Consumer Action INSIDER - June 2011

 
Save the Date

What people are saying

I am using your MoneyWi$e ID Theft and Senior Scams brochures for senior workshops I am conducting across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and South Mississippi. [Here are just a few] of the comments from senior citizens:

  • ‘I was made more aware of the frequency of the problem of identity theft and ways to prevent it from happening to me.’
  • ‘The brochure showed me new ways to protect myself, at home and out in public against identity theft.’
  • ‘I am now more aware of the ways I can be scammed, and where and to whom problems should be reported.’
—Julie McAdory, CCCS of Greater New Orleans (Hattiesburg)

Tip of the month: Beach reading?

Interested in a little summer reading? Consumer Action has compiled a list of noteworthy books for the informed consumer on topics such as how to recover from identity theft, the marketing behind bottled water, and what to avoid when renovating a home. If interested, you can click through and place an order on Amazon.com. Scan the volumes in our Consumer Booknotes section.

Pilot tests financial empowerment resource sheet

Consumer Action has partnered with Bank of America to create a financial empowerment resource sheet that will be tested at several Feeding America-affiliated food bank sites. The information will be translated into Spanish for the pilot.

The new resource is designed to give consumers information and resources to help them manage their money during difficult times. It details government programs that families might qualify for to boost their household income and help make ends meet.

The resource sheet was peer-reviewed by a focus group of staff people from Feeding America affiliates across the country.

“This is a great opportunity to get consumer empowerment information into the hands of folks at a time they need it,” said Consumer Action’s Ken McEldowney. “This helpful resource gained even more impact through the feedback from Feeding America staffers.”

The resource sheet provides detailed information about how to get on the Internet if you don’t have access at home, benefits and assistance programs, credit and debt related information, groceries and food, phones and utilities, home heating and cooling assistance and income tax programs for low-wage families.

Consumer Action will collect feedback from the sites using the resource sheet to determine if the pilot should be offered to all food banks.

Train-the-trainer event in the Lone Star

Consumer Action’s MoneyWi$e, a financial literacy partnership with Capital One, held free financial empowerment trainings for community-based groups in Houston and McAllen, TX on May 11 and 13. Close to 100 representatives of community agencies attended.

As usual, the MoneyWi$e trainings attracted a diverse pool of groups, including academic institutions, faith-based organizations, government agencies, disability groups, subsidized and supportive housing programs, workforce development programs, youth enrichment programs, community development corporations, senior services centers, legal services, financial services, small business development centers, substance abuse recovery centers, civil rights groups and financial literacy advocates.

The meetings featured sessions designed by Consumer Action’s trainers, Linda Williams and Nelson Santiago, to demonstrate to local community groups how to use MoneyWi$e materials to educate their clients about money and financial management. Topics included the fundamentals of money management and credit as well as best practices, tools and tips for teaching financial education. Bert Davis, senior associate for financial education training at Capital One, and Ms. Williams led sessions on teaching adults, a training component that has proven popular among community educators. Mr. Santiago and Ms. Williams guided attendees in exercises designed to teach financial literacy lessons using “real world” scenarios clients can relate to.

“MoneyWi$e has trained more than 3,800 participants since 2001, and these meetings continue to be very popular and in high demand,” said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action. “The MoneyWi$e program has equipped numerous nonprofit organizations with the tools and information they need to build solid financial education programs that empower local residents. This partnership is a critical investment in the future of our communities.”

Consumer Action trainings get high marks from participants for being interactive and without pretense. In Texas, participants were treated to Consumer Action’s popular Sally Walker exercise, during which participants evaluate and respond to Sally’s financial situation. The activity emphasizes the fundamentals of basic money management, budgeting, and knowledge of the tools required to assist clients in accomplishing financial goals. You can download the free Sally Walker Exercise from Consumer Action’s website.

“The MoneyWi$e program continues to positively impact communities across the country by providing the financial literacy skills that consumers need to become better money managers,” said Houston Market President for Capital One Bank, Annella Metoyer. “Capital One Bank is committed to working with partners like Consumer Action to invest in financial education programs that help children, teens and adults increase their money management skills through innovative, interactive learning experiences.”

In evaluations collected after the Texas trainings, participants ranked the meetings very highly for the comprehensive information and straightforward approach. In fact, the evaluations showed that many participants wished the training could have gone on for two days instead of just one.

News of the regional meeting caught the attention of local media. News Talk 710 KURV in McAllen interviewed Cynthia Graham, Capital One’s Rio Grande Valley market president. Consumer Action’s outreach manager, Jamie Woo, gave interviews to Houston area newspapers Southern Chinese Daily News and Chinese Times.

All publications from the MoneyWi$e series can be found on Consumer Action’s MoneyWi$e website. To join our CBO network and learn about any upcoming training events in your area, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 800-999-7981.

What’s happening on Capitol Hill?

Consumer Action’s DC-based advocates have been busy protecting the consumer protections gained in last year’s Dodd-Frank Act from attack by conservatives in Congress, fighting for financial reforms, and supporting new ways to help people who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure, plus our work on consumer privacy rights. Here’s a run-down of our activities:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Consumer Action, alongside fellow consumer groups, fought hard last year for financial reform legislation that among other features created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, a long-time advocate for low income and working families, was selected by President Barack Obama to set up the bureau, slated to open July 21. The bureau is the first federal financial regulator with sole responsibility to protect consumers from financial product and services abuses. However, the bureau has been under attack since January, as the GOP-controlled House attempts to kill the financial watchdog before it opens its doors.

The House Financial Services Committee in May passed three bills intended to, in Warren’s words, “delay, defund and defang” the bureau:

  • HR 1315 (Duffy), a bill that would grant existing financial regulators sweeping authority to veto new CFPB rules.
  • HR 1121 (Bachus), a bill to dilute leadership of the Bureau from a director to a five-member commission.
  • HR 1667 (Capito), a bill to limit what action the CFPB can take until such time that a director has been confirmed.

Consumer Action strongly opposes these anti-CFPB bills.

“It’s time for the political gamesmanship to end. Conservative lawmakers should lick their wounds and move on,” said Ruth Susswein of Consumer Action. “Why not give the CFPB a chance to do the job Congress gave it?”

While the bills passed the House Financial Services Committee, they have yet to be voted on by the full House, and are not expected to pass the Senate.

Privacy

This spring saw a flurry of privacy-related legislation in Congress. One in particular garnered Consumer Action’s support: Senator Jay Rockefeller’s Do Not Track Online Act of 2011 offers a straight-forward approach to giving consumers meaningful privacy rights when they use the Internet.

Senator Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee On Commerce, Science and Transportation, designed his bill to help consumers know how and when their sensitive and personal information is being used by companies who track them online. Under the legislation, online businesses would be required to give consumers the opportunity to opt-out of information tracking. The bill would require an opt-out option for Internet and mobile network tracking.

“Consumer Action has long sought a reliable and mandatory Do Not Track mechanism, which will help consumers use the Internet with confidence in their right to control personal information collected about them,” said Linda Sherry of Consumer Action.

A coalition of consumer groups and privacy advocates, including Consumer Action, also welcomed bipartisan online privacy legislation by Senators John Kerry and John McCain. However, the coalition believes that the bill needs to be strengthened if it is to effectively protect consumer privacy rights in today’s digital marketplace.

In a letter to the Senators, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Digital Democracy, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Privacy Times stated that they could not support the Kerry/McCain, without addressing the following issues:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be empowered to create and enforce a “Do Not Track Me” mechanism. The bill would usurp the FTC’s traditional lead role in protecting privacy and turn much of its responsibility over to the Commerce Department. The Commerce Department is not, nor should it be expected to be, the primary protector of consumers’ interests and must not have the lead role in online privacy.
  • The bill relies too heavily on the “notice and choice” model and could simply enshrine current practices, allowing the continued compilation of vast digital dossiers that can negatively affect consumers in transactions involving their finances, health and families.
  • The bill gives special interest treatment to Facebook, and other social media marketers, by permitting them to gather data on their users without sufficient safeguards.
  • Consumers must have the right to hold companies accountable for violating their privacy in court through a private right of action.
  • The bill would prohibit states from enacting stronger protections, limiting the rights of states to protect their citizens.

Foreclosure Prevention

Consumer Action supports Foreclosure Prevention bills in the House, HR 1783 (Miller), and in the Senate S 824 (Brown), which would:

  • Ban any effort to simultaneous foreclose on a homeowner who is working with a servicer to modify his or her loan and remain in the home.
  • Require mortgage servicers to participate in loan modification efforts, including a reduction in a homeowner’s principle loan balance, if doing so would be in the best interest of the homeowner and mortgage investors.
  • Require a single point of contact during the loan servicing or mortgage modification process to close multiple loopholes that often cost consumers their homes.

Consumer Action also supports the Preserving Homes and Communities Act of 2011, S 489 (Reed) and its House companion bill, HR 1477 (Cummings). The bills would:

  • Require mortgagors to use their best efforts to determine if homeowners are eligible for a loan modification.
  • Ban the sale of homes when they are being considered for a loan modification.
  • Require the government to set up an appeals process for mortgage modification disputes.

For more information about these and other advocacy activities, please visit the Legislative Positions section of the Consumer Action website. Consumer Action urges you to let your representatives know your position on these bills by using our Take Action Center.

Save the Office of Privacy Protection

Consumer Action was outraged to learn that the California Office of Privacy Protection (COPP) was slated for closure under state budget cuts.

In a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, Consumer Action asked for continued support of this important consumer resource. Under the direction of Joanne McNabb and deputy Debra Castanon, the Office Privacy Protection (part of the California Consumer Services Agency) provides information and assistance on privacy issues to individuals and recommends privacy practices to businesses and other organizations. The office opened in 2001, with a mission of identifying consumer problems in the privacy area and encouraging the development of fair information practices.

The Office of Privacy Protection plays a vital role in assisting individuals with identity theft and other privacy-related concerns, providing consumer education and information on privacy issues, coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement on identity theft investigations, and recommending policies and practices that protect individual privacy rights.

With a modest staff of six, COPP provides direct assistance to over 5,000 Californians per year and among other important publications, has created an identity theft manual used by law enforcement agencies around the state.

“Eliminating this office with its staff of six would have a very small effect on the state budget, but it would send a distressing signal about the value of the citizens’ privacy,” said Consumer Action Executive Director Ken McEldowney. “We call on Governor Brown to reconsider the elimination of this vital consumer protection agency.

Please consider adding your support to preserve the Office of Privacy Protection (COPP) by reaching out to your California state representatives. Use our free Take Action Center to send an email to your elected officials today.

Web Spotlight: Gotta question? Check out our FAQs!

Sometimes you have a burning question about your consumer rights and you can’t wait for an answer. Just visit Frequently Asked Questions on the Consumer Action website to find instant answers to common questions posed by people who contact our free national consumer hotline. The FAQs provide a panoramic view of issues consumers face on a daily basis. The questions (and their answers) are arranged by category so that you can find them easily.

Lots of websites feature Frequently Asked Questions—or FAQs—but we haven’t seen any others that are there solely to provide consumers with information about their specific consumer rights.

“In this current Internet era, it’s important to give consumers a self-help guide with complete, immediate and clearly written answers to issues that our complaints hotline tackles routinely,” says Joe Ridout, hotline counselor at Consumer Action. “Our FAQs offer a ready base of data for individuals, community groups and the media.”

Our FAQs are organized into 29 categories, including automobiles, banking, credit and finance, debt, housing and health care, among others. Questions are updated regularly. To submit a question for consideration, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Click here to visit Consumer Action’s Frequently Asked Questions.

Click here to submit a complaint for advice and referral by Consumer Action’s trained counselors.

A report on MoneyWi$e in 2010

In the past decade, MoneyWi$e partners Consumer Action and Capital One have created and distributed a variety of consumer information to help consumers manage their money and build wealth. The MoneyWi$e 2010 Annual Report highlights some of the key elements of the project and the communities it reached last year.

In 2010, MoneyWi$e project accomplishments included:

  • 559 community-based organizations (CBOs) placed 782 orders, that Consumer Action filled with 579,173 MoneyWi$e publications.
  • Consumer Action held four train-the-trainer regional meetings for community organizations, training 147 staff members from 109 CBOs.
  • Consumer Action held three regional sessions, training 132 Capital One banking staff associates.
  • 11 roundtables were held throughout the country, attended by 473 CBO staffers.
  • Consumer Action awarded $5,000 mini-grants to 20 CBOs for innovative MoneyWi$e projects.
  • In 2010 the MoneyWi$e website ([url=http://www.money-wise.org]http://www.money-wise.org[/url]) registered approximately 31,000 hits, more than 87% of which were first-time visits.
  • In 2010 Consumer Action revised and distributed 12 educational modules, and distributed 336 MoneyWi$e CDs.

To read the report in its entirety, click here.

Hotline Chronicles: Auto warranty about to expire—really?

Laura* from Spokane, Washington, called Consumer Action because she received pre-recorded calls on her answering machine warning that her auto warranty should be renewed before it expired. Laura recognized the call as a scam, as she did not even own a car. However she wanted to know how she could be getting telemarketing calls, since she had registered her name on the national Do Not Call list.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that many people are receiving suspect auto warranty calls. Usually automated or pre-recorded, the message directs the recipient to press a number to renew the warranty. The callers might say they are from a car dealer or manufacturer, and sometimes they have specific information about your particular car, which they may have bought from a marketing list compiled from vehicle registrations or insurance information.

If you believe the call was an attempt to defraud you, you can complain to the Federal Trade Commission online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by phone at 877-382-4357.

If you have placed your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry and you receive one of these calls from anyone other than a business that sold you the car or repaired it, that call may violate the FTC’s Do Not Call rules.

In addition, if you receive one of these calls on a wireless device, and the call is pre-recorded or seems to have used a random auto-dialer, it may violate Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules. (If you gave your consent to be called, the rules don’t apply.)

Anyone making a sales call to your home number must provide his or her name, the name of the person or entity on whose behalf the call is being made, and a telephone number or address at which they can be reached. Pre-recorded messages must include a contact telephone number. Without these disclosures, the call violates FCC rules.

If the caller followed the rules and left you a contact name and number, you can file a complaint with the FCC, online at [url=http://www.fcc.gov/complaints]http://www.fcc.gov/complaints[/url] or by phone at 888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322). With live telemarketing calls, always ask who is calling and get contact information if it is not provided.

Don’t respond

When you receive a telemarketing call or recorded call, never provide personal information, such as social security numbers, credit card information, drivers’ license numbers, or bank account information.

Consumer Action offers Don’t Fall for the Wrong Call, a booklet containing information about how to prevent telemarketing fraud.

Do Not Call Registry

To add your phone numbers (home or cell phone) to the national Do Not Call Registry run by the FTC, go to www.donotcall.gov. You can verify that your number is on the registry at the online at [url=http://www.donotcall.gov]http://www.donotcall.gov[/url] or by calling 888-382-1222.

You can’t stop calls from political campaigns and charities by adding your name to the registry. However, you can ask individual campaigns not to contact you.

If your number has been on the registry for at least 31 days and you receive a call from a telemarketer, you can file a complaint at www.donotcall.gov or 888-382-1222. You may also file a complaint if you received a call that used a recorded message (whether or not your number was on the registry).

To submit a complaint or question to Consumer Action’s hotline, go to Submit a Complaint.

* Not this consumer’s real name.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a nonprofit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial 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.

Financial Education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of education resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth financial information, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. Consumer Action also publishes an unbiased Annual Credit Card Survey that exposes 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 to moderate income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of more than 8,000 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and others. Consumer Action’s rapidly expanding 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, regulations, and legislation by taking positions on almost 200 bills per legislative session and testifying at least three times per year. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

Click here to learn more about our staff.

 

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