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.
AG Nixon is asking for consumers' help in reporting illegal political robo-calls this election season. The AG sent a letter to all political campaigns registered in Missouri reminding them that federal law requires these automated calls to:
- Clearly identify who's paying for the call. This must be done at the beginning of the call.
- Give a call back number, so that you can contact the group and tell them to stop calling you.
Just like TV and radio commercials say "paid for by Citzens for Whoever," the automated calls must do the same. If they don't, please file a complaint with our office.
Nixon asked the Missouri legislature the last two years to make it illegal for these calls to contact people on the No Call list, but that didn't happen.
The good folks at scambusters.org have come up with several possible scams that could prey upon consumers hoping to help out victims of Hurricane Gustav.
As usual, the biggies are phishing scams and charity scams.
A new Missouri law gives you more control over what is done with your body after your death. Do you want to be buried, cremated, body donated to science? The authority to make this decision is known in legalese as "right of sepulcher."
We have written before about the importance of naming a durable power of attorney (DPA). A DPA, or agent, is someone you name in a legal document to make medical decisions for you if can't speak for yourself. Under this new state law, the DPA has one additional power: right of sepulcher.
In the past, next-of-kin had the final say on this issue. So, in the past, if you chose cremation, your family could overrule you and your DPA and choose something else. But now your DPA will have the final say - so be sure to tell your DPA what you want.
For a complete look at end-of-life choices, check out AG Nixon's Life Choices publication. We've now given out more than 140,000 hard copies of this. That doesn't include the ones downloaded as PDFs.
We have mentioned many times our Life Choices publication, which walks you through the critical end-of-life decisions you need to make now while you're healthy. These include funeral plans, advance directives, durable power of attorney, wills and organ donation, just to name a few.
And this is not just for senior citizens - it's for anyone over 18. Any of us could be injured and unable to speak at any time - so it would be helpful for our healthcare providers and loved ones to know what our wishes are.
This Friday in Jefferson City is the annual End-of-Life Summit, put on by the Missouri End-of-Life coalition, AG Nixon and others. These folks are dedicated to encouraging Missourians make those critical decisions mentioned above. They also examine the quality of end-of-life care in our state and do what they can to improve it. That includes things like long-term care, hospice and other services that are provided to people in their final days, weeks and months.
We've all seen those postcards that arrive in the mail saying "YOUR FACTORY WARRANTY IS ABOUT TO EXPIRE!" When AG Nixon sued several of the companies that send those in March, one of the alleged violations was that they were claiming to offer "extended warranties."
And when the AG announced a settlement with one of them in August, one of the conditions was that National Dealers Warranty stop referring to its products as extended warranties, and call them what they are: extended service contracts.
So what's the difference? Under Missouri law, a warranty can only be issued by the manufacturer of a product. These companies are not associated with manufacturers, so they can't possibly offer a warranty.
Same with those "home warranty" companies that you pay to be there for you in case you need appliance repair, plumbing or electrical help, a new furnace, etc. That product should be called an extended service contract.
The Kansas City Star has a nice article today on ways to save money on your medications - and you may be surprised by how much price competition there is among pharmacies. The Star article gives a link to a Consumer Reports page with good suggestions, as well as a state-government Web site that tracks prices at local pharmacies.
If you have health insurance with a drug plan, the price variations probably won't affect your copay. But if you pay full price, it could make a big difference. Observe:
I entered the name of a medicine and found as much as $20 difference for a one-month supply at drug stores here in Jeff City. So that's a $20/month savings on just one medication.
As part of AG Nixon's Operation Taken For a Ride, one of the targets of our lawsuits will get out of the business of selling extended service contracts for cars.
In this operation, our office sued six companies that send out those postcards that say YOUR AUTO WARRANTY IS ABOUT TO EXPIRE!
The settlement with Certified Auto Warranty Services requires the company to get out of the business entirely. To be precise, it forbids the company from being involved in the motor vehicle service contract, mechanical breakdown insurance, or automobile warranty business, including the selling of any such contract, insurance or warranty.
This the second of the six lawsuits to be settled. The first was a few weeks ago.
PS: The word warranty in the headline is in quotes because these companies are selling something that is not actually a warranty. This blog post explains the difference.
The car business has been hurting for a few years (thus all the discounts, employee pricing, free Carfax reports, etc). One other change consumers are seeing is fewer offers for car leases. Apparently the big 3 US auto makers (Ford, GM, Chrysler) have stopped leasing through the finance companies they own.
You can still get a lease, but it will be harder to find, and it will be through a third-party lender, instead of the car maker itself.
If you're shopping for a car, check out our All About Autos publication.
There are e-mails that get fowarded all the time on this topic, and for good reason. This is a real scam that can happen to you, but only if you have call forwarding available on your home phone. There is another version of the scam that can only happen to you if you have a certain type of business phone system - more on that later.
Here's how it works:
Inmate in a Chicago prison calls a Missourian named Igor. He tells Igor that a loved one has been in an accident. Igor is then instructed to dial a number to speak to the officer on scene through his radio. He is to hang up and dial *72 or 72#, followed by a phone number. This actually forwards the consumer's phone to that phone number, which belongs to an acquaintance of the inmate.
The inmate then makes a collect call to Igor's number - which forwards to the acquaintance's phone, a long distance call. The acquaintance answers the phone and accepts the collect call - which is billed to guess who? Igor, because the collect call was placed to his number.
If that's confusing, don't worry about it. All you need to remember is: don't ever start dialing numbers just because a stranger on the phone tells you to.
If this happens to you, report it to the police and if you like, file a consumer complaint with our office.
PS: There is another version of this e-mail going around that says you are instructed to dial 90#, #90 or some other combination. But that is only a threat if you are at a business that uses a phone system requiring you to dial 9 for an outside line. And most businesses are not susceptible to this anymore because of changes to the way most phone systems operate.
State agencies around the country keep track of unclaimed property belonging to residents of their states - and they try to reach out and notify people of the possessions they're due. In Missouri, that's handled by the State Treasurer. There is no charge for consumers to recover their property.
There are also companies out there that advertise aggressively that they can find your money for you - and of course they charge you a fee. Sometimes they exaggerate the amount of money awaiting you. Some of these companies are legitimate and must be registered with the State Treasurer. Others are outright scams.
Your best bet is to check the online database or call the State Treasurer's office in Missouri. Consumers can also search nationally at missingmoney.com, a Web site run by the official government agencies in about 40 states.
It's fall, which means many homeowners are scrambling to make improvements to their abodes before winter hits. Many of you know the stress and the pressure that comes with home-remodeling. Every year home repair fraud is a top consumer complaint that the AGO receives.
Questions are key in the process of choosing a home repair contractor -- How do I know if I am overpaying? Is the contractor trustworthy? Is he/she licensed? Is the contractor completing the project my specifications?
Education is also necessary to avoid a shady contractor.
With so much of your hard-earned money invested in your home, you do not want to risk losing it by not seeing the signs of a scam.
In addition, there are tips given on the AGO site.
Here's a game - what do these topics have in common?
Car payments; mortgages; student loans; putting food on the table; gas prices; bank failures; government buy-out plans.
If you guessed, "things that make me nervous," you are not only correct, but you also have plenty of company. Recently, it seems like chats at the water-cooler quickly turn into common stories on how the current economy affects everyone. Gone are the days of talking about the latest television shows featuring glamorous lives we'd like to emulate. Life, it seems, is pretty far from an episode of "The Hills." These days, conversations focus more on keeping our money safe.
So, with things as they are, you should be thinking, if my bank fails, what happens to my money? As a general rule, if you have a checking, savings or NOW account at an FDIC-insured bank, your money is covered for up to $100,000. The value might increase if you have multiple-deposit accounts, or joint accounts. Many credit unions - insured by NCUSIF - cover accounts up to $100,000.
Non-deposit accounts, such as stocks, mutual funds and life-insurance policies are not covered by insurance.
You can check to see how much your bank accounts are insured with this calculator. It will not calculate for credit union insurance.