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Arkansans Risk Higher Costs with Refund Anticipation Loans

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALERT: Arkansans Risk Higher Costs with Refund Anticipation Loans

Wed, Jan 9, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansans risk higher costs when using refund anticipation loans as a resource to plan for a tax refund this year. Some businesses are even offering refund anticipation loans (RALs) or refund anticipation checks (RACs) to offset the costs of larger purchases, but the interest rates offered may use more of the refund than expected.

“Refund anticipation loans and checks are just that, the anticipated amount of the tax refund,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “A tax refund could be larger than anticipated, it could also be much smaller and leave consumers on the hook for the rest of the cost of the purchase. I encourage Arkansans to practice patience and wait for the government to issue any refund.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following considerations before agreeing to have taxes prepared as part of a refund anticipation loan:

  • Free or low-cost options such as the online Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Electronically-filed returns can be deposited in bank accounts in as few as eight days.
  • The IRS can also provide refunds by check or prepaid debit card.
  • Always get a written list of fees before entering into any agreement or requesting tax preparation assistance.

RALs are high-interest loans that must be repaid by the actual tax return proceeds, essentially borrowing the buyer’s own money. If the actual tax refund amount is less than estimated, the buyer is on the hook for the difference. RACs may be attractive to some consumers because businesses often waive tax preparation fees, but many Arkansans can obtain free tax preparation services.

The IRS provides a Free File program online that is a federal tax preparation and electronic-filing program for taxpayers who earn less than $66,000. Eligible consumers can go to IRS.gov and choose from multiple private companies that will file federal returns at no charge. Some Arkansans may also be eligible to receive free help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Meanwhile, seniors can contact AARP to learn more about the tax preparation services it provides.

Arkansas’s “Refund Anticipation Loan Act” requires rates to be posted and clearly stated for all consumers to see, and, among other requirements, it requires a written statement to consumers explaining the loan or check-issuing process. Those offering Refund Anticipation Loans are prohibited from charging additional fees or requiring consumers to take out such loans in exchange for tax services.

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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Be a Smart Consumer in 2019

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALERT: Be a Smart Consumer in 2019

Wed, Jan 2, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – Many Arkansans are setting their new year’s resolutions for 2019, but scam artists also see the new year as an opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting Arkansans. In the new year, scammers will continue to pose as someone they are not and try to steal personal and financial information, convince Arkansans they won a prize in exchange for a fee, trick consumers into believing they have debt that must be paid by gift cards, and many more variations on common scams.

“Arkansans must remain vigilant to keep their private information out of the hands of thieves,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Bad actors will continue to do bad deeds, but there are steps Arkansans can take to protect themselves and spot a potential scam before being victimized.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to spot a scam:

  • Don’t answer a call from an unknown number.
  • Wiring money is like giving cash away. There is no protection for consumers if the recipient is not who he or she claimed to be.
  • Never give out personal or banking information in response to a phone, email or mail inquiry. Contact the entity requesting the information directly through a different method to verify that it is a reputable company and to confirm the request.
  • When purchasing items or services online, make sure to research the seller and know his or her physical location.
  • If making a charitable contribution, give to an organization that has a strong history in providing relief. Instead of paying in cash, make a check or money order payable to the organization, not an individual.
  • Most importantly, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Investigate the offer before accepting or paying any money.

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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Gift Return Problems Can Put a Chill on the Holidays

Gift Return Problems Can Put a Chill on the Holidays

Wed, Dec 26, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – Returning or exchanging gifts received during the holidays can be stressful and difficult if consumers do not educate themselves on company return policies before making purchases.

“An unknown and complicated return policy can spoil some of the holiday fun and hurt your pocketbook,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Arkansans should learn return policies prior to attempting returns. Some retailers generously allow shoppers to make returns for any reason, which can lead consumers to wrongly believe they are entitled, by law, to a full refund or credit, but that is not always the case.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for gift recipients needing to make a return or exchange this holiday season:

· Ask the merchant about the store’s return or exchange policy.

· Keep all gift and purchase receipts.

· If considering returning, do not open the box or remove the tags.

· Some online retailers allow purchases to be returned in-store, while others require the item to be shipped back. Check with the merchant ahead of time.

As a gesture of goodwill, most companies offer in-store exchanges if the customer has the receipt and the item is promptly returned. However, others have an “all sales are final” policy for deeply discounted or clearance items and do not allow returns or exchanges. Return policies not only differ from store to store but can also differ for items purchased in-store and items bought online or by mail order.

Some retailers that allow returns may charge restocking fees for certain products. Consumers can sometimes pay a fee of 10 to 25 percent of the price of the item if the package is not in the condition in which it was purchased. Meanwhile, items like computer software, CDs, DVDs and Blue-Ray discs are not generally returnable after the seal has been broken.

Retailers are not required to accept at-will returns, and even in the case of a defective product, consumers may be required to contact the manufacturer. Sometimes retailers will require consumers to deal with the product manufacturer directly, rather than simply returning the item to the place of purchase.

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday spending to increase at least 4.3 percent to $720.89 billion this year.

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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Arkansans Should Report Threatening Emails Demanding Bitcoin Ransom

Arkansans Should Report Threatening Emails Demanding Bitcoin Ransom

Wed, Dec 19, 2018
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Mystery Shopper Scam Can Steal Money

Mystery Shopper Scam Can Steal Money

Wed, Dec 12, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – During the holiday season, scammers are targeting Arkansans who may be looking to make some extra money. These con artists often use the so-called mystery shopper scam to take Arkansans’ hard-earned money, with the promise of getting more in return.

“Mystery shopping is a legitimate opportunity that retailers use to evaluate their services,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Although this scam has different variations, becoming a mystery shopper does not cost anything upfront, and retailers will not contact potential mystery shoppers on an unsolicited basis. Arkansans should be wary of any organization asking for money prior to making mystery shopper work assignments and should ignore mystery shopper checks and instructions asking the consumer to deposit the money, purchase gift cards, and then send all or a portion to a third party.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following list from the Federal Trade Commission of red flags that a mystery shopping opportunity may not be legitimate:

  • The opportunity is advertised in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email.
  • The business requires “certification” to be purchased ahead of time.
  • A mystery shopper job is guaranteed.
  • A website charges a fee to access mystery shopping opportunities.
  • A directory of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for purchase.
  • The seller asks to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to a third party.

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association offers a database search of mystery shopper assignments and how to apply for them. The organization offers certification programs for a fee, but the certification is not needed to look or apply for assignments in the database.

Arkansans should avoid wiring money to strangers or anyone outside the country and should never send prepaid gift cards or give the serial number of a loaded gift card based on any unsolicited phone call.

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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Data Breaches Put Arkansans at Risk

Data Breaches Put Arkansans at Risk

Wed, Dec 5, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – Marriott and the United States Postal Service are just two of the recent companies that have announced data breaches, putting private consumer information at risk. The Attorney General’s Office has received a number of calls from concerned Arkansans, and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge encourages Arkansans who feel their information may have been compromised to contact the office at ArkansasAG.gov.

“Arkansans’ identities have been put at risk due to these data breaches,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I urge anyone with questions, or anyone who has been notified that your information was compromised, to please contact my office because I am here to do the fighting for you.”

Identity theft becomes a major concern following data breaches whether consumers utilize computers directly or not. Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized individual uses another person’s information to commit fraud or other crimes, most commonly to obtain access to credit in the victim’s name. If successful, scammers can severely damage the victim’s credit and steal his or her hard-earned money.

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help Arkansans recognize when they might be a victim of identity theft:

  • Receiving unexpected bills or collection calls. Getting an account statement for an unauthorized account is an indication that an individual may be the victim of identity theft. Likewise, getting collection calls from a creditor or debt collector regarding an unauthorized account is an indication of potential identity theft.
  • Not receiving expected bills or account statements. If a monthly credit card statement stops, this could be an indication that someone has stolen mail or changed an account statement mailing address. Promptly report this to the account provider.
  • Having a credit application denied when there is no reason to believe there is a problem with the credit history. Be sure to periodically review the credit report, and always review it again before making an application for credit on a big purchase.

If you have been a victim of identity theft, close accounts that have been tampered with or fraudulently opened, and file a complaint with the FTC. The Attorney General’s office also offers an ID Theft Passport to help victims reestablish their good name, which requires that consumers first file a police report for financial identity theft.

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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