Robocalls? Not Much we can do . . . but Maybe a Little.

 I once sued a telemarketer for violating the National Do Not Call Registry. I was awarded $1,500 by the small claims court commissioner. I had fully intended to follow suit by supplementing my income suing every son-of-a-bitch company that showed contempt for both the registry and my inalienable right to a peaceful dinner while watching Jeopardy!

National Do Not Call Registry logo

You can fight against unwanted telemarketing calls by signing up on the Do Not Call Registry

Even though I know that small claims court is a piece of cake and a great way for the little guy to take down the bullies of telecommunication, I find an inexplicable emotional inertia within me when it comes to going to court and filing the suit.

So what alternatives are left?  First, sign up on the registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/Register/Reg.aspxHere are a few tips to wrangle successfully with the robo-rascals.  But  know this: anyone with whom you have an ongoing business relationship—for instance, a credit card company—is exempt from the do-not-call prohibition. Political campaigns and charities, as well as government calls for emergency situations, are also exempt.

First, get a phone with “caller ID” capability. They are relatively cheap. Then, get an answering machine. They’re cheap and easy to use.  If you get a call and you don’t recognize the number, let the machine pick it up. If it’s a call you want to deal with, pick up the phone. Otherwise, let the call die away.

If you do answer the phone and a recording instructs you to press a certain number, DON’T DO IT, not even if it tells you to press a number that will take you off their call list. It tells the calling device that it has reached a legitimate number that’s ripe for receiving telemarketing calls. Just hang up.

Check out the site nomorobo.com. It works best with VoIP and mobile phone services. VoIP is Internet phone service.  It often comes as part of a package with cable and Internet services. Nomorobo blocks any calls it recognizes as coming from unwanted robocallers. I use AT&T landline service and Nomorobo is not yet supported by AT&T landline service, although it does work with AT&T VoIP service.

You can report any robocalls to the federal government at 888 382-1222 or at https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspxBut I am dubious about the number of people who would bother to take that road. I am also dubious about the effectiveness of such reporting.

And finally, if you are receiving telemarketing calls from a local company, get the person on the line to give you the company phone number and address. Then get in touch with your local small claims court to learn about the procedures to get the evildoers into court in order to sue them for the $500 fine to which you are entitled; even more for multiple violations.

Good luck.

Ways to Spot an Emailed Virus.

Two types of viruses are contaminating the landscape. One is influenza. The other is all those email viruses concocted by mentally ill people who have no self-esteem and who want make an impact on society, no matter how useless and negative.

There are lots of folks who have had their email contact lists compromised and who are spreading viruses without knowing it, that is until their contacts tell them about it. Here are some ways to detect these insidious little buggers.

Be very careful about messages that are not truly personal even if they have your name in the subject line. The body of the email usually goes something like this:

“Hey Bob, you really have to check this out http://www.9dfkr.ibl-finance”

Notice, there really is no personal communication, except for your name.

Also, be careful of extensions in the email link like .exe, .scr, or .pif, which are the most common extensions of viruses.

If you click on one of these links, you compromise your contacts list and everyone in your list is likely to have the same virus sent to them.

If you receive such a virus, notify the person who unknowingly sent it to you and then delete it

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The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published in a few weeks. In preparation for the big event we need to concentrate on that project. So for the next eight weeks or so, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  a short consumer tip each week (I hope).

If you would like to learn more about our book that deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

All that credit card info they ask for online keeps your account safe . . . NOT!

I had an agenda of topics laid out for this web site for months to come. But last week I had an eye-opening experience that taught me that as low as my esteem for big banks was, it still had a long way to drop.
I have a Chase Freedom Visa card. I haven’t used it in more than three years. I keep it as a backup in case I misplace my two primary cards (I lose a lot of stuff. In fact, the only thing I ever had trouble losing was my virginity – but that’s probably more than you need to know). When the card came up for renewal about a year and a half ago, I decided to not activate it.

Freedom from what?

But lo and behold – what does “lo” mean anyway? – I recently received a statement from Chase with a charge on it from Mutual of Enumclaw insurance company. I never made a payment to that company. How could I? I had never heard of it. I would remember if I had, since it’s the worst name for a company since Studebaker. And since I had never activated the card, it was unusable anyway. Or so I thought.
I called Chase and canceled the payment. Chase got back to me and informed me that the charge was a mistake. “How could that happen?” I inquired, since M of E had neither my three-digit security code nor the expiration date for the card. Furthermore, how could anything be charged to a card that was never activated?
The rep could not answer so she connected me to the fraud department. The guy at the fraud department told me that if a Chase customer doesn’t activate the card within 60 days, Chase activates it AUTOMATICALLY!  “Why would you do that?” I asked. “What if someone had stolen my card from the mail?”
“We don’t want to inconvenience our cardholders in case they forgot to activate,” was the explanation. “What about the failure to verify the expiration date and security code?” I parried. The fraud rep kicked me upstairs to his supervisor, Audrey. I repeated the question. “You’ll have to ask the merchant,” Audrey advised.
So I called M of E and found a person whose actual name is Sara. I use her real name because she was nice, solicitous, and a good listener. After diligent research she determined what had happened. One of M of E’s “insureds” (that’s what they call their customers in the insurance game) had mis-entered her card number when making a premium payment. The one-digit error meant she entered my unactivated card number. But what about the expiration date and the security code?
“You’ll have to ask your bank,” responded Sara. So I called Chase again. This time Dean was my fraud department supervisor. He explained that some vendors do not ask for the security codes and/or expiration dates for credit card charges and that’s how this charge got through. “How about the fact that the customer had a different name?” I challenged. I’m not sure what Dean said exactly, but it was something like, “Mhllf blah, sheboygan, phlegm.”
So I called Sara at M of E again. I asked if they request expiration dates and security codes for credit card payments.  “We do,” she averred.
So let’s review.
• The person who made her credit card payment to Mutual of Enumclaw, innocently entered my credit card number.
• The card had never been activated.
• She had the wrong name for my account number.
• The expiration date was incorrect.
• The security code was wrong.
• And still the charge went through.
Once again I chased down Chase’s fraud department. This time I got Elvira on the phone. Long story short: Elvira admitted that, “We dropped the ball on this one.” She agreed that the charge never should have gone through and should have been sent back to the merchant. “We use a variety of algorithms,” to verify charges, she claimed.
On behalf of Chase she took full blame for the screw-up, but reminded me that Chase never charges the customer for fraudulent charges and that anytime a cardholder brings a wrong charge to the bank’s attention, the bank makes it right.
What, I asked, if a person has a hundred charges on a monthly statement and, like so many consumers, they don’t check each item? This $385 charge would be paid as part of – let’s say – a $3,000 bill. The cardholder would pay it and never know they had been ripped off.
Elvira admitted that such instances do occur.
Upshot. Check your monthly credit card statements. Match the charges to your receipts. And if you think all those data that merchants ask for when taking your credit card number protect you, think again.

Some Privacy Is Better Than None

With all the recent tribulations in the wacky world of California – skyrocketing fuel costs, high unemployment, and the budget crisis from hell – it’s easy to forget some of the trendsetting legislation that has emerged from the Golden State. After four years of attempting to get a wide-ranging consumer privacy bill passed, the legislature in Sacramento rose to the fore a few years ago.


The conflict hinged on so-called "opt-in" and "opt-out" issues. Most consumers have received notices from financial institutions with which we do business, giving us the option to opt out of permitting these businesses to share our personal information. These options are required by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). 


In essence, FCRA provisions permit customers to opt out of allowing their banks, insurance companies, credit card issuers, mortgage lenders and the like to notify the respective companies that their customers don’t want their information shared with other companies. The idea behind the legislation is that our private information is among our most precious possessions. When it proliferates, our liabilities increase.


Recent statistics indicate that more than one out of every ten Americans have been the victims of identity theft. It is now the most common form of felony theft in America. When our Social Security, driver license and credit card numbers, along with our birth dates, spread from data base to data base, we open ourselves to unwanted solicitations from businesses and unfettered access from all types of nefarious individuals.


The problem with the FCRA is that, while it requires businesses to send their customers notices of their right to privacy along with opt-out forms, it requires each individual to opt out of information sharing. In other words, it requires the individual to take action. What members of the California legislature – led by Senator Jackie Speier – attempted with the California privacy legislation, was to shut down unrestricted information sharing by forbidding it outright. In other words, businesses would have to get specific permission from consumers in order to share credit information.


Financial institutions in California, just as in Washington, hold considerable sway (read, "money talks when it comes to lawmaking"). For four years big business was able to stymie any efforts to get real reform passed. But once it looked as though a referendum threatened for March of 2004 would lead to the toughest privacy legislation in the history of the universe, things began to change. The proposed California initiative would make financial institutions wish they didn’t have to get out of their greenback-stuffed mattresses in the morning. Suddenly the financial guys decided to reach a compromise in Sacramento.


Under the terms of the legislation businesses may share credit information with their affiliated companies that do the same type of business (e.g. an auto insurance company can share info with its home insurance business) without requesting their customers to opt-in. In order for businesses to share information with affiliated, but unlike, organizations they must send their customers a simple opt-out form with a prepaid return envelope. To share data with an outside company, they must request their customers to opt-in. The latter means non-sharing is the default status.
 

The Con$umer Guy’s tip:

 

There’s very little consumers gain from being barraged with mail and phone calls. There’s even less we gain from having our personal information accessed by who-knows-whom. Opt out whenever you can unless there’s a particular company from whose affiliates you really want to hear. Guard your personal information. Tell your legislative representatives –both state and federal – that you want your personal information protected. You don’t want unknown employees at businesses that have your credit information sharing those data with other parties unknown. Never share your social security number, driver license number or date of birth unless you absolutely must. Just because an application or information form requests particular information, doesn’t mean you must provide it.

 


Ellis Levinson has made a career of helping consumers with their complaints against businesses that don't meet customers' expectations. Your business might be employing money-saving strategies in the short run
while alienating customers day after day.