This is Consumer Protection Week. Across the country, consumers are being invited “to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions.”
That’s the urging at the website of a wide range of groups marking the annual event. We’ll highlight a few of them later in this article. First, we’ll issue a double-edged challenge: Stand up for your rights as a consumer, and do all you can to protect those rights.
A great place to start is with a check of your credit rating. Most readers know they’re entitled to one free credit report each year from the major reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. We’ve urged consumers to ask one company for a report, then ask a second company four months later, with the request to the third company four months after that. That way, you get a look at your report every four months.
What many consumers don’t know is that Maine is one of seven states that also allow consumers three free annual reports. That’s independent of the federal rule, meaning Mainers can access three additional credit reports, for a total of six each year. Make the most of it, and get a free credit check every two months. Go to www.credit.maine.gov and search “credit report” to download a form you can keep on file to make those requests.
While we’re on the subject of credit, let’s talk about those credit breaches we hear about periodically, such as the ones at Hannaford and Day’s Jewelers. These are the work of criminals, and they’re investigated as such. When perpetrators are caught, they’re dealt with severely.
Consumers who buy with credit can feel pretty confident that, in the vast majority of cases, their credit card information is protected. Data from their transactions are encrypted for transmission, and member stores operate under strict confidentiality guidelines. David Leach of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection says the Federal Reserve has our backs.
“Consumers are protected with [Regulation] E [covering electronic transactions] and [Regulation] Z [covering truth in lending] in the event of theft, as long as they monitor their accounts and report the breach in a timely manner,” Leach says. The key again is keeping an eye on accounts and, if there’s even a hint of trouble, notifying the issuer of the card promptly.
Nationally, Consumer Protection Week coincides with the Loan Modification Scam Alert campaign. Crooks prey on people at risk of losing their homes, and their schemes are changing all the time. To inform yourself, visit www.loanscamalert.org.
Several states this week will be promoting document shredding as a deterrent to identity theft. Various “shred-a-thons” are planned with consumers and business owners invited to bring up paper for conversion to confetti at no charge. The events are visible reminders that “dumpster diving” to retrieve financial and other personally identifiable information is still a concern.
For details on other activities during Consumer Protection week, visit www.ncpw.gov.
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 email at firstname.lastname@example.org.