Protecting Those Who ServeWed, Aug 12, 2015
Federal laws protect our active-duty servicemen and women and their families from mortgage foreclosures and exorbitant interest rates.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate Arkansas’s active-duty servicemen and women and families about safeguards that are in place if they plan to buy or currently own a home.
“Our military men and women put their lives on the line to protect us, and they have unique needs because of their service,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Laws are in place to protect their homes while they are deployed, and they need to know about these programs.”
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) protects active-duty service members from potentially harmful civil legal matters. These protections cover insurance, mortgage payments, interest rates, leases, contractual arrangements and civil judicial proceedings.
SCRA limits mortgage interest to 6 percent during military service and up to one year after service ends. It prevents a mortgage creditor from selling, foreclosing or seizing an active-duty service member’s mortgaged property during service and up to nine months after military service terminates. The SCRA also provides protection requiring a judge to stay mortgage proceedings if a service member shows that military service has affected his or her ability to comply with mortgage obligations. Many service members would benefit from mortgage relief measures, and SCRA underscores this by prohibiting a mortgage servicer from requiring a service member to be delinquent on payments in order to qualify for loss mitigation relief if he or she would otherwise qualify.
Meanwhile, the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement placed requirements on five major mortgage servicers: Ally, Bank of America, Citi, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo. In addition to benefitting all homeowners, these mortgage servicers must notify service members who are 45 days delinquent on mortgage payments that they are entitled to SCRA protections and are eligible for financial counseling from Military OneSource and Armed Forces Legal Assistance. Arkansas was one of 49 states that settled with the mortgages servicers on allegations of illegal actions in servicing loans.
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help service members who need to take advantage of the protections provided under the SCRA:
- Inform the mortgage company that you are seeking protection under SCRA.
- Provide the lender with written notice of military service.
- Send the lender a copy of the orders calling the service member to active duty.
- Research time constraints that could impact eligibility for some protections.
- Consult the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Office with questions regarding qualifications for SCRA.
In April, Rutledge launched the first-ever Military and Veterans Initiative at the Attorney General’s Office. This initiative seeks to assist active-duty military service members, reservists, veterans and their families with consumer related issues, Veterans Treatment Courts, the Hiring Heroes Program and many other collaborative efforts.
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.
Is that Data Breach Letter Real?Wed, Aug 5, 2015
The Arkansas Attorney General’s Public Protection Department has received a number of calls regarding a recent data breach at Medical Informatics Engineering (MIE). MIE services health care providers by storing personal and protected health information of patients across the country, including Arkansans.
MIE began mailing out notice letters to affected individuals last week causing many Arkansans to question the letter’s legitimacy because they are not aware of the third party service providers that often manage personal data.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to help Arkansans determine whether or not a breach notice is valid and to offer tips on what to do if they have questions about credit monitoring.
“For good reason, many Arkansans are learning to be skeptical of unsolicited communication,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Although scammers use fake letters, this letter is real, and our Public Protection Department is on standby to assist those who may have fallen victim to a data breach.”
Attorney General Rutledge offers the following tips if you are notified of a data breach:
- First, if you are concerned about the validity of the letter, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office Public Protection Department at (800) 482-8982, firstname.lastname@example.org or ask consumer related questions at ArkansasAG.gov.
- If the data breach is determined to impact your personal information and the compromised information relates to existing financial accounts or your Social Security number, contact your financial institution to close or change the account information as soon as possible.
- Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit bureau reports by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus. A fraud alert is designed to stop an identity thief from using personal information to open fraudulent credit accounts.
- If fraudulent activity has occurred, consider placing a security freeze on your credit bureau reports in an effort to prevent credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without consent.
- File complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office if the data breach is confirmed to have included your personal information.
- Periodically monitor credit bureau reports for any unusual activity and check for accuracy. Everyone is allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. To learn how to obtain a free annual credit report under federal law, visit annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228. A victim of fraud is eligible to receive one free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus. Requests for a free report based on a fraud claim should be made directly to the credit bureaus:
For more information on steps to take if a data breach has compromised personal information and other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
First-Time RenterWed, Jul 29, 2015
As summer winds down and young adults turn their attention back to school or work, many are deciding where to live. College students are making plans to move to their college or university and weighing their housing options of living in a dorm or renting, while others are looking for the right apartment or house to rent. Some will be renting for the first time and need to know that shopping for an apartment or rental house is just as important and complex as buying a car or evaluating the benefits of a new phone or game console.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s alert to educate young consumers on how to be smart while shopping for an apartment or rental house.
“Many college students opt for off-campus housing, rather than living in the dorms,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “And many young adults have been saving money to move into their first place. These young renters need to know what questions to ask a landlord, what to look for in an apartment or rental house and the warning signs of a bad deal.”
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. Who is the provider for each service? What is the average monthly cost? Does the landlord cover any of these costs?
- 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 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 appliance/air conditioning/furnace maintenance and make sure those responsibilities are mentioned in the lease.
- Learn about the lease cancellation policy and ask questions.
- 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.
Renters should also familiarize themselves with state as well as local city laws about landlords and tenants.
Late last year, Fayetteville, Arkansas, joined other university towns across the country, including Salisbury, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Ames, Iowa, 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 on landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities, or to file a complaint, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
No Big Payouts in the International LotteryWed, Jul 22, 2015
International scammers are once again turning to Arkansas to make some extra money by telling Arkansans they have won money in an international lottery. These con artists contact Arkansas consumers through direct mail, email or a phone call requesting a small fee in order to process these cash prizes.
Usually the con artist claims that the recipient has won a lottery or an expensive prize, such as a car or a trip. All the consumer has to do is submit either a small payment or personal financial information to claim the prize. Payments are often requested as “processing fees” or “customs charges.”
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to warn Arkansans about the dangers of falling for an international lottery scheme.
“International lottery ploys are another clever attempt to steal money from consumers,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “These scammers use lies and deceitful techniques to pressure Arkansans out of their hard-earned money. My office is committed to educating people to help them avoid becoming victims.”
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.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service estimates Americans pay these scammers $120 million per year for this one scam even as the Postal Service intercepts and destroys millions of foreign lottery mailings sent or delivered by the truckload into the United States.
Earlier this year, a Jamaican man was extradited to the U.S. where he pleaded guilty to 38 counts of conspiracy and wire fraud as part of an international lottery scheme. Damion Bryan Barrett, 29, is the first Jamaican citizen to be extradited to the United States based on charges of defrauding Americans in connection with a lottery scheme.
For more information on what to do if you are a victim of a scam and tips on how to avoid a scam, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Don’t be Scammed by your ‘Favorite Grandson’Wed, Jul 15, 2015
Scammers are reviving an old ploy to swindle the elderly out of their money. The Arkansas Attorney General’s Office Public Protection Department has recently seen an uptick in reports of the “favorite grandson” scam.
These con artists prey on the elderly by calling and identifying themselves as the individual’s favorite grandson or other close relative, who is in serious trouble or has been in an accident and needs money wired right away, often to a location outside the United States. Unfortunately, wire transfers are similar to cash, and if the individual falls for the scheme, there is usually no way to get the money back.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to make people of all ages aware of this scam and to provide tips to avoid becoming a victim.
“These thieves will stop at nothing to take advantage of people,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “My office continues to work to protect the elderly. It is our duty to stop these scammers who pull at heartstrings to get at purse strings.”
Attorney General Rutledge offered the following tips to avoid falling victim to the “favorite grandson” scam:
- Resist pressure to act quickly.
- Never give or wire money based on any unsolicited phone call.
- Verify your family member’s location by directly calling another family member or the grandchild.
- Do not send money to an unknown account or entity.
- Ask the caller for his or her name, and if they cannot provide it, hang up immediately.
- Have a plan in place when family members are traveling so that you can easily identify whether or not a need is genuine.
- Contact the Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 if you have been a victim of this scam.
The Attorney General’s Office reports elderly Arkansans losing thousands of dollars after falling for this scam. The Federal Trade Commission reported 40,000 cases occurring in the United States between 2010 and 2013.
Military Consumer Protection DayWed, Jul 8, 2015
Military service members, veterans and their families are often subject to unfair, deceptive or abusive financial practices. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) began collecting data specific to military personnel and their families in 2011 and reports approximately 29,500 complaints were submitted through 2014.
The CFPB reports 39 percent of those complaints were on debt collection, with the majority of those regarding continued attempts to collect debt that is not owed.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to help recognize Military Consumer Protection Day on July 15 and to make military service members, veterans and families aware of the top consumer complaints so they will know how to get help with these issues.
“Our military men and women are our everyday heroes,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “These service members protect this great country. We owe it to these brave men and women to help educate them on how to protect themselves and their families regarding financial practices.”
Attorney General Rutledge shared the following list from the CFPB of the most common complaints filed by service members.
- Debt collection – approximately 11,600 complaints filed
- Mortgage payment and loan – approximately 7,100 complaints filed
- Credit reporting – approximately 2,700 complaints filed
- Credit card – approximately 2,500 complaints filed
- Bank account or service – approximately 2,400 complaints filed
- Consumer loan – approximately 1,400 complaints filed
- Student loan – approximately 700 complaints filed
- Payday loan – approximately 600 complaints filed
Arkansas military service members, veterans and families should file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982. Upon submission, the complaint will be entered into the tracking system and assigned a number and an investigator. Within five business days, a postcard should be received in the mail acknowledging receipt of the complaint, and a copy of the complaint will be sent to the business. It is requested that the business respond within 10 business days. Once it does, the Attorney General will provide a copy of the response to the consumer.
Military Consumer Protection Day is a partnership between attorneys general from across the country, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, and many more organizations. Military Consumer Protection Day is an initiative to empower active duty and retired service members, veterans and families and help them defend against fraud and make better-informed decisions when managing money.