Protect yourself against scams, disputes

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Elliot Raphaelson

The Consumer Federation of America and the North America Consumer Protection Investigators issued a report in July detailing the leading complaints consumers registered with 33 agencies in 21 states. Prominent among them are fraud scams.

Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation, stated that some of the newest fraud complaints were related to solicitations from individuals claiming to be from the IRS, a utility company, a technical support operation, and even the victim’s employer. Unfortunately, scammers have been able to illegally get personal information from company databases and use it to initiate fraud.

Grant recommended that whenever you are asked to immediately send money, or are asked for information from someone who should already have it, it is a sign of fraud, and you should not comply without investigating first.

The report recommended that consumers take these precautions and actions to protect themselves from the most common conflicts and scams.

Auto repairs

Before you agree to have work done, determine whether the facility uses technicians certified by the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Go to www.ase.com for more information and a handy shop locator for service providers certified by the institute.

If you run into a problem due to uncertified technicians, you can go to a local agency that enforces county, state and federal consumer laws for assistance.

It is always a good idea to use a credit card for any large expenditure. That way, if you are dissatisfied with any product or service, you can file a written complaint with the credit-card issuer. Federal law provides protection that you would not have with cash, checks or debit cards.

Credit and debt

If you are contacted by a debt collection firm for an old debt, check first to see if the statute of limitations has run out. Each state has statutes that determine the length of time without making payments after which the debtor has no legal responsibility for repaying the debt.

For example, if your state has a five-year limit, and you haven’t made a payment for at least five years, you can’t be forced to initiate payments. Debt collection companies are not legally required to provide this information to you. Learn what the limit is in your state.

If you fall behind in your mortgage payments for a reason such as illness or unemployment, and are in danger of foreclosure, determine if you are eligible for loan modification, which would reduce your monthly payment. Find more information at www.makinghomeaffordable.gov.

Prize or inheritance notifications

If you receive an email informing you of a prize or inheritance that requires a front-end payment on your part, it is almost surely a fraud. You would receive a certified letter if it were legitimate.

IRS imposters

If you receive any phone calls or emails from someone telling you they represent the IRS, you can be certain it is a fraud. The IRS does not contact taxpayers by email, text messages or social media. Nor does the IRS call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrest. If you do receive such correspondence or calls, report them to www.Treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_
scam.shtml.

Utilities

There has been a large number of new complaints from individuals who have been contacted by individuals posing as electric company employees threatening to shut off power because of “overdue” bills, and asking that immediate payments be made by prepaid cards or money transfers. In this situation, you should hang up and call the utility to report the scam.

Immigration

There have been many reports of individuals offering prepaid immigration services. Only licensed attorneys or nonprofits authorized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can represent parties or provide legal advice.

More information is available at www.uscis.gov, or 1-800-375-5283.

Elliot Raphaelson welcomes your questions and comments at raphelliot@gmail.com.

© 2016, Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.