Golden Rule & Vacation Distress

You want to do the right thing, especially for someone you know and love who is travelling in a foreign country where they have been mugged.  If that person has reached out to you for money, follow the Golden Rule:  The one with the gold makes the rule. Verify the vacation distress. Though you are motivated to send money right away, try to make direct contact with the person first.  With modern technology at your disposal, this step can be accomplished as fast as your fingers can move. Do not use or reply to whatever means of contact given in the distress message; instead use contact information you already have for the person.  Contact the person’s home or office. If you cannot confirm the person is alive and well directly, verify with friends, family, or neighbors the whereabouts of the alleged victim…before you become the actual victim of a fraud. Safe travels to you and your money, even if you do not leave home.   Read More

Play Your Credit Cards Close to the Vest

If Data breach is not bad enough, criminals can also gain access to your credit card accounts the old-fashioned way:  from you.  Here are tips from the US Secret Service on how to protect yourself against credit card fraud.  Many of them are common sense, and common sense can save you a lot of cents. It is critical that you notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you lose your card. It may prevent someone else from using it illegally. Remember to get your card back after purchasing goods or services. Do not leave the card in hotel rooms or unnecessarily exposed for long periods of time. The number can be copied even if the card is not taken. Retain all carbon copies of your receipts when making a purchase and retain receipts from ATM withdrawals. If you don’t get a billing statement on time, notify the credit card issuer immediately. Check billing statements carefully upon receipt to make sure all charges are yours. Errors or changes that don’t belong should be reported as soon as possible. Do not put your credit card account number on checks used to pay your monthly bills. The credit card agency can […] Read More

Did You Respond to a Nigerian Prince?

Not good if you did.  Beware of foreign pen pals promising money.  At least wait for their check to clear before you wire funds. The “Nigerian Letter” scam is known as a “419” because the scheme violates section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code.  While it seems like a laughable hoax, Americans lose millions of dollars annually to this fraud, which can appear in the form of a letter, email, voicemail, or text.  The scam tries to gain access to your personal finances and works like this: Step 1:  You are sent a form of payment for a large amount, like $8 million. Step 2:  You deposit the payment into your account, and you are instructed to keep part of it, say $4 million. Step 3:  You wire transfer the remaining $4 million to the sender. Step 4:  Everything in your account is drained because you have insufficient funds to cover a $4 million check. Step 5:  That $8 million never cleared into your account before you sent the wire transfer of $4 million. Step 6:  You owe the bank a lot of money. You can avoid Step 6 by NOT responding.  Ignore individuals representing themselves as foreign government officials […] Read More

Free Annual Credit Report

Have you been to the doctor lately?  Had your car serviced?  Did you clean the gutters?  There are certain things you should do on a regular annual basis.  Checking your credit report is one of them.  Furthermore, it does not cost you. Consumers can check their credit report for FREE once a year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. This website gives you access to all three credit reporting companies.  Note that while your credit report is free, there is a cost involved to get your credit score. It is a good idea to make sure the information in your credit report is accurate and up to date.  This helps monitor for blended files, where someone may have a similar name or social security number, and helps monitor for identity theft. If you do find an inaccuracy, you can dispute errors with the credit reporting agencies.  There is more information provided by the Federal Trade Commission with sample letters at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0291-disputing-errors-credit-reporting-companies.   Read More

Solutions to Unwanted Calls

There are ways to stop unwanted calls.  One is to pay your bills on time, another is to ask debt collectors to stop calling, and the third is to register on “Do Not Call” lists.  Here are details for these options. Option 1:  Pay Your Bills On Time Generally this prevents creditors from picking up the phone in the first place; it also helps to build your credit.  BUT if that ship has already sailed… Option 2:  Ask Collectors to Stop Calling You can ask the debt collector to stop contacting you.  You still owe the debt, but you do not have to deal with all the calls and letters while you work out your repayment. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. Write a letter to the debt collector or creditor asking them to stop contacting you, make a copy of that letter, and send the original to them, certified mail with “return receipt” so you will have a record of their receipt.  That should stop contact, with the exception of a communication to let you know that no further action will be taken, or a communication that they intend to take further action, like […] Read More

Why Write a Contract?

There are a couple of reasons to write a contract:  One is that you may have to, and the other is that it is often a good idea. A contract requires four things:  an offer, an acceptance, consideration, and legality (do not make a contract to do something illegal). The Statute of Frauds requires that certain kinds of contracts be in written form and signed by those bound by the contract in order to be enforced.  These include:  marriage, contracts that cannot be completed in one year, land transactions (real estate contracts), executor contracts, goods, and surety.  (They can be remembered with the mnemonic MY LEGS.) Just because a situation does not require a written contract, you may want to have one anyway.   If you are shooting the breeze about doing business together with someone, go ahead and write it down.  Then you both have a record to refer back to, and specified remedies if there is a breach of contract. Furthermore, if you do not understand the terms of a contract, find an attorney who does, and who can explain them to you.  Do not just rely on the other party’s lawyer, but get your own legal counsel who […] Read More

“Free” Means Free

Gifts do not come with a price tag for the recipient, and a free offer means that you can sample the product or service without economic impact on your part. A free trial offer is a legitimate marketing technique whereby a consumer may be allowed to sample a product or service on a limited basis without obligation.  A free trial lets you decide on the merit of the product or service instead of relying on the basis of advertising. However, some free trial offers come with a caveat that the offer is only free for a specified time, after which, if you fail to cancel the promotion, you could be obligated to pay.  That is not necessarily bad because it makes it convenient for the consumer to continue receiving the product or service.  But that might not be what you want. Be careful what you sign up for…and watch your calendar. A free trial offer may lead you to discover something you really want…or something you really do not want, like a duty to pay.  To learn more about being a savvy shopper, the Federal Trade Commission has a free online video at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0101-free-trial-offers.   Read More

Bad Credit Stains

No one can legally remove current, accurate negative information from your credit report, not OxiClean, not Kaboom, not even a credit repair service.  Credit repair services cannot erase bankruptcies, judgments, liens, or bad loans, nor can they create a new identity legally.  So what are you going to do to improve your credit? If you can talk, text, and chew gum, you can fix your credit score on your own.  The basics include: Pay your bills on time every time No new credit – do not open new credit accounts or take out new loans Pay down large balances Make a budget and stick to it – you can use the free online budget provided by the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-1020-make-budget-worksheet.pdf Alternatively, there are local credit counseling programs that will review the problems on your credit report and will help you make a plan to fix those issues.  Visit the St. Johns County Housing and Community Services website at http://www.sjcfl.us (click on “Housing & Community Services”) and the St. Johns Housing Partnership website at http://sjhp.org for more information.     Read More

General Tips for Consumers

If you can avoid filing a lawsuit against a goods or services provider, that is usually easier (and less expensive) than going through the litigation.  To help you be a more savvy consumer, the Federal Trade Commission offers these general tips: (1) Know who you’re dealing with.  Do business only with companies that clearly provide their name, street address, and phone number. (2) Protect your personal information.  Share credit card or other personal information only when buying from a company you know and trust. (3) Take your time.  Resist the urge to “act now.”   Most any offer that’s good today will be good tomorrow, too. (4) Rate the risks.  Every potentially high-profit investment is a high-risk investment.  That means you could lose your investment—all of it. (5) Read the small print.  Get all promises in writing and read all paperwork before making any payments or signing any contracts.  Pay special attention to the small print. (6) “Free” means free.  Throw out any offer that says you have to pay to get a gift or a “free” gift.  If something is free or a gift, you don’t have to pay for it.  Period. To learn more about consumer rights and how […] Read More

Commencement into Adult Life & Contracts

High school graduation often happens about the time you become a legal adult.  Once you turn 18, you have the right to vote, get married without parental consent, and to make contracts. Basically a contract is an enforceable agreement between two or more people.  Contracts can be oral or written, but certain types of contracts must be in writing, those include:  real estate contracts, any contract that cannot be performed within one year, a lease of more than a year, if you take someone else’s debt, and for a sale of goods for more than $500.  The following are some of the common contracts young adults enter into:  school loans, car purchases, installment loan contracts for purchase (as for televisions, stereos, computers, etc.), rental contracts, and credit card agreements. The big print giveth and the small print taketh away. If you do not understand the terms of a contract, find an attorney who does, and who can explain them to you.  Do not just rely on the other party’s lawyer, but get your own legal counsel who only represents your interest.  Often it is cheaper to hire an attorney to review a contract before it is signed than to hire […] Read More