Articles by Russ Van Arsdale


Stay on top of your credit history

By Russ Van Arsdale on Feb. 24, 2013, at 6:41 p.m.
A consumer from Penobscot County reached out to us recently, saying she was afraid she might have let herself become a victim of identity theft. Last year, the woman cashed in an annuity. Knowing she would have to report the transaction on this year’s income tax filing, she tried to …

The dodgy world of commemorative coins

By Russ Van Arsdale on Jan. 27, 2013, at 2:10 p.m.
Until recently, the big flap in the commemorative coin world involved the newest royal couple in Great Britain. The Canadian wedding coin, it seems, bore better portraits of William and Kate than the British version that marked their engagement. Then, along came the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, making all kinds …

Get a check from the federal government? Watch out for scams

By Russ Van Arsdale on Jan. 13, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.
Ever since the federal government said it would stop sending paper checks in favor of using direct deposit, scam artists have been hard at work. With a March 1 deadline for the switch coming, expect crooks to ramp up their illegal efforts. Scammers call, write or email to phish for …

Debt settlement firm settles with Maine for six figures

By Russ Van Arsdale on Dec. 22, 2012, at 2:10 p.m.
Here’s a short, sad story of a consumer from southern Maine who ran up more than a quarter million dollars in debt on 10 credit cards. He hoped for a happy ending when he hired a debt settlement company called Legal Helpers Debt Resolution LLC. He paid the firm an …

Beware of the fake Yellow Pages

By Russ Van Arsdale on Dec. 08, 2012, at 12:05 p.m.
In July 2011, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, filed a criminal complaint against people soliciting money for online ads that may not have even existed. Last week, a federal judge ordered the con artists to pay back more than $10 million to the companies they defrauded. It was the …

Library check-off can help smart consumers

By Russ Van Arsdale on Dec. 02, 2012, at 9:54 a.m.
It’s as true now as ever: the better informed consumers are, the better decisions they’ll make in the marketplace. At Northeast CONTACT, we urge consumers to be their own best advocates by doing research. Soon, consumers will have a chance to help one another by supporting their local libraries through …

MoneyGram settlement could mean payout for scam victims

By Russ Van Arsdale on Nov. 23, 2012, at 12:41 p.m.
Over the years, Northeast CONTACT has received complaints from Maine consumers about all kinds of fraud schemes: calls from “relatives” needing cash fast, promising big cash awards or lottery payouts, or working as “secret shoppers.” It turns out a number of those calls were likely from MoneyGram agents who were …

New guide helps Mainers navigate student loans

By Russ Van Arsdale on Oct. 13, 2012, at 11:01 a.m.
Last May, this newspaper ran an editorial noting that Maine students carry the second-heaviest student loan burden in the nation. The writer cited research by the Institute for College Access and Study, which figured 2010 graduates received, along with their diplomas, an average debt of almost $30,000. The conclusion was …

Accident follow-up

By Russ Van Arsdale on Sept. 09, 2012, at 4:47 p.m.
The moments right after you’ve been in an accident can be hugely stressful. You’re not sure you’re all right or whether others involved are all right. You try to remember what information you should collect, whom to notify and what follow-up steps you should take. It seems as though a …

Elder Finance Seminars scheduled around Maine

By Russ Van Arsdale on Sept. 02, 2012, at 4:13 p.m.
Another round of free seminars on protecting senior citizens from fraud is coming up around Maine next week. The sessions are designed to give seniors and others who care about them solid information on spotting fraud and exploitation and getting help when they occur. Financial exploitation of seniors is on …

Never leave kids in hot cars

By Russ Van Arsdale on Aug. 18, 2012, at 10:32 a.m.
Jenny Stanley of Columbus, Ga., faced reporters recently to talk about a parent’s worst nightmare. Stanley had allowed her 6-year-old daughter Sidney to play next door at her best friend’s house. When it was time for dinner, the little girl wasn’t at her friend’s house. A search started, and Stanley …

Food safety

By Russ Van Arsdale on Aug. 12, 2012, at 11:42 a.m.
When we bring home canned goods from the supermarket, how many of us clean the lids before opening the cans? It’s an easy step that health officials say can head off a lot of potential misery. A can may have been dusted recently in the store, but it may be …

Top 10 consumer complaints

By Russ Van Arsdale on Aug. 05, 2012, at 4:07 p.m.
It’s time to review the top 10 list of consumer complaints for 2011. It will likely surprise no one that real estate issues have made the list for the first time. Consumers across the country cited problems with retirement communities and assisted living facilities, real estate fraud and timeshare sales …

Loan modification problems with the wrong company can cost consumers money

By Russ Van Arsdale on July 15, 2012, at 11:26 a.m.
A weary consumer from midcoast Maine wrote to us recently in hopes that others could benefit from her experience. She had sought some relief from her mortgage payment in the form of what is becoming a nasty twist on advance fee schemes. Many homeowners have had their loans renegotiated with …

Beware of advance fee loan scams using fake Maine addresses

By Russ Van Arsdale on July 08, 2012, at 10:38 a.m.
The community that calls itself “the friendliest town in Maine” wasn’t feeling so friendly a year ago at this time. Last June, officials in Wells found they had been named — again — as the homebase for a company that advertised itself as a legitimate loan company. The town website …

Beware of check overpayment scam when selling goods online

By Russ Van Arsdale on June 23, 2012, at 2:42 p.m.
“It sounds ‘fishy,’ and we are both hesitant to cash the check that was received in the mail today.” That statement was near the top of a letter we received recently from a consumer in the Bangor area. Her father-in-law had listed an item for sale on The Maine Marketplace. …

Learn to protect the security of your portable phones

By Russ Van Arsdale on June 16, 2012, at 5:25 p.m.
There are conflicting statistics on the use of passwords to protect personal information on mobile phones. And none of the figures are encouraging. The smartphones many of us carry allow us to buy things, search the Internet, do online banking and store personal information. Because many of us rely so …

Advance fee loan schemes target those who can least afford loss

By Russ Van Arsdale on May 26, 2012, at 4:05 p.m.
We were reminded again last week why advance fee loan schemes are such hideous crimes: they usually target those least able to afford the monetary losses. An advance fee scheme is just what its name suggests. You pay one or more fees up front, with assurances from the con artist …

Ignoring auto recalls at our own peril

By Russ Van Arsdale on May 19, 2012, at 2:14 p.m.
Roughly 20 million motor vehicles were recalled in 2010. Another 15.5 million were subject to recall last year. It’s a safe bet that not all of those vehicles went into the shop for the recommended repair. There are a number of reasons for this. Many of us consider ourselves too …

Honda lawsuit ruling gives consumers pause

By Russ Van Arsdale on May 13, 2012, at 12:13 p.m.
Heather Peters was just looking for a little truth. She got it last week in the form of a Superior Court judge’s ruling that didn’t go her way. Peters, an attorney from California, was featured in this column earlier this year. She had gone to small claims court and charged …