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Attorney General Alerts

Celebrate Independence Day Safely

Celebrate Independence Day Safely

Wed, Jun 29, 2016

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the original 13 colonies, declaring independence from England and setting the groundwork for the creation of the United States of America. President John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, saying “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Many Arkansans have traditions that include family picnics and fireworks displays. Some attend one of the large displays across the State. But other Arkansans put on their own displays, including firecrackers, Roman candles and illuminating torches.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to remind Arkansans to keep safety in mind when using fireworks this Independence Day.

“Fireworks are a traditional part of Fourth of July celebrations around Arkansas,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But those who decide to put on their own displays need to use caution because fireworks can be extremely dangerous when not used properly. Improper use or malfunctioning fireworks can lead to fires, particularly with recent dry conditions, along with serious injuries and even death.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for consumers who are planning their own holiday fireworks show:

  • Only buy fireworks from a licensed store, tent or stand.
  • Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area.
  • Read and follow all warnings and instructions.
  • Supervise children at all times and make sure adults light every firework, including sparklers, which can reach 2,000 degrees.
  • Make sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  • Never relight a malfunctioning firework. Soak the duds in water and throw them away.
  • Do not shoot fireworks from metal or glass containers.
  • Keep a water hose or bucket of water nearby in case of a fire.

Arkansas’s “Fireworks Act” restricts the types of fireworks that can be sold in the State and the amount of explosive material that each firework may contain.

Firework vendors are required to have a State license. They may not sell fireworks to anyone under the age of 12 or to anyone who appears to be intoxicated. Municipal ordinances may also restrict or regulate fireworks sales and use.

State law only allows exploding fireworks to be sold each year from June 20 to July 10 and from Dec. 10 to Jan. 5. Non-exploding items, such as sparklers and snakes, may be sold throughout the year.

For more information about other consumer-related issues or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Research Pet Boarding Facilities

Research Pet Boarding Facilities

Wed, Jun 22, 2016

Oftentimes, four-legged family members are left at home while the rest of us take a summer getaway. Some Arkansans will have friends stop by to feed, water and walk or play with these beloved animals on a regular basis, but others will opt to locally kennel or board the family pet.

While kenneling or boarding a pet can be stressful, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to help Arkansans learn what to look for in a facility to ensure the animal’s safety.

“There are a lot of different things to consider when dropping off an animal at a kennel for a few days,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Is the facility clean, do they have enough staff members to handle the number of animals, what is their medical care plan if necessary? These are all questions to ask when deciding the best kennel to keep your furry family member while away.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following precautions for pet owners to take when considering boarding their pet.

  • Ask family and friends for recommendations of facilities they have used when boarding their pets. And research online to see if any complaints have been filed against the company.
  • Check out the facility on the web and on social media. Read comments by former or current customers.
  • Visit the facility. Check for cleanliness and the overall safety of the kennel and cages.
  • Ask about interactions between the animals. Some kennels let animals play together while others keep them separate at all times. Make sure the facility requires proof of immunizations and ask if they have any flea and tick control policies.
  • Inquire about the background and experience of the staff and ask the facility for references. Take note of how they interact with other boarded pets on your visit.
  • Thoroughly read the boarding agreement. Verify it includes the feeding and exercise schedule, as well as pick-up and drop-off hours. Some facilities offer bathing, nail trimming and immunizations as additional services. Make sure these and any other additional fees, like medical emergencies or other care, are included in the agreement.
  • Have a backup plan like a trusted friend, family member or veterinarian in case of an emergency.

Rutledge also recommends to start checking out facilities ahead of time and consider boarding your pet for a night or two as a trial run before leaving him/her for an extended period of time.

Remember that pets need adequate play time and space, and animals should not only be segregated by size but also by play styles and energy levels.

For more information about traveling and other consumer-related issues or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Timeshare Resale Troubles

Timeshare Resale Troubles

Wed, Jun 15, 2016

Some Arkansans may have previously decided to invest in a timeshare. They had been sold on a guaranteed vacation location, upscale lodging accommodations and the ability to exchange shares for other properties. But now they may be strapped by expensive annual maintenance fees, difficulty exchanging weeks and locations and finding that the property value they assumed would remain steady or even increase has remained the same or decreased.

A timeshare is a type of property in which an owner buys the right to use it for a designated period of time. Timeshares are most often condominium units at a popular destination and usually have a number of “owners.”

After timeshares gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, the market was overdeveloped, resulting in a flood of properties that now have depressed values, which has made resale difficult.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to encourage Arkansans considering selling their share of a timeshare to do research to find a reputable seller.

“Sales people often pressure consumers into purchasing a timeshare, and the decision is often an emotional and impulsive one,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Later, some consumers decide to sell their ‘ownership’ but can run into difficulties finding a buyer. They then turn to one of the many companies offering to help resell, but Arkansans need to make sure they are dealing with a reputable seller.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for Arkansans looking to resell their timeshare:

  • Beware of timeshare resellers who contact you unsolicited with a promise to resell your timeshare.
  • If they say they have willing buyers, it is probably a lie.
  • Never pay a substantial advance fee for resale assistance. A reputable seller will charge a commission paid only upon sale, like a normal real estate transaction. An advance fee may be called a “marketing fee,” a “listing fee,” an “internet advertising fee” or other related fee.
  • Get an independent appraisal from a licensed appraiser before agreeing on any resale assistance contract.
  • Deal only with licensed agents.

Unfortunately, a number of operations exist that try to take advantage of “owners” desperation to sell. They offer assistance with selling the timeshare and relief from the burden of the continuing costs of ownership. They often collect hundreds or thousands of dollars in so-called “deed transfer” or “marketing” fees but never complete the sale.

For more information about traveling and other consumer-related issues or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Get Educated with the GI Bill

Get Educated with the GI Bill

Wed, Jun 8, 2016

he GI Bill has grown and changed since it was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, but the goal of the bill remains the same – to help service members learn a skill or attend college, placing them on a path to a successful career.

In 2008, the GI Bill was updated and is now called the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This update provided more resources to cover educational expenses, a monthly housing allowance, up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies and a one-time relocation allowance for veterans who served on active duty for 90 days or more since Sept. 10, 2001. The bill also provides tuition assistance and a book stipend to current active duty service members.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate veterans and military families about the various benefits available under the GI Bill.

“The brave men and women who protect our country oftentimes put their education on hold during their service,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The GI Bill has provided incentives for service members to continue their education for decades with great success. The expansion of the program assists veterans who have served since 9/11 transition to civilian life by learning new skills for job opportunities, and I hope this alert will help spread the word about available resources.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following list of training programs available under the GI Bill:

  • Undergraduate and graduate degree programs
  • Vocational/technical training
  • On-the-job/apprenticeship
  • Licensing and certification reimbursement
  • National testing reimbursement
  • Entrepreneurship training
  • Flight training
  • Correspondence training
  • Work-study programs
  • Tuition assistance
  • Tutorial assistance

Benefit payments are provided in tiered amounts based on the amount of active duty service. Service members who have served at least 36 months after Sept. 10, 2001 are eligible to have 100 percent of their tuition to a public institution covered or up to $21,970.46 per year at a private or foreign school. Meanwhile, the Yellow Ribbon Program is available to service members to make up any difference in cost.

In order to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, service members must have served at least 30 days of continuous active duty and be discharged because of a service connected disability or served an aggregate of 90 days of active duty and received an honorable discharge. Service members who meet the criteria for this benefit have 15 years to use the assistance. Reservists and Guard members are also eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Benefits are also transferable to family members, including a spouse or child. If the service member has died in the line of duty on or after Sept. 10, 2001, his or her children may be eligible for additional benefits under the Marine Gunnery John David Fry Scholarship Program.

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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Resort Fees Can Be Costly

Resort Fees Can Be Costly

Wed, Jun 1, 2016

Summer travel plans are taking shape, and some of those trips could take Arkansans out of state to Las Vegas, Orlando or San Diego. Meanwhile, some Arkansans are planning trips closer to home, in Little Rock, Bentonville or one of the many state parks. But there are some hotels in popular destinations that may charge additional fees called resort fees.

Resort fees are mandatory surcharges added to hotel bills for use of the hotel gym and pool towels -- even the morning newspaper or local phone calls. These fees are applied prior to the hotel stay and are charged even if those services are not rendered during the stay. Find out if the hotel you’re planning to stay in charges resort fees at ResortFeeChecker.com.

Because many Arkansans travel with a limited vacation budget, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to inform consumers about these additional and oftentimes hidden fees.

“Resort fees are little-known charges that hotel guests are on the hook for,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Hotels like these fees because they can keep their advertised price low but increase the price through these fees. Time and again the traveler is not made aware of this additional cost until the end of the transaction when taxes are also applied.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following additional information about resort fees:

  • High-end facilities have been charging resort fees since the 1990s, but within the last 10 years, more hotels have been charging these additional fees.
  • Critics are encouraging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to require hotels to disclose their fees upfront, similar to how the Department of Transportation mandated airlines to provide a detailed list of fees.
  • Read the fine print before finalizing the transaction. Be mindful that these fees are often not revealed until after the booking process has begun. But the reservation can be abandoned by exiting the screen or hanging up the telephone.
  • Ask if the hotel will waive the resort fee, especially if you do not intend on using the amenities.
  • The extra money paid in resort fees does not usually go toward any loyalty programs.

The FTC sent warning letters to 22 hotel operators in 2012 encouraging them to disclose the resort fees. But these fees continue and some high-end hotels in popular destinations charge up to $100 per night, according to ResortFeeChecker.com.

For more information about ways to stay safe while traveling and other consumer-related issues or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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What Are You Posting Online?

What Are You Posting Online?

Wed, May 25, 2016

When reports of sexual abuse of a child or an individual viewing explicit images of children emerge, Arkansans often wonder how something like this could happen here. Many parents think it could never happen to their child, because they monitor their child’s phone and Internet use. Unfortunately, though, child predators are using advancements in technology and are finding new ways every day to prey on children and teens.

The Attorney General’s Cyber Crimes Unit reports that predators will sometimes harvest from social media sites and other online sources finding seemingly innocent photographs taken by proud, well-meaning parents of children in swimsuits, dance costumes or even sports uniforms that are form-fitting or show skin and either use the images for their own ill-intentioned plans or trade or sell them for more explicit photographs.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is issuing today’s consumer alert to educate parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and all adults of ways they could be unknowingly making their child a target of online sexual predators.

“No one wants one of the children in their life to be victims of pedophiles,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “It is time to face the shocking reality that these predators are harming our children and I encourage all adults to use caution and be responsible if pictures of children are posted on social media.”

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

  • Think twice about posting pictures of children online, especially photos of children that show a lot of skin.
  • Remember that status updates, photos and videos posted on social networks are permanent and once the user posts, it is out of their control, and you do not know where it will end up. Consider purchasing cell phone monitoring services from your provider to monitor your child’s mobile devices.
  • Just as children are taught to use strong privacy settings, adults should use the strictest settings that are available to prevent unwanted individuals from seeing images of their children. For example, on Facebook, one of the available privacy settings requires explicit permission from the account holder before he or she can be tagged in a post or picture.
  • Monitor social media posts from friends to ensure they are not posting photos of your loved ones that could be stolen by people with sinister motives and end up in the hands of a child predator. Many social media platforms allow users to submit complaints regarding problematic posts and to request deletion of posts.

Attorney General Rutledge reports that these photos, along with social media posts and texts, are also often used to breakdown young children’s inhibitions to make them more comfortable with the inappropriate behavior. Adults must remember though that if a child comes into contact with an online predator, it is not the child’s fault – the child is the victim.

Arkansans can report child exploitation by calling the National CyberTipline, (800) 843-5678, or visit CyberTipline.com. To report child abuse, call the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse Hotline, (800) 482-5964, or, in the event of an emergency, dial 911 or a local law enforcement agency.

For more information about ways to stay safe online and other consumer-related issues or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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