Attorney General Alerts
Beat High Heating Costs This WinterWed, Nov 18, 2015
Temperatures are beginning to drop into the 30s overnight across Arkansas, which means winter is on its way. Lower temperatures also mean turning on the heater and increased energy costs.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to offer ways to save money on energy this winter.
“Home heating costs can add up quickly for Arkansans during the colder months,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “It is important that Arkansans educate themselves about ways to stay warm and save money this winter.”
Attorney General Rutledge fights for lower utility rates for Arkansans, but there are tips consumers can follow to help keep energy costs lower throughout the colder months:
- Keep curtains open during the day for natural heat, and close them at night to retain the heat.
- Use a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the temperature when no one is home.
- Seal cracks or holes around the home by weather-stripping doors and windows and adding insulation to walls, the attic and crawlspace to prevent it from losing heat.
- Set ceiling fans to spin clockwise to recirculate rising hot air.
- Make sure baseboard heaters, air vents and radiators are not obstructed.
- Service the heating system at least once a year to ensure it is operating properly.
- Consider wrapping the water heater in a water heater jacket or blanket and turning down the temperature to the warm setting to save money.
- Close the vents and doors to rooms that are not being used.
- Keep air filters clean and replace regularly.
Many Arkansans also burn wood as a heat source. Meanwhile, other consumers heat with liquefied petroleum gas, and those users should consider signing a long-term contract with a provider in order to lock in a specific price over a set period. In addition, homeowners should consider their consumption needs and order propane refills before the current supply runs out. And use caution while using space heaters and keep away from flammable materials. Also consider energy costs. The Department of Energy reports that space heaters account for about 45 percent of energy bills in average U.S. homes.
Be cautious of products that claim to drastically lower heating costs and avoid unsolicited high-pressure sales calls or visits from contractors offering furnaces, windows, roofing and other home-improvement projects. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Other tips and resources are available at EnergyEfficiencyArkansas.org, a partnership between Arkansas utility companies and the Arkansas Energy Office.
Arkansans having trouble paying heating or electricity bills this winter should contact their region’s Arkansas Community Action Agency to learn more about the Weatherization Assistance Program.
For more information about navigating utility costs and other consumer-related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Verify Military Charities Before GivingWed, Nov 11, 2015
Happy Veterans Day! Today, we thank the men and women who have bravely defended our country, but it is also a good opportunity to remind Arkansans of the fraud that is directed at this group of heroes. Charitable organizations that provide support to military service members, veterans and their families often generate donations from many good-hearted Arkansans. Unfortunately, scam artists take advantage of this generosity.
Arkansas law requires most charitable organizations to register with the Attorney General’s office prior to soliciting donations. Organizations are required to provide financial information about how the donations are used and potential donors can contact the Consumer Protection Division at (800) 482-8982 with specific charity questions. Individuals may search organizations to see if they are registered at ArkansasAG.gov.
Attorney General Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to make Arkansans aware that the Attorney General’s office charities registration is a helpful resource they can use when making plans to donate to a cause or organization.
“Research charities before making donations,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Many con artists are smart and use a name similar to a popular charity that indeed helps veterans, hoping citizens do not realize the difference. The scammers then pocket your money and disappear.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to consumers to help ensure an organization’s legitimacy before giving money:
- Ask questions before you give. Only give when you feel comfortable that your donation will support an organization and activities in which you believe. Refuse high-pressure appeals. Legitimate charities will not rush a donation.
- Ask for written information or research the organization online. A legitimate charity will send information that provides the organization’s mission and how the donation will be used, along with proof that the contribution is tax deductible.
- Call the charity directly. To avoid falling victim to sham solicitors, personally contact the charity before giving a donation by email, to the person knocking at your front door or to a telephone solicitor to ensure it is not a scam.
- Do not send cash. For security and tax records, make donations by check or credit card.
- Search the Arkansas Charities Database for more information on charities in Arkansas, including those benefiting service members and their families.
In 2007, the Attorney General’s office entered into a consent judgment against Washington-based American Veterans Coalition for violating Arkansas’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. In the consent judgment, the defendants were prohibited from collecting donations in Arkansas for five years and were required to repay the State $83,749.
Arkansas donors, military service members, veterans and families who have identified a scam in the name of charity should file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982.
‘Kik’ Out Dangerous AppsWed, Nov 4, 2015
Young people are always looking for the newest apps to download on their mobile phones. But some of these apps allow children and teens to hide information from parents or allow anonymous group chats, both of which can be dangerous.
One app that is popular with Arkansas teens is called Kik. The app, however, raises concerns for parents. The Kik app has more than 240 million registered users and reports that 40 percent of U.S. teens are active, averaging 97 minutes per week on the app.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate parents about the potential dangers associated with social networking apps, such as Kik, that tout anonymity and hidden features.
“As moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we need to educate the children in our lives not only about ways to stay safe on the Internet but also about how to understand the latest technologies,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “We need to get smart online. Know your child’s passwords and check their phone, contacts and social networking sites regularly. And remind kids that what they post online is permanent.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for both children and adults to protect themselves online.
- Make a unique password for every social media site. Consider making the passwords stronger by adding numbers or special characters. Having strong, unique passwords for each site helps prevent hackers from taking over social media accounts to send spam, scam friends or use information against the owner of the account.
- Follow the “Front Page Rule,” which reminds social media users not to put anything on a social media site they would not want to see on the front page of a newspaper.
- Assume that status updates, photos and videos posted on social networks are permanent. Just because a profile is deleted or information is removed, older versions can continue to exist on other sites.
- Use caution when arranging a face-to-face meeting with someone you met online as they may not be who they say they are.
- Do not respond to messages that are inappropriate. Encourage children to tell an adult if they ever encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Parents and guardians should consider downloading a monitoring service app that allows them to view the child’s smartphone activity.
The dangers from apps like Kik are present in Arkansas. Kik was a factor in a Faulkner County arrest last month. Mitchell Johnson, 43, of Searcy was arrested for a crime involving a child after sending photos to an undercover officer via Kik. Meanwhile, James Breedlove, 52, of Bentonville was arrested in January for exchanging nude photos with 10 girls under age 17 on Kik.
For more information about ways to be safe online and other consumer-related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Keep Halloween Scares to Ghosts and GhoulsWed, Oct 28, 2015
Fall brings cooler temperatures, trees changing colors and Halloween. Many children and families enjoy the excitement and activities surrounding Halloween, including costume parties, haunted houses, hay rides and, of course, trick-or-treating. But sometimes the excitement of these activities can cause people to forget to be careful.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to remind families of precautions to take to have a safe, fun trick-or-treating outing.
“Boys and girls across Arkansas are ready for this Halloween weekend,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But we all need to remember to take the necessary steps to keep them safe. This includes parents and guardians who have children ready to dress as their favorite super hero, cartoon character or princess but also anyone on the roadways on trick-or-treat night.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to parents to avoid unexpected and unnecessary Halloween scares:
- Select flame-resistant materials, masks, beards and wigs and try to avoid baggy sleeves and billowing skirts.
- Choose costumes with light or bright colors whenever possible, or trim a darker costume with reflective tape. Consider also having children carry a flashlight to make sure they can see and are visible to drivers.
- To avoid tripping and falling, choose costumes that fit well and do not drag on the ground.
- Make sure masks fit securely, have adequate ventilation and provide unobstructed views. Consider applying make-up to children’s faces instead of selecting loose-fitting masks.
- Swords, knives and other accessories should be made of soft and flexible materials.
- Take children to familiar neighborhoods and approach only homes with outside lighting.
- Remind children of everyday safety rules, such as not getting into cars or talking to strangers, watching both ways before crossing streets and crossing with the light when they are trick-or-treating.
- Adults should always accompany small children to caution them against running into streets and across lawns or driveways. Children should use sidewalks where available.
- Encourage children to wait until they get home to eat candy so that adults can inspect the goodies.
- Parents should throw away any treats that are not commercially wrapped or appear to be tampered with.
Attorney General Rutledge also reminds motorists to keep an eye out for children darting out from between parked cars or walking on roadways or curbs. Drivers should also enter and exit driveways and alleys carefully and watch attentively for children in dark clothing at dusk.
Service Members Protected from EvictionWed, Oct 21, 2015
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) enacted in 2003 offers certain protections to members of the armed forces and their families so that service members can focus their full attention on their military responsibilities without adverse consequences for themselves or their families. The law also helps to ease financial burdens on service members and their families. One key section of the SCRA protects service members from eviction.
A landlord may not evict a service member or dependents from a home that is used as a residence during a time of military service without a court order. If an eviction action is filed, the court is required to temporarily stay, or delay, the proceedings for up to 90 days.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate military service members about the eviction protections they are provided.
“Some service members are unfamiliar with the SCRA and these unique protections that are offered to them,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I began the Military and Veterans Initiative earlier this year to reach out to these brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us to make sure they know their rights and the many resources that are available to them.”
Attorney General Rutledge provided the following facts and tips about eviction protections in the SCRA:
- Active duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are protected by the SCRA. Reservists with specific activation orders are also eligible.
- In order to qualify for this eviction protection, the service member’s rent may not exceed $3,329.84 per month. This ceiling is adjusted each year to match inflation.
- Eviction protections are offered regardless of whether the lease originated before or after the service member entered military service.
- Contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office if you suspect SCRA rights were violated.
- If that office cannot resolve the complaint, it may choose to forward the complaint to the Department of Justice, which will review the matter to determine if action is appropriate.
- In emergency situations, such as pending eviction, contact the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.
The SCRA also assists service members to terminate a lease or rental agreement without penalty. This protection applies to service members who are scheduled for deployment or re-assignment, as long as the lease began prior to active duty. In order to terminate the lease, the member must deliver written notice to the landlord with a copy of military orders. Oral notice is not sufficient.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has a law protecting all renters from excessive security deposits. Landlords who rent six or more dwellings cannot charge more than what would be two months’ rent. The deposit must also be returned within 60 days of moving, but landlords may deduct the cost of any damages or past-due rent.
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.
What’s in the Chip?Wed, Oct 14, 2015
Debit and credit cards are getting a new look. A computer chip is being added to both types of cards to make consumers’ information more secure.
All major credit card providers, including MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express, are currently sending Arkansans new cards to replace existing credit cards, and banks are issuing new debit cards.
Now, instead of swiping the card to complete the transaction, cards equipped with the computer chip will be inserted or “dipped” into a slot and left there until the transaction is completed. The buyer will be prompted to remove the card and to sign for the payment or enter a pin.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate Arkansans about this new credit card and the security benefits of this new technology.
“Computer hacks and data breaches are becoming more common as criminals target consumers and their credit,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “This new technology protects Arkansans’ personal information much better than the old magnetic strip credit cards. The computer chip creates a unique transaction code that cannot be used again; therefore, any stolen transaction numbers would be void and criminals would be denied if they attempted forge an Arkansan’s credit card.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for Arkansans to use during the transition to these new cards:
- When new credit or debit cards with the computer chip have been received, shred or destroy the old cards.
- Research the new cards and become familiar with the new transaction processing, which involves a new way to use your credit card at checkout. Financial institutions should have information on the technology on their websites.
- Continue to review your financial statements. This new technology creates a barrier for thieves, but no safeguard is perfect. The moment an error or unauthorized charge appears on a bank statement, the institution should be notified. Chip cards provide the same consumer protections offered by current cards, and the consumer will continue to have zero liability for fraudulent transactions.
Major credit card issuers created an Oct. 1 deadline for merchants to have the new card readers in working order, or be held liable for any fraudulent transactions occurring at their establishment. Automated fuel dispensers will have until 2017 to comply with these updates.
Electronic Transactions Association reports that an estimated 90 percent of counterfeit card fraud could be eliminated with chip card deployment in the United States. Meanwhile, the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate past data breaches related to payment processing systems and stands ready to protect Arkansans in any future cases.