What You Need to Know About FOIAWed, Mar 16, 2016
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is considered one of the strongest and most comprehensive open-records and open-meetings laws in the United States. The Arkansas law was enacted in 1967 by the General Assembly to highlight the importance of an open and transparent government.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert in recognition of National Sunshine Week, March 13-19, and to give Arkansans a greater understanding of the Arkansas FOIA.
“Our strong FOIA law helps Arkansans hold government officials at all levels accountable,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The Attorney General’s office is committed to educating all Arkansans about their rights to an open and public government through the FOIA.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips regarding Arkansas’s FOIA:
- The law gives Arkansans access to public records and public meetings, with limited exceptions.
- When a governing body meets for the transaction of business, the meeting is a public meeting and subject to the provisions of the FOIA.
- A public record is defined as any writing, sound or video that reflects the performance or lack of performance of an official function.
- All records maintained by public employees within the scope of their employment are presumed to be public records, though several exemptions may shield a record from disclosure.
- Government entities generally have up to three working days to provide a record requested under FOIA.
- Custodians of records may only charge for the “actual costs” of reproducing public records, plus mailing expenses.
- Notice of public meetings must be provided to anyone who has asked to be notified, and notice of special meetings must be provided to members of the news media who have requested notice of such meetings.
- Governing bodies may only enter into closed sessions for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of an individual officer or employee.
The Attorney General’s office partners with the Arkansas Press Association (APA) and other organizations, to produce and distribute the Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook. The 17th edition was published in December 2015. Free copies of the handbook are available by contacting the Attorney General’s office at 800-482-8982 or email@example.com.
The Attorney General’s office and APA are also partnering to take FOIA Roadshows around the state. Last week a presentation was given in West Memphis and the program will travel to Russellville in May, Hope in September and Conway in October. An online webcast will be available on April 1 and at other times throughout the year. Each session, including the online statewide webcast, has been approved for 2.0 hours of general Continuing Legal Education credit.
For more information about the FOIA and other consumer-related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
2015’s Top 10Wed, Mar 9, 2016
In conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week, March 6-12, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced the top 10 most common complaints the Attorney General’s office received in 2015.
National Consumer Protection Week is a partnership with attorneys general from across the country, along with many national organizations, including the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and AARP, to encourage consumers to understand their rights and make educated consumer decisions.
“The attorneys, investigators and phone counselors who make up the Consumer Protection Division are dedicated to helping consumers across Arkansas,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “They work each day to mediate all types of complaints, including those filed in response to deceptive business practices, and regularly reach positive outcomes on behalf of Arkansas consumers.”
The 10 most common complaint categories from 2015 were:
1. Automobile sales, service, financing and repair
2. Health care
3. Wireless and landline telephone service
4. Satellite, cable and Internet service providers
5. Credit services, credit repair and other financial services
6. Home improvement, repair and construction
9. Debt collection
10. Mortgages, foreclosures and home financing
For the fourth consecutive year, automobile-related transactions have been the most common type of complaint reported to the Attorney General’s office. Purchasing a vehicle can be one of the most significant purchases a consumer makes, and because the process is complicated, a consumer may not even be aware that a problem exists. These types of complaints often involve consumers reporting financing errors; high-pressure tactics to buy add-on services at the time of purchase, such as gap insurance, credit life or extended warranties; and sales misrepresentations.
The second most common complaint last year was health care related disputes. Consumers report problems with medical equipment sales; medical billing from doctors, hospitals and clinics; unauthorized Medicare enrollment; and prescription drug costs.
Attorney General Rutledge’s office resolved 8,000 formal consumer complaints in 2015, including complaints from all 75 counties.
And Rutledge continues efforts to educate Arkansans about these scams and offers tips to avoid falling victim to them through community education and the mobile office program. Last year mobile offices were conducted in all 75 counties, and staff met with consumers to assist in filing consumer complaints and answer questions. Meanwhile, educators interacted with 30,500 consumers in more than 500 presentations.
For more information about other common scams and 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.
‘Free’ Gift Cards Cost Your IdentityWed, Mar 2, 2016
Some shoppers across the Natural State are being targeted by con artists in an attempt to steal personal and financial information about these consumers.
Scammers are mailing fake gift cards, some for as much as $500, for popular retailers. Arkansans are told all they have to do is call the phone number on the card to activate it. But when the victim calls the number provided, the person on the other end of the line asks personal, financial questions.
Meanwhile, other reports of a related scam have surfaced. Gift cards to retail businesses are being offered through email and social media, where a link is provided that takes potential victims to a website asking for similar personal information.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to warn Arkansans to never give out personal information to an unknown party or untrustworthy website.
“This scam, like so many others, targets unsuspecting Arkansans in an attempt to steal their identity and hard-earned money,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “These scam artists ask questions in order to get as much information about your personal life and finances that they can. Oftentimes, even if they cannot get specific account information, they try to obtain enough information to hack into bank and credit card accounts. It is important for all Arkansans to keep their personal information private.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help prevent this type of gift card fraud:
- Never provide personal information in response to an unsolicited request, whether it is over the phone, email or Internet.
- Do not open or respond to unsolicited mail offering free gift cards.
- Consider contacting the retailer directly, if there are questions about the validity of a mail piece.
- To report suspected gift card scams, file a complaint at IC3.gov.
- If you have fallen victim to this scam, contact your financial institution immediately to protect your accounts, block your cards, fill out a fraud affidavit and take other protective measures to protect your identity.
For more information on identity theft, to apply for an ID Theft Passport or assistance with other consumer related issues, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or email@example.com or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Military Saves WeekWed, Feb 24, 2016
Financial responsibility is an important part of everyday life, especially for military service members as they prepare for a number of uncertainties, including potential deployments. The Military Saves program is a component of America Saves and a partner in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign. Military Saves aims to educate military service members about saving money, reducing debt and building wealth.
The Military Saves program encourages participants to set goals and start small by saving loose change, taking advantage of military discounts and utilizing the commissaries and exchanges. These practices build on each other and will soon add up to substantial savings.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is joining these efforts by recognizing that this week is Military Saves Week.
“Setting financial goals can be a great start to getting out of debt and building an emergency fund,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “It is important for our military service members and their families to know about resources available to them to help save money and meet their financial goals.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following program list for members of the military to help save money:
- Set up a myPay account, which allows up to six allotments to automatically transfer funds each month into a savings account.
- Participate in the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a retirement savings and investment plan for military service members that offers the same types of savings and tax benefits that many corporations offer employees under 401(k) plans.
- Take advantage of the Savings Deposit Program if a deployment is scheduled. Up to $10,000 can be deposited during each deployment and will earn 10 percent interest annually.
As part of Military Saves Week, representatives from Attorney General’s Rutledge’s staff are participating in an information fair at the Little Rock Air Force Base, as well as presenting an identity theft prevention program and judging the financial literacy challenge.
If there is an issue, Arkansas military service members, veterans and families should file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982.
For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Fake IRS Calls Scam ConsumersWed, Feb 17, 2016
Scam artists are continuing to pose as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents, attempting to pressure Arkansans into turning over personal information or cash. They often demand that the consumer share private information in order to either receive a refund or to pay taxes immediately to avoid being arrested, but it is all an attempt to steal a person’s identity or take their money.
These IRS impersonators can be very convincing and have swindled more than $26.5 million from over 5,000 victims across the country since October 2013. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports that roughly 896,000 people across the U.S. have been contacted by such con artists during that same period.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to, once again, warn Arkansans of this scam and offer tips to recognize it, before falling victim to these criminals.
TIGTA reports these con artists have also been known to utilize an automated robocall machine, use common names, fake IRS badge numbers and may even know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number.
“These impersonators can sound authentic, even spoofing caller ID technology to make it look like the call is coming from the IRS office in Washington, D.C.,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Arkansans need to remain diligent in protecting themselves from these scams. If money is actually owed to the IRS, the agency will first communicate the information in writing, and the IRS will never ask for personal or financial information through an unsolicited phone call or email.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following list of actions the IRS will not take, in hopes that Arkansans can spot this scam ahead of time. The IRS will not:
- Call to demand immediate payment.
- Demand payment and not allow an appeal of the amount owed.
- Require taxes be paid in a certain way. For instance, require payment with a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to make an arrest for unpaid taxes.
The IRS strongly recommends Arkansans who receive these threatening calls not give out any personal information and hang up immediately, contact the TIGTA at (800) 366-4484 to report the call and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The agency also requests that any scam emails be forwarded to email@example.com.
The IRS encourages Arkansans with any questions about owed taxes to contact their office directly at (800) 829-1040.
Scammers Target Utility RatepayersWed, Feb 10, 2016
Some Arkansas homeowners and small business owners are receiving phone calls threatening to shut off utility services due to an unpaid bill, but these calls are likely another way for scam artists to take money from hard-working Arkansans.
Utility companies across the State are reporting con artists posing as utility company employees and reaching out to consumers over the phone. These scammers attempt to convince unsuspecting Arkansans that the company has not received payment, and if the consumer does not pay the outstanding balance right away, the utility will be shut off.
Of course the person on the other end of the phone is not associated with any utility company, and the consumer will lose his or her money if they fall victim by wiring money or submitting a prepaid debit card.
Many will even take advantage of evolving technology and use spoofing to make a caller ID display the name of the utility company the scam artist is claiming to represent. Be cautious of unsolicited calls and consider hanging up and finding the company’s phone number from an independent source and calling them to confirm any outstanding balance.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to educate Arkansans about this scam.
“It is outrageous how these scammers are always looking for new ways to trick consumers out of their hard-earned money,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Think twice before deciding to turn over personal or financial information to anyone over the phone, especially if the call is unsolicited. All consumers should be skeptical if the caller requests immediate payment through nontraditional channels, like prepaid debit cards or wire transfers.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to ensure payment is sent to the utility company safely, securely and timely:
- Add your utility payment due date on your calendar when you receive the bill.
- Drop off the payment at the utility office or an authorized payment location.
- Pay online on the utility company’s website with a credit card or call the company directly.
- Consider participating in an automated draft system, if it is offered.
- Mail the payment to the company directly.
Some utility companies are making adjustments to how they conduct business because of this scam and are no longer accepting payments during courtesy calls to avoid confusion.
If you have been contacted by one of these scammers, notify the utility company. If you fall victim to one of these phone calls, file a complaint with the Attorney General.