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Consumer Alerts

Plan a Safe July 4

Plan a Safe July 4

Wed, Jul 1, 2015

Since 1776, Americans have celebrated Independence Day with festivities ranging from barbecues and parades to concerts and fireworks. These traditions are great opportunities for family and friends to gather and celebrate the holiday. President John Adams once declared that Independence Day should be celebrated with “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

It is no surprise that fireworks are now a common custom for many people to celebrate the holiday across the United States.

“Fireworks can be fun if Arkansans remember to follow safety precautions,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “But improper use or malfunctioning fireworks can lead to serious injury and even death.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 11 fatalities and an estimated 10,500 injuries related to fireworks in the U.S. in 2014. Among those injuries, 67 percent occurred in the 30 days surrounding July 4.

Attorney General Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to remind Arkansans to keep safety and fireworks regulations in mind when celebrating Independence Day.

Arkansas State law, which regulates the sale and use of fireworks, requires sellers to obtain a license in order to sell fireworks legally in the State. Vendors must also follow restrictions, including selling fireworks to anyone under 12 or to anyone who appears intoxicated.

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.

Even if fireworks are legally purchased, they can still be a safety hazard. In 2014, the CPSC reported 1,400 injuries from sparklers.

Attorney General Rutledge encourages consumers to follow these safety recommendations:

  • 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 bucket of water handy in case of a fire.

It is also important to make sure that fireworks are set off in permissible areas. In some cities, it is illegal to set off or possess fireworks. Fireworks may not be ignited within 600 feet of any church, hospital or public school or within 200 feet of where fireworks are sold or stored.

For more information about fireworks safety, related Arkansas laws and other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Avoiding Vacation Scams

Avoiding Vacation Scams

Wed, Jun 24, 2015

School is out for the summer, and many Arkansans are taking vacations. These trips can be great for relaxation and fun, but consumers should take precautions to protect themselves from scams and con artists.

Michigan-based financial advisor, Rick Bloom, wrote in an op-ed piece last week, “thieves know that we all tend to put our guard down when we’re on vacation.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to help Arkansans keep their guard up and avoid being scammed before or during vacation.

“There are many different aspects to planning a trip – from transportation to housing and excursions. Travelers need to remember to be cautious,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Research options and do not be pressured into signing up for anything.”

Attorney General Rutledge offered the following tips to recognize a scam:

  • A legitimate company will not require payment for a prize. If a company requires fees to be paid after awarding a free vacation it is likely a scam. Find out the costs before agreeing to anything.
  • If a travel agency will not provide the phone number or address of all or some of the arrangements it has made, there may be a problem. The more vague the promise, the less likely it is to be true. Call each company to verify reservations.
  • High-pressure sales tactics could be a sign of a scam. The pressure to sign up or miss out is a signal to walk away.
  • Be wary of wiring money as it is the same as sending cash; once sent, there is no way to get it back.
  • Travelers should pay by credit card as much as possible because it is easier to dispute the charges with the credit card company if the promised services were not provided.

Attorney General Rutledge also encourages travelers to make copies of credit cards, passports and driver’s licenses, along with emergency contact information in case any of these documents are stolen.

All travel scams should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission, local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. For information on tips to avoid getting scammed, as well as other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Boating Safety

Boating Safety

Tue, Jun 16, 2015

Arkansans are looking for ways to cool down during the long summer days. Many will head to one of the State’s beautiful lakes or rivers. With more than 200,000 boats registered statewide according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, many residents spend a lot of time boating to beat the heat. But boaters need to remember to be cautious on the water. A 14-year-old girl was killed in Arkansas Thursday in a jet ski accident, and a Missouri man was killed on Saturday after lightning struck his boat.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to caution Arkansans about the potential dangers of boating.

“Nearly all boating accidents are preventable,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “In order for summer to be both fun and safe, it is vital that all boaters remain attentive, wear proper personal flotation devices and take precautions to avoid major accidents.”

Last year, 72 boating accidents were reported by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, with operator inattention being the number one cause. Alcohol was the contributing factor in eight of those accidents during 2014.

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to boat safely:

  • Check local weather conditions before departure. If you notice darkening clouds, volatile or rough winds or sudden drops in temperatures, stay off the water.
  • Create and follow a pre-departure checklist to ensure no boating safety rules or precautions have been forgotten or overlooked.
  • Have a first aid kit, signaling devices, a boat anchor, marine VHF radio and a cellphone on board in case of emergencies.
  • Be alert at all times and stay clear of large vessels that may experience difficulty turning or stopping. Always respect buoys and other navigational aids.
  • Designate an assistant skipper in case the primary navigator is injured or incapacitated in any way.
  • Inform family or friends of your plans, where you are going and how long you are going to be gone.
  • Make sure everyone is assigned a proper-fitting life jacket. Arkansas law requires children 12 and under to wear a life jacket at all times boating or swimming.
  • Avoid alcohol while boating.

Attorney General Rutledge also reminds Arkansans that lawmakers recently increased the penalties for boating while intoxicated to match those of driving while intoxicated. It is illegal to operate or physically control a boat if the individual is under the influence of alcohol. This means that a first offense could land intoxicated boaters in jail up to one year, a $1,000 fine and driver’s license suspension for six months.

Meanwhile, state and federal laws prohibit depositing waste of any kind, including trash, oil and other liquid pollutants into bodies of waters. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000.

More safety tips can be found on websites of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For information on tips to avoid getting scammed, as well as other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Stay Safe in the Water

Stay Safe in the Water

Mon, Jun 8, 2015

Pools are opening for the summer, and families are heading to lakes and beaches to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. All of this means more people will be spending hot summer days in and around the water.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate Arkansans about the importance of water safety and the risks of drowning.

“Each year, drowning accidents cause serious injuries and even kill Arkansans,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “We all need to stay alert while swimming at pools, lakes and beaches to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. These deaths are preventable.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to have a fun, safe summer around water:

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, approximately 10 drowning deaths occur per day across the country, and many more drowning victims require hospitalization with their injuries resulting in severe brain damage.

The Arkansas Infant and Child Death Review reports drowning as the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 17.

For more safety tips, visit the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, Arkansas Department of Health, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or PoolSafety.gov. For information on tips to avoid getting scammed, as well as other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Make Sure a Scam Does Not Ruin Your Wedding

Make Sure a Scam Does Not Ruin Your Wedding

Thu, May 28, 2015

Summer weddings are common in Arkansas, and brides and grooms are currently making final preparations. However, couples need to take proper precautions to avoid having their big day turn into a big pay day for con artists posing as vendors.

Reports of these types of scams have surfaced across the country. Recently, a Colorado couple purchased their honeymoon online, only to have their plans cancelled when the booking company disappeared. More than 80 Massachusetts couples were victims of a videographer who never provided their video footage. Another scammer victimized 73 Missouri couples promising them a renovated historic venue for their wedding but he did not acquire the proper permits to update the property, then kept the couples’ money.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to help Arkansas consumers avoid being taken advantage of by wedding scammers.

“A wedding day is a cause for celebration,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But consumers need to know about the potential of wedding vendor fraud. A photographer, baker or florist could take the order and money, then never deliver services.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for brides, grooms and families who are booking wedding vendors to ensure they are working with reputable and experienced merchants:

  • Research and compare vendors, get multiple estimates and check references for all.
  • Pay with a credit card because it is a more secure form of payment than cash or check.
  • Avoid paying in full before receiving services.
  • Get everything in writing and make sure contracts include dates, times, promised services, details, cancellation charges and overtime charges.
  • Establish a timeline of when the vendor is expected to show up and perform the job.
  • Stay in contact with vendors throughout the planning process.
  • Consider consulting with a professional, reputable wedding planner.
  • Consider purchasing wedding insurance that would mitigate problems if a vendor does not show up and cover cancellations due to weather or sickness.
  • Read each contract in full and look for hidden costs like cake cutting, corking fees, additional taxes and gratuities, and employee overtime.

Couples who paid for a service on a credit card and are victims of a wedding scam are advised to file a fraud dispute with the credit card company. The company should investigate the claims and could retrieve the lost money. Fraud victims should also file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau.

For more information on tips to avoid getting scammed, as well as other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Car Sellers Beware

Car Sellers Beware

Fri, May 22, 2015

Reports are increasing of a scam targeting the private, online sale of vehicles. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning consumers of a scheme targeting people selling vehicles on the popular online marketplace, Craigslist. Law enforcement has reported nearly 100 instances of a phony bank check being used to pay for vehicles across the country.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to warn Arkansans about the scam that leaves sellers liable for money still owed on cars, while criminals get away with vehicles.

“These con artists can print counterfeit checks that look real,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Sellers should be cautious because some of these checks can even fool bank tellers. The best thing to do is travel to the buyer’s bank to ensure the check is valid and that sufficient funds are available to complete the purchase.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for consumers who are selling vehicles on their own:

  • Insist on speaking to serious buyers over the phone in order to gauge if they are genuinely interested in the car.
  • Consider only selling to local buyers.
  • Do not give out your home address.
  • Schedule test drives in the middle of the day and in public places. Do not meet with an unknown buyer alone.
  • Once you have settled on a price, meet the buyer at his or her bank to complete the transaction.
  • Beware if the buyer recommends a specific escrow service, and do your research to make sure it is a legitimate company by checking with the Arkansas Insurance Department License Division. (Kelly Blue Book does not endorse any escrow services.)
  • Keep documents or paper records of everything and when exchanging paperwork, redact all of your personal information.
  • Never sign over a title until you have the money in hand.

Attorney General Rutledge also encourages sellers to be cautious of overpayment scams and to avoid payment plans. In overpayment scams, the buyer says that someone else owes him or her an amount that is higher than the agreed-upon selling price. The buyer wants the third-party to pay the seller directly, have the seller keep his or her share, then turn over the car and price difference. This scam can also involve a false check, which would leave the seller with even less money.

Victims of this type of fraud should go back to the website where they placed the ad and alert the site’s administrator of the scam, report the incident with local law enforcement, notify the Attorney General’s Office and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

For more information on tips to be safe online and avoid getting scammed, as well as other consumer related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at ArkansasAG.gov or (800) 482-8982 or on Facebook at facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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