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Consumer Alert: Winners Losing Big

Consumer Alert: Winners Losing Big

Wed, Aug 16, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – Reports have been received at the Attorney General’s office of Arkansans being told they have won international lotteries, but these scammers are actually stealing thousands. The con artists contact consumers through direct mail, email or a phone call requesting a “small” fee in order to process the cash winnings.

Typically, the scammer contacts the “winners” claiming they have won a sum of money, a car or an expensive trip. All the consumer has to do is submit a small payment or their personal financial information to claim the prize. Payments are usually requested as “processing fees” or “customs charges.”

“International scams of all types are a common ploy to take advantage of people,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “You are almost guaranteed not to win an international lottery, so why risk losing so much? Be smart and do not take the chance.”

Attorney General Rutledge offered the following tips for anyone who receives communication about a foreign lottery or prize:

  • A consumer should never have to pay something to receive a “free” prize. Be wary of anyone requiring payment in advance to obtain winnings.
  • Be cautious if someone asks that a fee be paid through a pre-paid credit card or by wiring money. If such payments are made, the money may never be seen again. Legitimate organizations will accept standard and traceable forms of payment.
  • It is a violation of federal law to play international lottery through mail or over the telephone.
  • People who accept these offers become targets of other scammers when their information is shared or sold to others.
  • Never provide any financial account information to an unknown person or entity.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica, in April the governments of Jamaica and the United States extradited eight Jamaicans to face federal charges related to an international lottery scheme. These scammers specifically targeted the elderly who are on fixed incomes. This multi-million dollar scheme is just one of many that the two embassies are working to shut down.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Cooling Off the Utility Bills

CONSUMER ALERT: Cooling Off the Utility Bills

Wed, Aug 9, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – Even though this summer has not been as hot and dry as prior years, utility costs and rates are going up as utility companies invest and improve their infrastructure. This may cause bills to be higher than expected and these expenses can become quite overwhelming and put some Arkansans in a dangerous situation.

“Rising utility bills can be just as miserable as baking in the hot sun,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “There are a number of effective and inexpensive ways to save money while making sure you and your families stay cool.”

Here are some tips to avoid high-cost bills:

  • Invest in making your home or business as energy efficient as possible. Local electric and gas utility companies may be able to offer helpful advice. In addition, the Arkansas Energy Office provides energy efficiency tips at EnergyEfficiencyArkansas.org.
  • Consider level or “flat” billing options, which allow you to spread the cost of higher monthly bills over the course of the year. Be careful to read the details of your utility’s flat- or level-billing plan. With a level billing structure, you will pay the same amount each month, making budgeting more predictable and allowing you to avoid spikes in charges during seasons when you use more water or are running your air conditioner. Flat rates are typically estimated using your historical usage data. This may result in having a higher electric bill during the winter season than you would normally have because the cost of running your air conditioner in the summer will be spread throughout the entire year.
  • Make sure to change filters monthly on heating and air-conditioning units. Dirty or clogged filters slow down the cooling process and cause the system to operate inefficiently.
  • Keep interior lights turned off during the day, and consider changing light bulbs to higher-efficiency light bulbs such as L.E.D.
  • Keep drapes and blinds closed to keep out the sun’s heat.
  • Remember that ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. Turn ceiling fans off when a room is not occupied.

The Attorney General through her Consumer Utility Rate Advocacy Division represents the interests of Arkansas’s utility customers in front of the Public Service Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission actively working to keep rates low and reasonable and to promote energy efficiency.

In addition, some Arkansans may qualify for the federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which offers assistance in paying utility bills. Most of the money is allocated to low-income elderly consumers and individuals with disabilities, but also to other eligible consumers as funding becomes available. Local community action agencies have more details on the program. Visit ACAAA.org for more information.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Tips for Tenants

CONSUMER ALERT: Tips for Tenants

Wed, Aug 2, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – When deciding where to live, some Arkansans may turn to renting rather than purchasing a house or condominium. Some consumers prematurely sign a lease and find themselves stuck in a long and aggravating situation. But the Attorney General’s office is here to help you be an informed renter to avoid a lot of stress.

“Signing a lease can be overwhelming for first time renters, or even those who are familiar with the renting process,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Renters need to know if they are making a good deal, what questions to ask the landlord and what to look for in a home or apartment.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to those considering rental options:

  • Read the lease in full before signing and ask questions.
  • Ask about the utilities including electricity, natural gas, water and sewer. Who is the provider for each service? What is the average monthly cost? Does the landlord cover any of these costs? If the landlord keeps the utilities in its name, what assurance do you have that the landlord will pay the utility bills?
  • Consider asking the landlord or local law enforcement if there have been any noise complaints filed against the neighbors.
  • Consider contacting the local police department or campus police to ask about safety of the area.
  • Look at the condition of the carpet and paint to ensure its quality.
  • Take pictures of the property, especially carpet, paint, appliances and any other fixtures before moving in. This could protect you if a landlord claims you caused any damages.
  • Ask the landlord if he or she will be responsible for any and all repairs, including appliance/air conditioning/furnace repair and maintenance, and make sure those responsibilities are mentioned in the lease.
  • Learn about the lease cancellation policy and ask questions.
  • If you are a student, consider a nine-month lease for the school term instead of a full 12-month lease.
  • Clarify the details of the security deposit and the landlord’s policy for its return after the apartment or rental house is vacated.

It is also important to stay up-to-date with local Tenant and Landlord Laws. Fayetteville, Arkansas, joined other university towns across the country, including Salisbury, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Ames, Iowa, in passing an ordinance requiring landlords to confirm, in writing, no more than three unrelated roommates are living together in a single-family home. This ordinance stemmed from homeowners near the University of Arkansas complaining about noise, trash and parking issues when more than three college students live together in a single-family home.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Back to School Credit Cards

CONSUMER ALERT: Back to School Credit Cards

Wed, Jul 26, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – Finding out you cannot get a loan for your first house or car because of bad credit from a college credit card can be shocking. Signing up for a credit card may seem like the perfect solution for those back-to-school expenses, but it is important to understand that credit cards are not free and come with a cost. New credit card users may find themselves struggling with long-term issues from easily avoidable mistakes.

“Credit cards are a convenient way to make purchases, but new users may not completely understand exactly what they are signing up for,” says Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “For example, late payments or exceeding the card’s limit could potentially hurt your credit score. This will raise interest rates and make it difficult to take out loans later in life.”

For those students who are considering applying for a credit card, Rutledge offered this advice when using a card:

  • Submit payments on time. Making regular payments is the best way to improve a credit score and qualify for less expensive credit.
  • Pay the balance owed if at all possible. Although it may seem easier to pay the minimum, doing so costs more in the long run, and it will take much longer to pay off the debt.
  • Do not “max out” a credit card. Charging the full credit limit is risky, and it will affect a consumer’s credit score.
  • Do not respond to every tempting credit card offer. Using too much credit could lead to having uncontrollable debt.
  • Read the fine print as some credit cards include expensive annual fees and higher interest rates in exchange for incentives like airline miles and bonus points. Some credit cards offer other services such as lower annual percentage rates, insurance and other items at no cost.

To combat the high-pressure solicitations and students burdened by credit card debt, the Arkansas General Assembly enacted legislation in 1999 that restricts the practice of marketing credit cards on college campuses.

In 2009, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which restricts on-campus credit card marketing nationwide. Under this law, the marketing of credit cards within 1,000 feet of a college campus or related event is prohibited. Consumers under age 21 must have a written application that includes the signature of a parent, legal guardian or spouse that has means to repay debts incurred by the account. Credit card marketers are also forbidden from using gifts such as T-shirts and magazine subscriptions to entice a young consumer into applying for a card.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Doorbell Dealings

CONSUMER ALERT: Doorbell Dealings

Wed, Jul 19, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – Door-to-door salespeople are trying to take advantage of Arkansans at home. Summer is a popular time for home solicitors to hit the streets, selling home improvement projects, home security systems, newspapers, magazines and more. They frequently use high pressure sales tactics to make the deal and sometimes consumers walk away regretting the purchase.

“Some door-to-door salespeople know that many of us are busy while at home and try to capitalize on a homeowner’s distraction,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “But Arkansans need to know that if they agree to make a purchase from someone at their doorstep, or even at any other location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business, they have three days to cancel the sale with no penalty.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for those who may be faced with a salesperson at their door:

  • Because these solicitations can be stressful, prepare a “just say no” script ahead of time and practice it. For example, you could respond to the salesperson by saying, “Thank you for coming by, but we are not in need of your product or service. Have a good day.” Then close your door.
  • Some cities require that a door-to-door salesperson obtain a license or certification prior to engaging in sales. Check with local authorities for more information.
  • Take a few days to consider the sales offer. It may be advantageous to shop around or do research to make sure the deal is legitimate.
  • Do not allow a salesperson to install any product the same day. However, if equipment is installed in the home prior to the end of the three-day cancelation window, a consumer still has the right to cancel the sale or contract.
  • Be wary of “free” installation or equipment deals. Even if something is initially offered free of charge in order to make a sale more attractive, a consumer could eventually pay for the product with high-cost, long-term contracts.
  • Do not give into high-pressure sales pitches, such as offers being “for today only,” that a home has been “specially selected” for a deal or that the seller is “trying to get rid of extra inventory.”
  • Never let a salesperson into your home unless they have provided proper identification and you have determined exactly what he or she wants.

The Arkansas Home Solicitation Act applies to purchases of $25 or more and requires a salesperson to verbally inform consumers of their cancellation rights at the time of the sale. The seller must also leave the customer with two copies of the cancellation form and a copy of the contract or receipt. One exception to the Act is if a consumer requests a home visit for immediate repair of personal property, such as heating and air systems or appliances.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Snapchat Scare

CONSUMER ALERT: Snapchat Scare

Wed, Jul 12, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – With Snapchat releasing new tracking features for their app, users need to be aware of new risks. Snapchat is a mobile messaging app that allows users to send and receive pictures that are displayed on screen for, at most, 10 seconds. The new update dubbed Snap Map now allows Snapchat “friends” to track others’ locations when the app is open.

Although the update was only introduced recently, GPS tracking apps are already concerning law enforcement due to potential safety problems. Officials worry that location-based services on apps make children and teens more vulnerable to predators. For Snapchat, when the Snap Map feature is enabled, any “friends” can track your location. Snapchat has implemented a Ghost Mode for users to hide from the map feature which can be turned on by pinching the screen when the camera is open in the app, tap the settings icon in the top right corner and swipe to enable the feature.

“Adults need to be aware that these location tracking apps could potentially put young people in danger,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Allowing followers to track your location at all times can be dangerous, especially if you do not personally know all of your ‘friends' on social media. Adults must be as concerned about a potential online stalker as they would be about an in-person stalker."

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to protect children from online predators:

  • Talk to children about sexual victimization and the potential of online danger.
  • Utilize parental controls and blocking software on mobile devices.
  • Make sure children keep passwords, pictures and personal information to themselves.
  • Remind children never to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they first met online.
  • Teach children not to post anything online that they would not want others to see.
  • Help them remember people they meet online are not always who they say they are.
  • Tell them not to respond to messages that are inappropriate or make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage children to tell an adult if they ever encounter a problem online.
  • Consider disabling all location-based services on mobile devices, which is typically accessible in the privacy settings.

With apps and technology always changing and updating, it is important for adults to keep up and know the programs on their child’s phone.

The Attorney General’s office is hosting an internet safety webcast on Wednesday, Aug. 2, as well as provides a technology tip card for consumers, information for parents to spot cyberbullying and a Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety. Community educators are also available to present an internet safety program to parents and educators, and regional cyber safety trainings are available this summer for educators across the state. The FBI also provides internet safety tips for parents to discuss with children.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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