columbia Public Library on West Broadway from 10a - 1pm. We did one in St. Louis in January - we had 80 people bring 300 toys, and about 10% of them contained lead.
The Washington Post has a nice summary of what you can expect in May when the federal government starts sending out tax rebate checks.
Now that President Bush has signed the economic stimulus bill, Americans will soon get a check from the IRS, which the federal government hopes you'll immediately blow on retail goods to help pump some life into the economy.
There will be plenty of rumors and misinformation about the tax rebates coming our way. You know it's only a matter of time before you start getting e-mail from friends and family with "FW: FW: FW: FW: TAX REBATE IMPORTANT INFO - MUST READ" in the subject line. Am I right, or am I right? There have already been scams regarding tax rebates - we blogged about one of them recently.
I recently gave a talk at a seminar for small business owners, reminding them that they are consumers as well. Anyone who pays bills, hires vendors, signs contracts for services, etc, is a consumer.
So that means they can be victims of fraud, and they can file consumer complaints with our office. We filed around 60 lawsuits in consumer cases in 2007, and 15 of those involved businesses as a victims. Highlights of the last couple of years:
- Yellow-page companies sent checks for small amounts to companies. When cashed, these activation checks obligated the business to an online yellow-page ad they didn't want or even know about.
- Junk fax company busted for sending faxes to businesses. Sending unsolicited faxes is illegal.
- Company charging businesses for posters that say "Employees must wash hands." All such required government posters can be obtained for free from government agencies (OSHA, Family Medical Leave Act, employment rights, etc)
- Company charged businesses to build Web sites and didn't deliver.
- Another company charged for Internet advertising and didn't deliver.
- Company grossly overcharged businesses for credit card processing machines.
- Fire extinguisher inspectors who didn't perform. 2 different inspection companies left a lot of businesses not only ripped off but in grave danger of fire. This one could have lots of victims we don't know about yet.
Watch for a piece next week on the common scams that target businesses.
We just blogged last week about some fraud cases where a small business is the victim.
Well, here's a brand new example from St. Louis. Apparently these scammers were calling businesses to collect on outstanding bills for advertising. But there never was any advertising, and apparently the publication they claimed to work for either was out of business or never existed. One business owner got suspicious, but not until after she paid the bill.
This is a classic example of scammers trying to take advantage of weaknesses in the accounting process of a small business. They call to collect on a bill, saying someone in the office had ordered the product or service. Small business people are often in a hurry, or don't have the time or money to do the record-keeping of a larger company - so they pay the bill just to get it out of the way.
Businesses can file complaints with our office here.
Low-income Missourians may be able to save money by finding free or discounted medications, thanks to some grant money made available by AG Nixon last week.
There are hundreds of programs out there that make drugs available for low-income folks, but because there are so many, it's like finding a needle in a haystack. The best way to find them is through the Internet, which is unavailable to many poor and elderly.
The grant money will go to clinics, hospitals and advocacy groups who help these folks with their medication needs. It will allow them to buy software that helps find medications available for free or at a discount for the people they serve. These organizations are encouraged to apply for this grant money.
We have a handful of applications in so far, but we have room for many more. Any group that consults seniors and low-income consumers with their medication needs are encouraged to apply.
We have written about tax rebate scams connected to this year's economic stimulus plan, but you should soon be getting a letter that is truly from the IRS - not a scam. It will remind you that you must file a 2007 tax return before you can get your tax rebate check. There are a lot of Americans who never file a tax return. They will have to this year if they want that check. Remember rule #1 of our 4 consumer rules to live by: any contact that asks you for personal information (e-mail, letter, phone, etc) is a scam. This letter simply reminds you to file a tax return - it's not asking for money or personal info.
UPDATE: Here is an image of the front and back of the letter.