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.
State lawmakers are considering some lawsuit protection for car dealers. Under the bill, consumers would not be able to sue a retail dealership over surprise defects. Consumer advocates don't like the idea - including the Kansas City Star, which editorialized against it Friday.
AG Nixon this week announced the shutdown of another company that uses "activation checks" to trick businesses into buying advertising they don't want. An activation check - or live check - is one of those checks for $2 or $3 that you endorse and cash, and it commits you to something. It could be telemarketing calls, it could be advertising, some credit monitoring service, etc. If you look at the back of the check, you'll see language on there that you're agreeing to - that is essentially a contract when signed. So be careful with these checks.
We busted two different online yellow page operations about a year ago for the same thing.
If not, you may see it at some point. Washington Post has an article about the increasing about of text-message advertising being generated. And unlike spam in your inbox, or telemarketing calls to your home, these text-message spams can cost minutes against your plan.
AG Nixon has been calling on the state legislature to strengthen the No Call list for years, but no dice yet. He wants, among other things, cell phones to be added to the No Call list. Under the law, we can only take residential landline phones. If we could get that change, it could block unsolicited text-message ads.
You might not think ID theft would be a threat to children, but think again.
In some ways, a child is the ideal victim, because they have no credit history (which is better than bad history) and it may be years before they discover they're a victim. Forbes magazine has a nice story on it.
A significant number of ID theft cases reported to the authorities each year involve victims under 18. We recommend parents (or kids themselves, depending on age) check their kids' credit reports about once a year. This is compared to 3x per year that we recommend for adults. All of which can be done for free. While you can request an adult credit report by phone or online, you'll have to mail in your request for a minor's credit report. If the answer is "there is no credit file on this person," that's good - that's what you want. If there is credit history on your child, you'd better find out why. Could be ID theft.
If you have problems with ID theft, you can file a complaint with our office.
We have mentioned some slight risks associated with gift cards, but here is another, perhaps bigger risk: the company you buy from could go out of business.
According to one count, $75 million worth of gift cards could be worthless because of retailers that are in financial trouble.
Make sure the person you're dealing with actually has the authority to rent the place. Our good buddy Nancy Lewis of the Fox 4 TV Problem Solvers unearthed this scam from the KC area. (Check out the video.)
A couple, supposedly on a mission trip in Nigeria, was advertising a place for rent and asking for a $700 deposit. The catch? The homeowner didn't know anything about it, and didn't even know these people. The scammers apparently got the house info from an online real estate listing.
AG Nixon has sued a timeshare seller on consumer fraud charges, based out of Branson.
Almost every day we get complaints from seniors and others being victimized and sold a bill of goods while vacationing in Branson. Timeshare companies and travel clubs are the biggest sources of complaints. Consumers enter a high-pressure sales presentation, buy, then regret it.
Or if they don't regret it right away, they do as soon as they realize they're not getting what they were promised.
For those of you who vacation in Branson or have friends and family who do, tell them to think long and hard before accepting one of these travel pitches. At the very least, consumers should take a day to think about it, rather than signing right away.
There are reports out now that plug and play digital equipment - like game players, mp3 players, even digital picture frames - could be infested with viruses that could result in identity theft and other problems.
Apparently some PC users have gotten virus warnings when they plug these devices into their computers to transfer data. And that's if you're fortunate enough to have up-to-date and effective virus detection on your computer.
The culprit could be carelessness on the part of the factory, but it could also be intentional.
Question: If the credit card company agrees to accept less than I owe, will that hurt my credit rating?
True, it's a mutual decision. And true, the credit card company is agreeing to wipe out part of your debt and not pursue it any further. But you still didn't pay all that you said you would, so other lenders will consider that a bad thing.
Here's a summary of how it works, from the Columbia Tribune.
Another blog, Truston, points out that when buying your credit score, you may get a different number, depending on where you buy it. That blog post explains the difference between FICO scores and other credit scores you may get directly from the credit bureaus.
And it can be important to buy the right one for your situation.
If you ever get a message asking you to call a phone number with any of these area codes, don't. These dial countries in the Carribean or Central America, and these messages are often a scam - a way to get you to pay big fees when you call. A Better Business Bureau chapter in Indiana recently sent a warning on this.
This scam uses numbers that are like 900 numbers in the U.S. You not only will pay long distance for this call, but the place you're calling may bill you as well. So if you return one of these messages, you may just get put on hold - and the longer you hold, the more they can charge you.
This may be going around right now: I just had a senior citizen report that he'd gotten this message. He called the number and was put on hold. That was several months ago, so if there was an extra charge on his phone bill, he says he doesn't remember it.
Page 16 of our Know Your Rights publication has the details.
One of the biggest opponents of the idea? The US Postal Service, which says junk mail is the "lifeblood" of the USPS.
A reminder that you can opt out of junk mail now, as well as pre-approved credit card offers. So why is legislation being considered? Because the current junk mail opt out is voluntary, run by the Direct Marketing Association. This legislation would put it into law, so that violations are punishable.
Technorati Tags: direct mail, do not call list, junk mail, no call list, pre approved credit card offers, pre screened credit card offers, telemarketing, us postal service, usps, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
Article in the Post-Dispatch today attempts to explain how you can get a charge on your credit card bill, without even giving your number to the company. The reporter got the story idea from one of the consumer victims in our Operation Taken for a Ride lawsuit involving car extended warranties.
The company in question used what’s called “pre-acquired account information,” so they had this woman’s credit card number before they even called her. This is not supposed to work this way. If you get charged for something you never ordered, work with the company first to remove the charge. If that doesn't work, go to your credit card company. If that doesn't work, file a consumer complaint with our office.
With a huge section of southern Missouri dealing with the floods of 2008, AG Nixon is warning flood victims not to get victimized a second time by con artists. As with any damaging storm, the crooks come out of the woodwork to take advantage of home and business owners in dire need of repairs. There also might be merchants who significantly raise prices to profit off these needy flood victims looking for things like bottled water, ice, plywood, generators, etc.
Once the flood waters recede, a lot of people will need to hire contractors to do flood restoration. The press release linked above has our best advice for watching for red flags and hiring reliable contractors to do this work. The biggest pointers: avoid the door-to-door solicitors and don't pay full price up front for services that haven't yet been performed.
We also advise you to get your agreement with contractors in writing. If they don't do contracts, write up your own and have them sign it. Our home repair worksheet may help you do that.
A Missouri consumer recently received a survey in the mail, along with a $10 bill (cash) for taking the time to fill out the survey. So what does she do - can she keep the cash? Does she have to do the survey?
The answers are yes and no. Yes, she can keep the cash, and No, she's under no obligation to do the survey.
Missouri law says any unordered merchandise can be considered a gift. So if you got something in the mail you never asked for, you can either send it back or keep it. And you don't have to pay for it.
That's why you can keep and use those return address labels charities send you in the mail, with no obligation to donate to the charity.
Keep in mind, none of this applies if you ask for the merchandise, whether it's return address labels or anything else. It must be unsolicited.
Recently, a neighbor of mine returned home to his duplex to find it had been wrecked by fire, water and smoke damage, but luckily nobody was hurt. Sometimes it takes another person’s catastrophe to remind us that we are all pretty vulnerable.
Homeowners insurance covers not just the home, but also the valuable belongings inside. Many renters mistakenly believe that the landlord’s insurance will cover their losses in the case of a disaster. The landlord’s insurance will cover property, but not the renter’s possessions.
There are several different types of renters insurance and two types of payouts to the renter: actual cash value and replacement cost coverage. Actual cash value will pay for replacement costs, minus depreciation. Replacement cost coverage will pay for replacement cost without any depreciation. And, like your car insurance, you can pay monthly or a one-time annual payment.
For more information about renters insurance, visit MO’s Department of Insurance Financial Institution and Professional Registration website and review the Homeowners and Renters Insurance consumer guides.
Your personal information can be used for more than just financial purposes. There have been stories from around the country about medical ID theft - here is one of them.
Our office has seen a handful of complaints on this subject. As always, you can file an ID theft complaint with our office if need be.
Credit cards and college campuses - they always gone together like a horse and carriage. But apparently that's never been more true than today, according to a new survey.
Remember, you can opt out of pre-approved credit card offers sent to your home.