~ Attorney General encourages public awareness, warns of common scam…

~ Attorney General encourages public awareness, warns of common scams ~

TALLAHASSEE, FL – LAWFUEL – Attorney General Bill McCollum today joined with
federal, state and local government agencies and national consumer advocacy
organizations to launch the ninth annual National Consumer Protection Week
(February 4-10). The awareness week will highlight consumer education
efforts across the nation and encourage everyone involved to become better
informed consumers to avoid falling prey to schemers and con artists.

“An educated consumer is our best ammunition in the fight against
fraud,” said General McCollum. “We encourage Floridians to stay informed
and to take an active role in protecting themselves, their families and
those they love.”

As part of the national event, McCollum announced the top categories
of fraud complaints received by the Attorney Generals Office in 2006.
Complaints about internet-related issues topped the list, followed closely
by complaints against builders and contractors. McCollum urged consumers to
be aware of the current trends that may victimize Floridians and to remain
vigilant in their efforts to protect themselves from the following scams:

1. Internet-related – Scams that emerged last year included an
increasing variety of check overpayment scams and phishing, a form of
identity theft. Never give out personal identification information to a
stranger over the internet, and be wary of anyone who writes a check for
more than the required amount and then asks to have the difference wired
back to them. Consumers also complained about online companies that fail to
deliver ordered merchandise.

2. Builders/Contractors – To avoid being scammed by a rogue builder
or contractor, ask to see a certified contractors license and always obtain
at least three bids and references. Ask for a written contract with an
accurate estimate. Do not pay in cash. One of the most common problems last
year was companies that required deposits or full payments and then failed
to fulfill their contract obligations.

3. Insurance – The vast majority of complaints in this area were
related to the increasing cost of homeowners insurance. Additionally,
Floridians complained about increases that occurred without documentation
or written notification. Consumers should also be wary of companies
offering cheap insurance packages with unrealistic terms.

4. Collection Agencies – Debt collectors are legally prohibited from
lying to consumers or threatening them to collect payments. They are also
prohibited from calling after 9:00 p.m.

5. Travel – Complaints against travel agencies involved supposed
“all-inclusive” vacation packages with hidden consumer fees. Beware of a
hard sales pitch or an offer that sounds too good to be true.

6. Timeshare Resale – Other travel-related complaints addressed
timeshare scams, which occur both at the time of the original purchase and
at the time of resale. To protect themselves sellers should consider
reselling their timeshare “by owner;” by placing an advertisement in a
newsletter or magazine read by potential timeshare buyers; or by listing
the timeshare with a licensed real estate broker in the area where the
resort is located.

7. Auto Dealers – Many complaints addressed the issue of used
vehicles which were in worse condition than advertised by the dealer. Other
complaints referenced contracts that included unclear or confusing terms
which consumers did not understand, including monthly payments, fees or
interest rates higher than expected.

8. Real Estate – Unfortunately, many consumers bought homes last year
only to realize that the appraisal value had been artificially increased
or, in some cases, completely fabricated. There were also a wide variety of
complaints against developers who failed to fulfill their contracts.

9. Subscriptions – In 2006 consumers often received magazines they
did not order or subscribe to and then were billed for these undesired
items. Additionally, many consumers who renewed their magazine subscription
were unaware that they were paying a 3rd party magazine billing service.
Always be cautious if you receive magazines or other products for free.
Carefully review the terms of subscription and billing.

10. Mortgages – Last year, many consumer complaints focused on
mortgage companies that were withholding much needed insurance money until
consumers met several (often unattainable) hurdles. Additionally, some
mortgage companies failed to honor preset payoff amounts or charged the
consumer prepayment penalty fees that were not part of the original
contract signed by the consumer. Be certain that all of the terms of any
loan are fully disclosed and research the brokers credentials to ensure
they are properly licensed and certified.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, well-informed consumers
are often able to recognize a rip-off or fraud scheme. Fraudulent
promotions seek to exploit peoples financial fantasies, needs and optimism.
Partner organizations provide practical tips for consumers on how to make
well-informed purchase decisions, avoid scams, protect their personal
information and file a complaint if they feel they are the victims of
fraud. Additional information about National Consumer Protection Week is
available at http://www.consumer.gov/ncpw. Those who wish to file a
complaint may do so by calling the Attorney General’s fraud hotline at
1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or by filing a complaint online at
http://myfloridalegal.com.

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