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.
Each year at this time, AG Nixon puts out a consumer alert reminding everyone to watch out for fraud when hiring home repair contractors. Spring is the time a lot consumers start thinking about work to be done on their homes.
One of our pieces of advice is to get all terms in writing. But what if you deal with a smaller operator who prefers to work on a "handshake basis?" Not advised. If your contractor doesn't have a contract, you can create your own.
Our Consumer Corner Web site offers a worksheet (PDF) you can use to draw up an agreement and have it signed. In it, you'll find the elements that should go in any contract. And don't worry about making it overly formal - anything in writing signed by both parties is better than nothing.
County recorders' offices from Missouri and around the country are warning about a new mail scam offering a certified copy of your real estate deed for anywhere from $60 to $100. It will explain how important it is for you to have this.
And that's correct - but you can get it for about 2 bucks from your local county recorder's office. Your property deed is basically your official proof of ownership of your land, property, real estate, whatever you call it. And it's important to have, just like other key documents like car title, birth certificates, etc. But these are issued by governments and usually accessible for a minimal price.
You may have seen this email that's been making the rounds for several years:
Cell Phone's - Reminder about deadline REMINDER ..10 days from today, all cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls. .....YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: 888-382-1222 . It is the National DO NOT CALL list. It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five (5) years. You must call from the cell phone number you are wanting to have blocked. You cannot call from a different phone number. HELP OTHERS BY PASSING THIS ON TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS OR GO TO: http://www.donotcall.gov/
This is a hoax, but at least it's a hoax with good intentions.
As the Federal Trade Commission explains, there are no plans for cell phone numbers to be turned over to telemarketers. Having said that, there's nothing wrong with signing up for the national Do Not Call registry, which is run by the FTC.
FYI, we are trying for the umpteenth year in a row to allow you to register your cell phone number on Missouri's No Call list, which is enforced by our office. The legislature has yet to make that change, however.
Technorati Tags: cell phones, complaints, consumer protection, do not call list, mobile phones, national do not call registry, no call list, phone, solicitation, telemarketers, telemarketing, wireless phones, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
Another day, another data breach.
This time, Mizzou and the 4-campus system says some computer hackers have accessed names and Social Security numbers of thousands of employees and students.
All this is a reminder that your personal information is out there, and it may not be safe. Again, this is all the more reason to be checking your credit report, so that if ID theft does strike you, you'll catch it quickly.
Another way you might catch it is if those who lose your information are required by law to tell you about it. Congress is considering some such laws.
Missouri consumer writes:
My fiance recently purchased a '64 Chevy Bel-Air and had the title signed over to him. This car hasn't been drivable so he waited on getting it registered. It is getting close to being drivable and he realized that he can't find the title. We are unable to locate the owner. He isn't living in the house that we bought the car from.
Thanks to Maura Browning at the Missouri Department of Revenue for the help in answering this one.
You have three options:
1. You can get a declaratory judgment through the Circuit Court in your county, ordering the Department of Revenue to issue a title to you. This is your only option if you don't have a bill of sale from when you bought the car. Check with your county Circuit Clerk on how to begin this process.
If you don't have that bill of sale, here are your two options:
2. If the car is worth $3,000 or less, you can apply for a bonded vehicle original title. You will have to buy a surety bond up to two times the car's value. Call Department of Revenue on this, 573-751-4509.
3. Since the car is more than 25 years old, you can get a salvage bonded vehicle title. This requires you to buy a surety bond worth 1.5 times the value. Once the car's drivable, you need a Highway Patrol inspection to convert the vehicle back to an original title that allows the car to be registered and driven on public roads. From the date of purchase, you have 30 days to title a vehicle, so depending on date of purchase, you may face late titling penalties.
Moral of the story: Always, always, always get the title before buying a car, and keep it. Your motto should be NO TITLE, NO DEAL! AG Nixon frequently sees complaints from consumers who bought cars but never got the title. See more in our All About Autos publication.
Little known fact: If you ever get a letter from your credit card company saying your interest rate is going up, did you know you can opt out? You'll keep your rate as is, but you'll have to stop using the card. It may be worth it. Read more here.
For those of you who like to travel, especially those who may find themselves in Branson soon, beware: One of the most consistent types of consumer complaints to AG Nixon's office is the travel club contract.
Almost every complaint looks the same - there are about three issues that rotate as the major problem consumers have with these:
- They claim you will get good deals on future travel, but the deals turn out to be no better than what you can find on your own.
- They claim they'll help you sell current vacation property, like a timeshare, then they don't.
- They won't let you cancel, even though you signed under high pressure. Normally consumers hear a travel club sales pitch during a 90-minute presentation they agreed to attend in exchange for a free hotel stay or some other perk.
Today marks a record setting high for gas prices across the nation and consumers are feeling the pinch. What can you do to help control gas prices?
When a gas station's price is 18 cents above the national average, people may report the gas station. The Energy Information Administration has a web site for individuals to check these averages on a daily bases and be able to compare them to what is current, yesterday, a month, and a year ago. Keep in mind that unless a gas station is selling 18 cents above the national average, they can set their prices as they see fit.
In the past, Attorney General Nixon has sued gas stations for price gouging in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Missouri's price-gouging regulations prohibit charging excessive prices for necessities (including gasoline) in disaster areas, and price gouging is an unfair practice under state consumer protection laws.
If you believe a particular gas station is charging excessively for gas, please provide our office with any specific information that you have concerning that specific station. This should include the business name and its location along with any substantiating documents you may have in your possession. Please do not submit complaints about the price of gas in general. To report a gas station, please feel free to contact the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222 or file a consumer complaint online.
AG Nixon this week announced more agreements with businesses we accused of price gouging after the massive ice storms in southwest Missouri in January. Important to note that price gouging only applies during times of emergency, like September 11th and Hurricane Katrina.
The legislature has passed and sent to the governor a bill that makes it harder to find out if a used car has been totaled. The bill basically loosens the requirements for salvage titles - bottom line is, right now you have a right to know if a car has been totaled within the last 7 years. If the governor signs this bill, that would change to 6 years. It would also change the definition of total loss, which helps sellers.
The Post-Dispatch has a scathing editorial against the bill.
Agree or disagree, the more important point is that you should never rely on a title search to make your car buying decision. Take the critical step of hiring an independent mechanic to examine the car - that will help you spot damage that might not be reported in the car's title history.
See our publication All About Autos for more information.
Remember all those automated political calls you got last October from the likes of Presidents Clinton, Bush and other celebrities? Well, despite our efforts, the state legislature has decided they should still be allowed, even if you're on the No Call list.
Read AG Nixon's scathing statement here.
Most frustrating is that fact that the Missouri House didn't even allow it to be voted on - they just killed the bill. That way, no representative is on record as voting "no," which would be difficult to explain to constituents.
They can redeem themselves however: fortunately, there is no major election this year. That means the legislature can come back next year and pass it before the major elections in fall 2008.
If this is an important issue to you, you might talk to your senator and representative about it. Additionally, that bill would have allowed you to register your business, cell and fax number on the No Call list. This is becoming the political game in Jeff City. As I explained in a blog a couple of months ago, each year the Senate passes this bill overwhelmingly, and the House buries it.
Technorati Tags: complaints, consumer protection, do not call list, missouri legislature, no call list, phone, political calls, political robo calls, political telemarketing, robo calls, solicitation, telemarketers, telemarketing, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
You may have heard people say "I can't complain - of course it wouldn't do any good if I did." That may apply to the weather and the aging process, but not to consumer rip offs.
Check out AG Nixon's announcement today that Ashley Furniture is trucking in tons of furniture to customers in Joplin who paid but got nothing. More than 200 consumers filed complaints with our office against the Joplin store. When our investigators got in touch with Ashley HQ in Wisconsin, they stepped up and delivered. We are still suing the local store, but not the Wisconsin HQ.
As mentioned earlier this week, the legislature did not pass our No Call expansion this year.
So here's where we stand with No Call: You can register your residential landline phone. (The legislature rejected our proposal to accept cell phone numbers, fax lines and business lines.)
There are exempt groups - your phone may still ring now and then. It's likely one of these groups:
- Charities and non-profits, raising money.
- Companies you're currently doing business with (like your bank, insurance company, etc)
- Political and survey groups - those encouraging you to vote or asking about your buying habits.
As mentioned in the previous post, the legislature rejected our proposal to ban automated political calls to people on the No Call list.
Now here's a trick. You have the right to tell any telemarketer not to call you again, even if it's one of the exempt groups listed above. If they do, they're in violation of federal law. You can and should file a complaint with us if you feel a telemarketer has violated the law. We got more than 19,000 complaints at our No Call office in 2006.
The US House yesterday took action aimed at high gas prices - they passed a bill that would create the first laws against price gouging.
Here in Missouri we have a price gouging ban, enforced by our office, which says companies can't jack up prices on necessities during emergency situations. That might include bottled water, gas, hotel rooms or any other critical supply.
We have sued businesses for price gouging after Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, and the severe storms of the past year. Last week we announced a massive settlement in southwest Missouri from the January ice storm.
In the bill passed by the House yesterday, the feds could prosecute companies that charge "unconscionably excessive" prices for energy supplies like gas and heating oil. The White House says President Bush would veto it.
Have I mentioned that every foreign lottery notification is a scam? We get complaints about these every day at our office. I just got one at my home email address. It's typical. Notice the poor / awkward grammar.
DEAR WINNER This mail is to inform the user of this email account, that your email has won our prize 600,000. Thousand Pounds, from the UK euromillions Lottery. You are to urgently respond to this notice so that we will confirm if this email account is still truely existing so we can forward you further details. To file for your claim, please contact our fiducial agent: Name.Dr Weaver. E-mail:email@example.com
They want you to send money in advance for taxes or fees. Delete them and tell all your friends.
Anyone who has found an inaccuracy on their credit report can tell you that it's a maddening process to try to fix it. There are three national credit bureaus that serve the entire country, so you can imagine what customer service is like.
Federal law says you have the right to get these errors corrected, but the credit bureaus are notoriously difficult to work with nonetheless. I have heard financial experts on national talk shows say if you have an inaccuracy on your report, you might as well throw up your hands and forget it. They obviously don't know that the Attorney General's Office may be able to clear these up for you.
File a consumer complaint, and we'll get in touch with the credit bureaus for you. We clear up a lot of errors for a lot of consumers. If you haven't checked your free credit report, we encourage you to do so three times a year.
PS: Don't get this confused with credit repair, which is often a scam. If you have negative info on your report that's accurate, there's not much you can do about that.
We have touched on spam in this blog, so I thought I'd share this good news.
A spam kingpin is under arrest after a federal indictment for all kinds of charges related to his spam empire. Apparently this guy is such a prolific spammer that authorities predict e-mail users around the world will see a decrease in spam, just from this one arrest. Notice that identity theft is one of the charges against him. His company boasted that it could send out 20 million e-mails in 15 days.