At the start of a new year, we tend to look back on what has happened as we prepare for whatever is ahead of us. In that frame of mind, let’s look at some of the topics referred to most frequently in Consumer Forum over the past 12 months.
ä Maintain good credit. One of the most frequent topics concerns establishing and keeping a good credit record. It’s something we need to be concerned with all year long. You can get lots of helpful advice at www.credit.maine.gov, the website of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection.
ä Improve our financial literacy. There’s a ton of good advice around: Newspaper columns (especially in weekend editions), finance magazines and books at your local library are all sources. Resolve to become better read in matters affecting your household budget and personal finances.
ä Find new resources. We’ve touched on several new sources of help, some aimed at preventing home mortgage foreclosures. This one gets tougher as time goes on, but state and federal agencies are working to keep you in your home. Call the Maine Foreclosure Prevention hot line, 888-664-2569, or visit www.credit.maine.gov. Pine Tree Legal Assistance has a foreclosure prevention toolkit at www.ptla.org/cliented/foreclosure.
ä Think globally, act locally. It’s a cliche by now, but as consumers of goods and services we could do worse than to visit our local storeowners. They have more of a vested interest in keeping customers — who are also friends and neighbors — happy than faceless Internet vendors who promise a few pennies in savings.
ä Be prepared for emergencies. A week ago today, most of us were snowbound. If we didn’t prepare a checklist of food, water and supplies then, we’d be smart to do so now, as the next storm could be even bigger. Visit the Maine Prepares website, www.maine.gov/mema/prepare, for details.
ä Avoid getting scammed. This topic may surface most frequently; one reason may be that the tougher times get, the harder criminals work at illegal schemes so they won’t have to do real work. Look at every sales pitch with a wary eye; you’ll likely discover any number of new wrinkles in fraud schemes that have been around for years.
ä Be Internet-savvy. This goes hand in hand with the previous tip, since the Web is rife with scam attempts. All the usual rules apply: Don’t open attachments from unknown parties; don’t wire money to people or companies you haven’t dealt with and don’t send money as a “trigger” for a promise of greater return or for things that should be free.
ä You may also want to set up a free e-mail account. These are handy in business dealings requiring e-mail confirmation or where you request future information or notification, without clogging your regular in box.
Our most frequently issued advice might be summed up as follows: Use resources that are available without charge, such as publications by government, social service or nonprofit agencies. Pay only for information and services you decide you need and can’t get anywhere else.
Subscribe to our blog for helpful links and up-to-date information on recalls, alerts, consumer news and more. Have a safe, healthy and well-informed 2011.
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, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or e-mail email@example.com.