Consumer Action INSIDER - September 2013

 

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What people are saying

Your training was excellent! I got good information that I will use with my clients. I love the ice-breaker activities as well as your presenters. — Cristina Peralta, Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey

Did you know?

What do Suze Orman, Russell Simmons and Justin Bieber have in common? They all endorse and promote “name brand” prepaid cards. But just like most prepaid cards, “star powered” plastic carries fees. This new infographic compares the costs.

California groups learn about medical records privacy

This summer, Consumer Action criss-crossed California to hold three roundtables to train community groups on its new Health Records Privacy in California educational module. The work was made possible by a grant from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

On July 10, Consumer Action landed in Rialto, where we trained staff and volunteers from government agencies, community colleges, health services, social services and faith-based groups. In Fresno on Aug. 13, Consumer Action trained community groups serving immigrants, the disabled, community college students, mental health clients, families and individuals. Oakland was the site of an Aug. 15 training, which brought together staff and volunteers from housing, government, community healthcare and immigrant service agencies.

The new module presents the benefits and risks associated with electronic health records, explains how the information in health records can and can’t be used and disclosed to third parties, and informs patients about their rights and the steps they can take to protect their privacy. The module includes a multilingual brochure, a backgrounder that explores the topic in greater detail, and a wallet card that can be referred to while visiting health care providers. A lesson plan, including case studies, and a companion PowerPoint presentation provide trainers with the tools to educate clients and community members.

Consumer Action’s Linda Williams created a “How Much Do You Know?” game used to great acclaim at all three trainings to test participants’ knowledge of medical privacy laws before they began the training. The activity asks participants whether certain statements are true or false. For team-building purposes, participants were asked to work in groups. Williams explained why the statements were true or false while co-trainer Nelson Santiago kept score. Prizes were awarded to the winning team.

Santiago covered health records basics (what is in the records and sources of information); the transition from paper to electronic records (benefits and risks); privacy rights and laws; and the definition of health marketing. Williams covered the difference between California law and HIPAA; options for receiving communications from providers; steps patients can take to protect their privacy; how to access your medical records; medical and prescription reports; rules regarding data breaches; medical identity theft; and how to complain if things go wrong.

At the end of the training agenda, Williams and Santiago had participants work on the patient rights case studies found in the Health Records Privacy lesson plan.

Consumer Action trainers always strive to raise the bar. After the Rialto training, the team added supplemental materials to the module. Santiago created a short sample form titled "Acknowledgement of Receipt of Notice of Privacy Practices" to share in Fresno and Oakland. Williams provided participants with a sample form called "Notice of Privacy Practices." Based on participant feedback, the module’s PowerPoint slides were updated to include graphics to help community educators explain the complex subject of electronic health records and medical privacy in a more visual way.

The Health Records Privacy in California case studies and other training tools are available for free download.

Keeping tabs on consumer class actions

In case you haven’t heard, Consumer Action maintains a listing of the consumer class actions we learn about, so that interested consumers can join the action, make a claim or just learn more about a certain lawsuit.

Often, class action lawsuits are “settled” before a full trial. In a class action settlement, both sides hammer out an agreeable outcome to avoid the cost of trial, setting a precedent, or the chance they will be labeled as wrongdoers. In most settlements (unlike a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in a judge or jury trial), defendants don’t admit to breaking the law or doing anything wrong.

The class actions we monitor range from product defects to unfair and deceptive business practices. Some of the notable recent settlements that affect many consumers are listed here:

Apple iPhone/iTouch Warranty. Apple reached a settlement over claims that it wrongfully denied warranty coverage on the grounds of damage by liquids (such as a water or beverage spill). Consumers who were denied warranty coverage for liquid damage to the iPhone on or before December 31, 2009, or for the iPod Touch on or before June 30, 2010, may be eligible for up to $300. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Oct. 21, 2013.

Audi CVT. Consumers who purchased or leased a 2002-2006 model on or before June 19, 2013, may be eligible for cash reimbursement of costs of repairs and a limited warranty extension. The company reached a settlement over allegations that it knowingly sold faulty transmissions and failed to honor warranty repairs. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Nov. 18, 2013.

Barbara’s Bakery. Consumers who bought certain products made by Barbara and its subsidiaries between May 23, 2008, and July 5, 2013, may be eligible for up to $100, pending a final fairness hearing on Nov. 8, 2013. The company reached a settlement over allegations of falsely advertising its products as “All Natural” when some of the ingredients were artificial. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Jan. 2, 2014.

Haier Freezer. Consumers who bought certain Haier chest freezers on or after June 1, 2009, may be eligible for up to $325.80, pending a final fairness hearing on Oct. 25, 2013. The company agreed to settle a charge that it had falsely advertised the freezer’s energy consumption. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Nov. 26, 2013.

Papa John’s. Consumers who received unsolicited text messages from OnTime4U advertising Papa John’s products may be eligible for up to $50 and a merchandise voucher for a free large pizza with one topping, pending a final fairness hearing on Oct. 22. 2013. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Sept. 10, 2013.

If you know of a class action you’d like to suggest be added to the listing, email our editor at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Hotline Chronicles: Car buyer is victim of ‘yo-yo’ financing

Daniel* from Torrance, CA called our hotline to learn what his rights are regarding a recent car purchase. Daniel bought the car and took possession of it on a Sunday. During the application process, he provided the dealer with his financial details, including recent pay stubs, while the dealer filled out his application for financing. Daniel signed a sales contract and drove away in the car.

On Thursday, Daniel received a call from the dealership, which said it was unable to secure financing and that Daniel must return the car immediately. This quite common scenario is referred to as “yo-yo financing” and it’s caused by another common car-purchasing practice called “spot delivery”: Cars are sold and delivered on the spot, before final approval of the auto loan.

Daniel told the dealer he would return the car the next day, but before he could do so the dealership repossessed the car from the parking lot of a grocery store where Daniel’s wife and children were shopping. Worse, the dealer refuses to return Daniel’s $1,500 downpayment because the dealership charges that Daniel lied on the application prepared by the salesperson.

Laws regarding yo-yo financing vary by state. While the Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights in California, where Daniel lives, mandates disclosures and consumer protections for retail vehicle sales by licensed car dealers, most sales contracts include a “seller’s right to cancel” noting that the seller is trying to arrange financing at a speculative rate. According to the Auto Fraud Legal Center website run by Rosner, Barry & Babbitt, LLP, a San Diego law firm specializing in auto fraud and lemon vehicles, buyers must get their downpayments and/or trade-ins back. In addition, the dealer can’t charge you for the time you had the car.

Our hotline counselor advised Daniel to contact a consumer attorney who is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Many of these attorneys take cases on contingency, meaning they won’t require payment until the case is complete.

Before agreeing to drive away in a newly purchased car, make sure you read the contract and ask what will happen if no financing can be arranged. Because banks usually don’t approve loan applications at night or on weekends, consider shopping for a car during business hours so that you can be assured your loan has been approved at a rate you are comfortable with.

Even better, shop around for pre-approved auto loans from banks or other lenders so that you will have a good idea of what rates you’ll qualify for.

Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws on auto purchases and financing. In California, for example, from your financing arrangement, the dealer cannot receive more than:

  • 2% of the loan amount for terms more than 60 months, or
  • 2.5% of the loan amount for terms 60 months or less.

For more information, read:

If you would like to submit a complaint to Consumer Action’s hotline, go to our Web form in English or in Spanish, or call 415-777-9635 to leave a message and a counselor will return your call. Our counselors speak English, Spanish and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese dialects).

*Not this consumer’s real name.

MoneyWi$e spells financial literacy in the community

Editor's note: Consumer Action publications and materials mentioned in this article can be found on the MoneyWi$e website.

During the second and third quarters of 2013, Consumer Action’s Outreach team trained San Francisco families, shelter residents and seniors on various MoneyWi$e educational modules. MoneyWi$e is the financial literacy partnership that was founded in 2001 by Consumer Action and Capital One.

Audrey Perrott, Consumer Action’s associate director of outreach and training, in April presented the MoneyWi$e ID Theft & Account Fraud module at the Portola Family Connections Resource Center. Consumer Action has partnered with Portola Family Connections for the past two years to provide the trainings as part of an eight-week financial education program. The training was conducted concurrently in English and Spanish, with the Center’s family support manager, Erica Rendon, providing the Spanish translation. In addition to MoneyWi$e materials, Perrott distributed copies of the Federal Trade Commission’s Taking Charge: What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen guide. At the end of the training, there was a drawing for a paper shredder to reinforce the importance of shredding sensitive documents to protect against identity theft.

The following week, Perrott conducted a training for the residents and case managers of Raphael House in the Tenderloin District on the MoneyWi$e Tracking Your Money Wisely and Saving to Build Wealth modules. Raphael House helps at-risk children and their parents to achieve stable housing and financial independence.

In one activity, participants were asked to offer money management prescriptions to get the sample individuals and families back on track. Perrott spoke about the importance of saving and establishing goals. At the request of the case management staff, she provided residents with a list of credit unions and banks that participate in the Bank On San Francisco program and offer accounts and services for the unbanked and underbanked, including “second chance” programs for those who have abandoned accounts or had other banking issues in the past.

In May and July, Jamie Woo, one of Consumer Action’s community outreach managers, presented the ID Theft and Senior Fraud modules in Chinese for immigrant families and individuals at the Chinese Newcomers Service Center. The Chinese Newcomers Service Center smoothes the adjustment process for Chinese immigrants and refugees through multiple services. In response to stories from participants, Woo highlighted information related to obtaining adequate forms of identification to avoid problems when accessing financial accounts, and the importance of not divulging sensitive information over the telephone.

Together, Perrott and Woo conducted concurrent Elder Fraud trainings in English and Chinese at San Francisco’s Woolf House. Participants joined in a lively game of “fraud bingo,” a part of the MoneyWi$e Elder Fraud lesson plan.

In July, Perrott headed north to Napa to conduct a training on senior fraud and identity theft for the Oak Tree Vineyards Homeowners Association. Prizes were awarded to participants who were first with the correct answers to questions in “Con Games,” a true/false quiz from the Elder Fraud lesson plan.

For the third year, Perrott and Woo staffed a resource table at the 25th Annual Yerba Buena Senior Ball in San Francisco. They distributed MoneyWi$e and other financial literacy brochures and answered questions from among the approximately 1,300 seniors who attended from nine local senior homes.

Consumer Action provides trainings for community groups to help them better educate their clients on how to assert their rights in the marketplace. In addition, Consumer Action provides free multilingual materials to support community groups’ education programs. To learn more about our outreach and training publications and tools, visit our Outreach & Training pages.

Gearing up for our 4th National Consumer Empowerment Conference

Planning is well under way for Consumer Action’s National Consumer Empowerment Conference, held annually in Chicago. The organization’s most effective community group partners in community education and empowerment will gather in November with top consumer advocates and educators, and legislative, regulatory and industry representatives, to address timely consumer issues and share best practices.

Among the topics to be addressed at this year’s conference are critical elements of the Affordable Care Act, the cycle of debt resulting from payday and other predatory loans, combatting child identity theft, understanding and improving online privacy protections, and transitioning from landline to wireless service.

Leaders from Consumer Action’s national network of community-based organizations who are invited to attend this year’s event will participate in interactive training sessions, learn innovative strategies, and share their expertise with fellow consumer educators.

Underwriters for the 2013 conference are Capital One, Google and Visa. Leadership Circle contributors include AT&T, Bank of America, Microsoft and TracFone.

Contributions cover attendee expenses (including a travel stipend) and are welcome at any level. Donors can send tax-deductible donations to Consumer Action, 221 Main Street, Suite 480, San Francisco, CA 94105. Learn more about the conference and sponsorship opportunities.

Amicus Briefing: Credit card checkout fees

Consumer Action joined a number of leading consumer groups in a “friend of the court” brief in support of a legal challenge by several businesses to a New York state law that prohibits retailers from imposing credit card surcharges but allows them to offer discounts to customers paying cash. The businesses charge that the law hides the cost to merchants when customers pay with credit cards, an argument supported in the amicus brief filed by Consumer Action, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumers League and U.S. PIRG.

In many states, consumers can be charged a surcharge (or “checkout fee”) for paying by credit card and avoid the fee on cash and debit card purchases. In New York, merchants are banned from imposing a surcharge but may offer customers a cash discount. While the plaintiffs argue that “a cash discount is economically identical to a credit card surcharge,” New York merchants could be fined and even imprisoned for using the “S” word.

The case, Expressions Hair Design et al. v. Eric T. Schneiderman et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs—a hair salon, an ice-cream parlor, a liquor store, a martial arts academy and an outdoor furniture store—claim that New York’s law violates their constitutional right to free speech. “The state is seeking to enforce the credit card industry’s preferred speech code,” says Deepak Gupta, a Washington, D.C. lawyer and consumer advocate serving as lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Merchants should be able to use whatever words are most effective to inform their customers about the high cost of using credit cards.”

Since January 2013, retailers have had the option of passing along credit card transaction costs to customers as a result of a legal settlement between banks, Visa and Mastercard, and many retailers, although a judge has not finalized the settlement. Ten states, including New York, have laws banning credit card surcharges. For more information, visit Consumer Action’s Know Your Card site.

Click here to read the lawsuit documents. Preliminary rulings in the case are expected at the end of September.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a non-profit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial and consumer literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Consumer education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of educational resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth information on many topics related to personal money management, housing, insurance and privacy, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. At Consumer-Action.org, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database and nine topic-specific subsites. Consumer Action also publishes unbiased surveys of financial and consumer services that expose excessive prices and anti-consumer practices to help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community outreach. With a special focus on serving low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of nearly 7,500 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial and consumer education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulation and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submitting comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

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