As of this summer, two consumer-oriented websites maintained by the federal government have blended into one.
The merger of ConsumerAction.gov and USA.gov marks another step to make consumer information easier to find and use. As advocates for consumers who help themselves and others by staying informed, we find that the new site — www.usa.gov/topics/consumer.shtml — is a great source for a variety of information.
Regular readers of this column may recall that ConsumerAction.gov was the online location of the Consumer Action Handbook. The latest version of the handbook is available at the merged site, and it’s still a comprehensive guide to all manner of needed information. Print versions are available as well, by writing to Consumer Action Handbook, Pueblo, Colorado 81009. You may also call the Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) at 888-8-PUEBLO (888-878-3256) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to request a copy.
The focus of the handbook is helping consumers make smart choices in the purchase of goods and services.
One new section is called “Going Green.” For all of the concern over our environment in recent years, it’s a fairly short section; but it does offer some basics on reusing and recycling products, plus buying organic products and saving energy.
Also new, in the section on investing, is some advice about the purchase of gold. The airwaves are full of commercials urging us to buy gold as part of a diversified portfolio. The handbook has a couple of pieces of sound advice on this score. One is to make sure you deal only with licensed salespeople and companies. The second is to know that American Gold Eagle Bullion Coins are the only gold coins the U.S. government guarantees for purity, weight and content.
As with any comprehensive guide, the handbook contains concise advice on buying everything from food to insurance to a home. There’s advice about choosing a phone service, a doctor, a health care facility and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
There also is a lot of useful advice about what kind of purchases you should avoid. There’s a list of questions to ask promoters of work-at-home programs, such as, what tasks will I have to perform, who pays me, and when do I get my first paycheck? If you don’t get answers you can live with, you may decide the offer is not for you; you may even conclude it’s not legitimate.
The book also outlines ways you can file complaints if you’re dissatisfied with a purchase or if a service was not provided as promised. There are lists of state banking authorities, insurance regulators, securities administrators and utility commissions. You also will find professional and trade associations, corporate consumer contacts and consumer protection offices listed; we’ve found letters far more effective than either phone calls or emails in resolving issues.
If you request the handbook online, you’ll be asked for your phone number and e-mail address. We checked with the FCIC, and that information is not required to receive your free copy. Since the handbook is updated every year, it’s worth a few minutes to request a copy annually; the information it contains could be worthy plenty.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier version of this column contained an incorrect Web address for the new consumer-oriented website. The error has been fixed.