Know when to seek help on consumer issues

By Russ Van Arsdale Executive director Northeast Contact, Special to the BDN
Posted June 20, 2010, at 9:09 p.m.

The advice about adult beverages has become a chestnut: “Know when to say ‘when.’”

Our advice in consumer matters is along the same line. It is, quite simply, “Know when to ask for help.” And that time may be sooner than you think.

An example might be an agreement announced last week between the Maine Bureau of Insurance and Household Life Insurance Co. of Michigan. A Maine consumer had purchased a credit disability policy from Household and filed a claim when she became disabled.

Household denied her claim and closed the case in July 2007. Later, the consumer’s lender placed a lien on her home. In May 2009, she asked for help from the Bureau of Insurance, which began an investigation.

Household reopened the case and determined that it should have paid the claim. Earlier this month, the company agreed to pay the claim plus interest, along with a $50,000 civil penalty to the state.

The case prompted a comment from Mila Kofman, Maine’s superintendent of insurance. “This consumer nearly lost her home because Household failed to properly review the claim,” Kofman said.

“This case underscores the importance of bringing concerns to the bureau. Our team has an excellent record of helping consumers get the benefits they are supposed to receive from their insurance,” Kofman added.

Consumers can reach the bureau through its website at www.maine.gov/insurance; by calling 800-300-5000 in state; or by writing to Bureau of Insurance, 34 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

The Bureau of Insurance is part of Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. So is the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, an agency with a track record of going to bat for consumers with credit concerns.

The bureau has teamed up with nine nonprofit agencies across the state in an effort to head off mortgage foreclosures. Specially trained counselors advise people who seek their help on the best ways to avoid foreclosure. Again, that’s help available just for asking. Reach the bureau through its website, www.maine.gov/credit, or by calling toll-free 888-NO-4-CLOZ (888-664-2569).

Last week, Legal Services for the Elderly announced it was forming a consumer debt unit to help Mainers over age 60. Jaye Martin, the group’s executive director, says requests for help topped 1,200 last year, noting debt pressures can adversely affect seniors’ physical and mental well-being.

“Our new Consumer Debt Unit [HelpLine: 800-750-5353] is focused on helping the growing number of seniors who face debt problems handle these very stressful situations,” Martin said.

Northeast CONTACT strives to help consumers resolve problems, and sometimes the best advice we can provide is a referral. See the Maine Resources tab on our blog. The resources are out there; often, we need only overcome a reluctance to ask for help.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to http://necontact.wordpress.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/06/20/business/know-when-to-seek-help-on-consumer-issues/ printed on July 12, 2014