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.
You may remember the ChoicePoint data breach of 2005 - some of us in the biz call this the granddaddy of data breaches. It was the first big one, and it seems like the floodgates opened after that. ChoicePoint is in the credit card payment business, so it houses tons of personal information.
After that, there was the Veterans Administration, various universities, TJ Maxx, and story after story of people's personal information being compromised.
ChoicePoint has finally settled with the federal government and state A.G.s, including AG Nixon. In Missouri, we'll get about $5,000 for consumer education (like this blog). And that's a good result - the most important thing that can come of these data breaches is for consumers to understand the threat and take basic steps to prevent and detect ID theft.
Missouri consumer writes:
I bought a vehicle from an acquaintance, supposedly in great running condition....well we didn't make it 50 miles. I stopped payment on the check and offered to give the vehicle back..I haven't heard from her in 9 months. I guess she plans on taking me to court. What are my rights?
A little consumer protection 101: the Attorney General can get involved when a consumer files a complaint against a company. Since this is individual v. individual (known as a private sale) we can't.
If you think you're going to get sued, you need a lawyer. By law, the Attorney General can't act as anyone's lawyer, which includes giving legal advice. The Missouri Bar has a lawyer referral service, which charges a fee.
AG Nixon's consumer column this month gives some warnings about how not to get ripped off if you're planning a vacation this summer. Pages 10 and 11 of our publication Know Your Rights has more on travel issues.
I got this email today. It's a work at home scam. I have responded and said I'm very interested. I'll let you know what response I get, so we can figure out exactly how they scam you. I'm guessing they ask you to send in some fees up front to get started, or maybe they send you a big check and ask you to send part of it somewhere else. The first big check will bounce. This is the overpayment scam. Note the horrendous grammar. Also note that he gives himself one name at the beginning and another one at the end!
I'm Mr. Aelxandr Czajkowsky, Director of Consulting company "Grand Consult" is specialized in rendering complex professional consulting services in the field of business and management: business plans development, marketing research, budgeting, law consulting, personnel recruiting and personnel-technologies. We located in Poland and have offices in Germany, Latvia and Ukraine. We are hiring serious people from all over the USA/Europe w ho would like to work and earn an additional income from their home. We seek a Representative Agent in your city or state. So to this end we seek the assistance of individual or a group to work with us and earn additional money WITHOUT DISTURBING YOUR PRESENT JOB IF ANY!!! If youa re interested in transacting business with us we will be glad. Please contact us for more information with you data - !!! GrandConsult@aol.com !!! ONLY THIS MAIL 1. Your name 2. Your country 3. Your age 4. Your phone# SINCERELY, MR. Lee Mcdowell PS On a question " Where you have my email? " - we have pai dservices of advertising for delivery of this letter to many emails.
FYI, we warned against a "Secret Shopper" (work at home) scam going around last year.
Missouri consumer writes:
We are leasing a house and the landlord is wanting to sell the property. What are my rights as far as when people can come and see the property? I really don't want the people coming in the house without notifying me and during evenings or weekends. I have discussed this with the landlord and she has not been willing to negotiate.
Your best bet is to talk to a lawyer if you need legal help.
The Attorney General does not handle consumer complaints against landlords. But here's how this generally works: In general, a landlord is not supposed to enter a tenant's unit without reasonable notice, unless it's an emergency. The lease may address this more specifically. The landlord has the right to show a rental unit to prospective buyers or renters, but at a time agreed to by to the tenant. After the landlord and tenant agree on a mutually convenient time, it is always a good practice to put that agreement in writing so there are no misunderstandings between the landlord and tenant.
Also, our office publishes a brochure called Landlord-Tenant Law.
Two posts earlier I told you I got an e-mail from a work at home scam, where I was invited to supplement my income by working with a consulting business. My guess was it would either be an ID theft scam or an overpayment scam. Both are still candidates. I told the scammer I was very interested. Here's what I got back. (By the way, he obviously doesn't read this blog - he's in Poland or so he claims.)
He greeted me with a nice note thanking me for my interest and touting his high-quality company. Then he got down to business (my comments in caps):
You will accept funds coming as a payment for our Services as: - payment to your bank accounts (TRANSLATION: I WILL RAID YOUR BANK ACCOUNT) - cashier's check/money order (TRANSLATION: I WILL SEND YOU BOGUS CHECKS, BUT YOU'LL PAY ME BEFORE YOU CATCH THAT) After the funds are received and cleared you will forward them to our payment credentials minus the appropriate fees. You get your 8%. It means that if you withdraw and cash out $1000 you get $80 and send us $920.
He then asked for my bank account and routing number, which I won't give him. Moral of the story is to be very suspicious of work-at-home offers. You need to talk to real people who have had success before you get involved.
And when you give out bank or credit card information to a stranger, expect them to use it.
As we've discussed many times on this blog, one of the most important ways to prevent ID theft is to never give out your personal information (Social Security, bank or credit card #) to people who contact you. These calls and e-mails are always scams, known as phishing.
Two stories in the Missouri press this week about such ruses: consumers are getting e-mails that appear to be coming from a credit union based in Columbia, and a phone scam using the name of the Red Cross trying to get Social Security numbers. It's important to remember that the premise doesn't matter - Red Cross, bank, eBay, whatever.
The key is not to give such info to people who contact you - they are crooks.
Missouri consumer writes:
Regarding payday loans, if you default is the lender able to send the check to the prosecutor as a bad check?
First, let me say if you are in this situation, you should talk to a lawyer.
If you don't know how payday loans work, then:
1. You are fortunate.
2. The borrower writes a check to the lender, who agrees not to cash it until a later date, usually the borrower's payday.
In general, the answer is NO. Missouri law says a payday loan customer can't be charged with passing a bad check (Chapter 408.505.8 RSMo).
Think about it: most of these are probably "bad" checks because both lender and borrower know there are not sufficient funds at the time it's written. If you default on your debt, it's just like any other consumer debt - you can face collections, negative items on your credit report, lawsuits, etc. But those are civil matters, not criminal.
A couple of posts ago we talked about phishing scams. This is an ID theft attempt where someone contacts you, claiming to be from an important organization like your bank or the IRS. They ask you to confirm personal information, whether that's bank account, credit card or Social Security number.
Another scam in the phishing phamily is the jury duty scam. A friend forwarded me this e-mail received in the last week or so:
This has been verified by the FBI. Please pass this on to everyone in your email address book.. It is spreading fast so be prepared should you get this call. Most of us take summons for jury duty seriously, but enough people skip out on their civic duty, that a new and ominous kind of scam has surfaced. The caller claims to be a jury coordinator. If you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty, the scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Give out any of this information and bingo; your identity just got stolen.
This is a legitimate warning. We have seen the jury duty scam in Missouri - AG Nixon put out an alert on it in 2006.
As with all these scams, the rule is: don't give out personal information unless you initiate the contact. ANYONE can call or e-mail you, say they're from the bank and sound important. Only when you initiate the contact can you be sure who you're talking to.
At state and county fairs, restaurant and store counters and many other places, you may have seen a poster for a contest to win a car, a free carpet shampooing or any number of other prizes. Be aware that when you complete this form, you're probably agreeing to sign up for a service, receive telemarketing calls, switch your long distance service, etc.
This registration form was at the counter at a Chinese restaurant - the lucky winner will receive a riding lawn mower. Note the language under the "Very Important" section at the bottom. In this case, you agree they can make telemarketing calls to you even if you're on the No Call list.
Technorati Tags: call list, contest, contest entry, contestant, do not call list, entry form, mailing lists, no call list, registration form, telemarketer, telemarketing, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
Missouri landlord writes:
I have a tenant who had his electric shut off. He drinks a lot and I am afraid he is going to pass out and burn my apartment down with the candles he uses for light. What can I do?
If you have questions about your legal rights as a landlord, you should talk to your lawyer.
Missouri law explains grounds for eviction. See page 17 of our Landlord-Tenant Law publication for details. Remember that you have to go to court and get an order from a judge before evicting. Also, some leases give additional grounds for lease termination. If there is no written lease, a 30-day lease is assumed, so either party can cancel it with 30 days written notice.
AG Nixon announced criminal charges today against a band of people who allegedly used their positions in government to steal the IDs of Missouri citizens, some of whom are mentally disabled.
If true, these allegations prove:
- ID thieves do indeed get caught
- You can't protect your ID, no matter how careful you are. That is yet another reason why we say over and over: check your free credit report three times a year. That way you'll be able to detect any new accounts set up in your name.
Our ID theft publication has more on preventing and detecting this crime.
Missouri consumer writes:
I recently got an e-mail that said I had won a Jamaican lottery. They said send 1000.00 and you will receive 6.5 million. Then they said send 150.00 for the fed ex. Then they said to send them another $3705 and I would receive this money. When I confronted them that I was not sending them another dime they said the money would go to charity. Can these people be stopped and how can I retrieve my money?
Unfortunately this looks like the classic foreign lottery scam. Actually that's redundant, because all foreign lotteries are scams.
You will likely find it very difficult to get your money back, but you can try. Here are my suggestions:
- File a complaint with our office
- File a local police report, because this is theft
- File a complaint with the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- And most importantly, tell everyone you know about this.
And think of all the old cliches:
- Don't do business with strangers;
- if it sounds too good to be true it probably is;
- your financial ship is not going to come in over the Internet;
- you can't win a lottery you didn't enter;
- you can't get something for nothing, etc., etc.
Technorati Tags: complaints, consumer complaints, consumer protection, foreign lottery, internet crime complaint center, overseas wire transfer, scam, wire transfer, wiring money, moagoconsumer, consumer protection
When you check your free credit report, which we encourage all consumers to do three times a year, you will not see your credit score. Normally, each of the three credit bureaus charges $6-10 for this.
But you can get a rough estimate of your score using this estimator. Not sure how accurate it is, but it's built by Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO), the biggest player in the credit-scoring business. It's a quick 10-question quiz.
If anyone has done this and compared it to your actual score, I'd be interested in your feedback.
Your credit report is a list of all the accounts you have open or have recently closed. Loans, mortgages, credit cards, etc. Check it to make sure no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
Your credit score is a 3-digit number that tells a potential lender how much of a risk you are. The higher your score, the better, which qualifies you for lower interest rates, bigger loans, a higher credit limit, lower insurance rates, etc.
An exciting story in the San Francisco news this morning about a woman who - through incredible coincidence - caught the person who stole her identity. Who knows if it's true, but it makes great reading.
Is your credit card company doing this? If you drive a car with a big, big gas tank, you may find you can't fill it up all the way when pre-paying with a credit card. Apparently some card companies are limiting the amount of gas they'll allow you to buy at one time - to minimize losses from credit card fraud.
A national radio talk show host encourages people to get rid of their credit cards and start paying cash for everything. They call in for a "plastectomy," destroying their cards on the air using various creative techniques - blender, lawn mower... I even heard one guy who claimed he pinned his to a tree, then shot it with a pistol, while the audience listened. While perhaps not that creative, many of us will decide we're finished with a credit card, so we cut it up and throw it in the trash.
But that does not close your account. It is still open, and an ID thief could access your account number and use it. When you are finished with a card, you need to call the card company and cancel, then ask for written confirmation of same.
So, how do you track down all those cards you used to have, but snipped? By checking your free credit report - it will show you what cards you still have open and give you contact info for each.
Missouri consumer writes:
My mother recently moved from her apartment and a walk through was done by the complex manager, who mentioned some touch-up repairs, but did not list any specific things that my mother might have to pay for. She expected to get her full $700 security deposit back, but only got $152, along with a list of problems that were not pointed out during her walk through. My mother called the manager and was told a regional representative supposedly walked the unit afterward and found additional problems. Can a 2nd walk-through be done without your knowledge or without an opportunity for you to be there as a tenant? Please also note, when my sister went to get copies of the original move-out walk throughs, the complex manager made her wait while she called to get permission to give her a copy of the walk through. Does the tenant not have a right to have a copy of said move-in & move-out walk through at time of inspection?
Missouri law says the tenant has the right to be present during the walk through. The law also allows you to recover double the amount that was wrongfully withheld. In this case, $548 was withheld from your mother. If she can prove in court (probably small claims court) that it was withheld wrongfully, she could recover up to $1096.
AG Nixon offers a consumer publication on Landlord-Tenant Law in Missouri.
Missouri consumer writes:
According to Suze Ormand closing an account hurts your credit rating. Is this true?
This consumer was responding to my recent post that said when you're finished with your credit card, don't just throw it away - close the account. The answer to the question is yes, canceling a credit card can lower your credit score.
The score is based on several factors, including amount of available credit. Having too much or too little can lower your score. So when you cancel a credit card, depending on how much other available credit you have, it may affect your score.
Regardless, we say cancel the account, rather than face possible identity theft and credit card fraud. An open credit card account that you don't need is a problem waiting to happen. Remember that you only need to worry about your credit score if you plan on major changes soon - new loan, new job, new insurance policy. You can unnecessarily become obsessed with your score. A friend recently fretted to me that her credit score is lower than she'd like. She is in her late 60s and owns her home. She doesn't need to be worrying about her credit score.
Missouri consumer writes:
I am wanting to book a cruise online with a company that only accepts a Western Union transfer. When I checked the Florida BBB there was no record of a complaint. This company is a member of EUCERTONLINE.ORG which I never heard of. Can you help me? The cruise is for 8 days with free airfare $310.00.
This is in response to our recent post on the danger of wire transfers. We had a post on this several months ago as well. While this may be a legitimate offer, here are the reasons it sounds suspicious:
- They only accept payment by wire transfer. The safest way to pay is by credit card. That way, and only that way, federal law protects you from unauthorized charges and ripoffs. This does not apply to debit cards or any other form of payment.
- $310 for this whole package sounds awfully cheap. Beware of offers that sound too good to be true.
- You would be dealing with a company you've never heard of. One of our major pieces of consumer advice is deal with companies that are known or recommended to you by someone you trust. See pages 18-19 of AG Nixon's Know Your Rights (PDF) publication for our four major consumer rules.
A group that studies charitable giving says last year Americans gave about what they did in 2005, which is impressive given that 2006 saw no major catastrohpe like hurricanes or 9/11, which tend to generate massive contributions.
With all that money flowing, you can bet the bogus charities and con artists are eager to trick you out of your well intentioned money. A recent blog post gave our basic tips for giving wisely.
Two Missouri consumers wrote in recently with their situations:
got caught in the payday loan chase,...one loan,...money already spent when it came due,...wrote a second at another store to cover the first,...building a House of Cards,...predictably the house is falling and I can't pay either,...need help with this exploitation
My husband and i have defaulted on approx 10 payday loans. As a result of these loans we are now being evicted from our house and need to save everything we can to be able to pay for somewhere else to live. We have every intention of paying these loans off, we are just unable to meet their payment arrangements. These places have been calling our house and cell phones numerous times a day and have also been contacting our friends and families. There are a couple of them that have even come to our house looking for money. What legal rights do I have?
While there may be no violation of your rights here, you can both file consumer complaints with our office. When we get involved to mediate these issues, we often find that payday loan companies will work with the consumer and agree to reduce the debt.
AG Nixon has pushed the Missouri legislature for years to stiffen the regulations on payday lenders, which now charge an average 422% annual percentage rate. Other states have done this, but Missouri legislature has not touched it. Ours is one of the weakest payday loan laws in the country, and AG Nixon urged then Gov. Bob Holden to veto it, but Holden signed it in 2002.