Attorney General Alerts
Car Financing Tips for Service MembersWed, Dec 9, 2015
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that military service members often become targets of scammers when purchasing or financing a vehicle, including paying money to a scammer posing as a lender who takes their money and disappears.
Meanwhile, overseas deployments or a change-of-duty station can create financial stress and unique financial difficulties. And some unscrupulous lenders target service members by exaggerating their ties to the military to pull at the heartstrings of potential consumers when taking out a car loan.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to encourage military service members to be educated buyers and borrowers.
“All Arkansans considering a vehicle purchase should shop around for the best vehicle and financing options for them,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But the brave men and women who serve our country need to make special considerations when buying a vehicle. All too often military service members become prime targets for scammers who pose as lenders, taking the service member’s money without providing promised financial services.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for members of the military who are considering buying a new or used vehicle:
- Work out a budget before talking with a dealership. Know how much money you have to devote to a down payment, as well as monthly payments.
- Only shop for financing with a car dealer after you have explored other financing options such as local or national banks and credit unions. If you finance with a dealer, request information about the “buy rate” in order to avoid hidden markups.
- Beware of extra products like gap insurance or extended warranties.
- Get a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com and know your creditworthiness.
- Research vehicles, know their approximate cost and read reviews to find out what other consumers are saying about a particular vehicle.
- Shop around for the best dealers, lending rates and insurance providers to avoid businesses with bad reputations.
Military personnel are provided some additional protections when looking for a new vehicle. Make sure the lender is aware of a deployment so they can honor the interest rate cap of 6 percent specified in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). A vehicle lease can also be broken without penalty if the service member is deployed, according to the SCRA. Some insurance companies offer discounts to service members. And some lenders provide military car loans that offer lower interest rates and down payments, but use caution because this also means it will take longer to pay down the loan
For more car-buying tips, credit reporting information and other consumer-related questions, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Securely Surf and Shop OnlineWed, Dec 2, 2015
The holiday shopping season is underway, with retailers competing to provide the best deals and lowest prices to Arkansans. Many consumers are taking advantage of deals that an increasing number of retailers are offering online.
According to research by Wipro Digital, 61 percent of people in the U.S. reported doing more than half their 2014 holiday shopping online. This is a significant increase from 2013, when only 36 percent of consumers reported doing the majority of their shopping online. The trend is set to continue with the 2015 holiday season.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to encourage caution while shopping online.
“With Christmas just a few weeks away, our schedules continue to fill up, and Arkansans are going online to finish their lists,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But shoppers must be cautious when making these purchases to protect financial information. Hackers are always looking for new ways to gain access to credit card numbers and online user information.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help keep consumers safe while shopping online:
- Use a secure browser — software that encrypts or scrambles the purchase information you send over the Internet — to help guard the security of your information as it is transmitted to a website. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer.
- Read and understand the refund and shipping policies before you make your purchase.
- Pay by credit card, which is the most secure payment method. Under federal law, charges can be disputed. Many credit card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the purchaser pays nothing if their credit card is stolen and used to make unauthorized purchases.
- Keep personal information private. Do not disclose personal information – address, telephone number, Social Security number, bank account number or email address – unless you know who is collecting the information, why they are collecting it and how they will use it.
- Be cautious when buying gifts from an online auction. Understand how the auction works and check out the seller’s reputation before bidding. Always ask about terms of delivery and return options. Never wire money for the purchase; use some other form of payment.
- Keep records of online transactions and check for emails from merchants while doing business. Merchants may send important information about purchases.
- Review monthly credit card and bank statements for any errors or unauthorized purchases promptly and thoroughly. Notify the credit or debit card issuer immediately if a card or checkbook is lost or stolen or if you suspect someone is using your accounts without your permission.
During the holiday season, there are many great deals; however, do thorough research on companies and products before finalizing each online purchase. And check the anticipated delivery date to make sure it will be delivered before the holidays.
For more information on identity theft, ways to protect your money and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Monitor and Secure Prescriptions During the HolidaysWed, Nov 25, 2015
Families across Arkansas are gathering for Thanksgiving to give thanks for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us this year. But as we all give thanks, many conversations turn to family news, which often includes our recent ailments or upcoming doctor appointments. Unfortunately, many children and teens listen closely to these conversations and they hear an opportunity to get their hands on “safe” medications prescribed by doctors.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to remind Arkansas families of the prescription drug abuse epidemic in our State and to offer ways they can protect their loves ones by properly storing and disposing of prescription medication.
“Many teens have easy access to prescriptions from the family medicine cabinet and believe these pills are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But the prescriptions are written for a different family member, and it is dangerous to take them for non-medical use. These drugs are very addictive and can be a gateway to even more dangerous drugs, such as heroin.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for parents and family members to protect access to prescription medications:
- Get educated on the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse at MayoClinic.org.
- Talk to your children about the dangers of taking medication that is prescribed to someone else.
- Maintain a pill count as a monitoring method to know if any pills have been taken.
- Keep medications in a secure, out-of-reach location that limits accessibility.
- Clean out expired medications from cabinets and drawers and make plans to visit a local drug drop-off location.
- Do not flush medication down the toilet or pour down the drain because it can pollute water supplies.
- Research prescription drug drop-off locations at ARTakeBack.org.
Nearly 44,000 people die from drug overdoses each year, with more than half of those because of abuse of prescription drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports 5.5 percent of Arkansans over age 12 have used prescription drugs for non-medical use, with the most often abused drug being painkillers. Meanwhile, a study from the University of Texas reports 62 percent of teens who use prescription drugs use because they are easy to obtain from family medicine cabinets.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Arkansas Office of the Drug Director have drop-off locations for Arkansans to drop off any unused prescription medications with no questions asked. The medications will then be disposed of in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
Earlier this month Attorney General Rutledge partnered with the Arkansas Office of the Drug Director, Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy and the Criminal Justice Institute to host the annual Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in which participants learned about more research and strategies to fight prescription drug misuse and abuse.
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.