Free Credit Report | How to Weed out Scam Sites

For the majority of adults, the importance of maintaining a good credit history and score is well-understood. How to acquire that information without paying, however, can be difficult. The law states that everyone is entitled to a free annual credit report, but the Internet is filled with companies that claim these reports are free. However, charges for monthly monitoring often follow. The trick, then, is to find the “real” free reports by reading the fine print which will help identify those that are scams or practice deceit.

Many sites now provide one free report limited to only one of the major tracking agencies followed by additional charges for reports from the other reporting agencies along with monthly monitoring. These can be difficult to identify, however, unless care is taken prior to signing up. Although many people call them scams because the actual charges are buried within the verbiage, when charges are listed somewhere in the terms and conditions or on the detail pages contained in a website they are not legally considered scams. The main problem is that people rarely read the fine print before they sign up.

This is still considered deceitful practices because they count on people not reading everything before they file a request. One way to tell if sites are practicing this type of strategy is to take note if they ask for a credit card number along with other personal information. If a credit card is required then you can bet that some charges will be applied at some point. Generally, these are automatically assessed on a monthly basis and are very difficult if not impossible to stop.

When a person agrees to allow automatic deductions from a credit or debit card from any service provider, only the provider can stop the payments. This can be very difficult since many companies today rely on this consistency in monthly income in order to turn a profit. For many people this means cancelling checking, savings, and credit cards accounts in order to ensure the withdrawals stop which can not only be inconvenient, but also frustrating.

Determining the tactics used to draw online users into signing up is one way to identify companies that should be avoided. One tactic many companies in this industry use is visual confusion on their web pages. Since people today have been condition by visual stimuli colors, shapes, pictures, and other strategies are utilized to hide pertinent information so that people sign up before they fully understand the terms and conditions. Additionally, by clicking “I agree” before reading the terms and conditions they may be opening themselves up for long-term monthly charges they had not counted on.

Complaints can be filed against such companies through the Better Business Bureau and other agencies, but in order to do so consumers must prove they acted responsibly and that the information needed to make an informed decision was, in fact, hidden. Saving terms and conditions in a separate file that can be forwarded along with the complaint will serve as the proof required. Therefore, reading this document completely in advance is important.

Although, according many of these sites, cancellation can be made at any time, it’s often more difficult than described. For many sites phone calls with written follow-up is required, but must be made within a set number of days; usually 30. Additionally, even though consumers are told they will be notified by email, this does not always occur so checking monthly credit card statements is important in order to avoid multiple charges. Ultimately, the best way to protect one’s self from fraudulent or deceitful credit reporting company practices is to read the fine print and use caution when authorizing automatic payments.

How Big Companies Try To Hide The Truth

The Internet today has many advantages as well as disadvantages. Although it provides a plethora of services and products, sometimes it opens up opportunities for deceitful practices that are designed to lure viewers in. One of the greatest advantages is that it provides uncensored comments from those who have personal experience with various businesses. Unfortunately, companies are now using unethical practices such as using copyright laws to hide the truth.

For businesses selling products and services, consumer feedback is extremely important. The last thing these businesses need are websites bashing what they offer. This is especially so for telemarketers who rely on Internet searches in order to gain the consumer base needed to turn a profit. In response to consumer forums that express concerns about products and services, some companies are now filing lawsuits against those launching websites designed specifically for the purpose of airing consumer complaints.

The federal government has recently passed legislation to protect the right of free speech exercised through the Internet against so-called SLAPP lawsuits designed to keep consumers quiet about their true feelings. When faced with a potential lawsuit, many consumers choose to withdraw complaints rather than face court action because they don’t realize laws have been designed to protect their rights. Unfortunately, lawyers are now lining up to take up the causes of big businesses against individuals who dare to complain.

There are many examples of court cases that have recently come to light. In one case telemarketing companies, such as Houlihan Smith & Company, Inc. have hired lawyers like Richard Darke of Duane Morris, LLP to represent them against the Consumer Law & Policy Blog which airs the grievances of individuals who have had bad experiences with telemarketers. These forums serve an important purpose in that they allow experiences to be shared with others that are considering dealing with such companies.

Although these blogs are seldom flattering, they do inform the public of current practices within companies that should be known in order to make an informed decision. Since lawsuits are failing to generate the response of closing down public opinion forums, more creative practices are being used by companies with business services and practices that are inadequate and frequently even deceitful. One way they have found their way around a lack of success through legal means is to implement the use of copyright laws.

Copyrighting is designed to prevent plagiarism of original works. Unfortunately, in this case if business names, products, or practices are copyrighted then it becomes illegal to use them in any written form. For those utilizing forums to express concerns about business practices, this means they are no longer allowed to use the business name, products, or services when complaining. Talking around subjects often results in others failing to understand who to avoid and why.

Groups such as Public Citizen are now banning together not only to fight litigation for those using forums, but to also fight these new copyright restrictions. Only by joining forces and becoming knowledgeable about the legal mandates that are designed to protect the right of free speech can censorship be contained.

Getting Sued By a Big Company | What To Do?

The explosion of the many uses of the Internet has produced a variety of innovative actions which have not been popular with many individuals and companies. One of these is the right of the consumer to post their dissatisfaction regarding a company or products that have not turned out to be as advertised. This has been a great deal of assistance to consumers who previously had no way of finding out if something was “as advertised.”

Both the United States government, and several states, has laws regarding the right of consumers to express their opinion concerning any product or company that is available on the Internet. This protection is listed under the Communications Decency Act. 47, section 230 (CDA 230). This section of the Federal Code immunizes discussion site owners against comments made by what consumers provided on such sites.

In California there is a code covering this area called the Anti-SLAPP Bill. First enacted in 1992, it has had a number of amendments. It specifically states that it involves disputes involving matters of ‘public interest’ and, in 1997, construed application of the statute disputes and listed its intent as applying that ‘any conduct in furtherance to the rights of petition or free speech is protected from civil liability’.

Further amendments were added giving the person being protected to challenge adverse trial court decision. The Code of Civil Procedure section 425.18 allows SLAPP victims to recover their damages through what is called a SLAPPBACK (malicious prosecution) against the SLAPP petitioners and their attorneys. This has been found illegal in many cases as a matter of law. Of course, the SLAPP must not be illegal under federal or state law either.

One of the interesting sections of the California Anti-SLAPP law is that it states that a person who successfully challenges a court action can use this law even if the lawsuit is filed in another state and is entitled to recover their attorney fees. In particular, it defines privileged publication or broadcast and immunizes participants in official litigation against official proceedings and all tort actions.

Freedom of speech has long been a law in the United States. Being able to state one’s opinion regarding a company or product is paramount to the basis of liberty. Countries who have cut off this method of public communication have found that it has lead to disastrous consequences. With the Internet it has been possible to quickly dispense information that affects many lives and enables people to have a better way of life.

A number of companies, unhappy with these methods of communication, such as blogs, have brought various lawsuits to eliminate any site that is detrimental to their products or company. Thanks to the United States Code, and codes in various states, they have not been able to prevail.

Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also called the international human rights law (ICCPR) freedom of speech is recognized as a human right and the right to hold opinions without interference. This freedom of speech is recognized in European, inter-American and African regional human rights laws.

Unfortunately, many people using the Internet to express an opinion, that is not illegal, are unaware of the laws regarding this right. As a result many have been threatened by lawyers and have closed down their sites, because of this ignorance. Everyone using the Internet for this purpose needs to read and understand their rights.

Canadian DoNotCall List Policy and Legislations

September 30, 2008 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission launched the National Do Not Call List. This program is administered through Bell Canada who is responsible for listing numbers and providing them to telemarketers as well as handling any complaints consumers may have. The result is a choice for customers on whether or not to allow contact by telemarketers.

The law making this option available to individuals was passed by the federal government in 2006 which mandates telemarketers respect the privacy of citizens. This not only includes home phones, but fax numbers and cell phones as well making unsolicited telemarketing calls illegal. By violating the provisions contained in the law, telemarketers can face very stiff fines or be shut down completely should customer complaints note multiple offenses.

The privacy of citizens is important. Therefore, it’s important to remember that telemarketers add individuals to a “sucker list” when they get a positive response then sell that information to others. Once on the list, however, costs to those who violate this law can amount to $1,500 per infraction and $15,000 to companies who consistently fail to comply with the mandates of the law. Even so, there are exceptions such as charities and those conducting polls or surveys. Additionally, if business has been conducted within the past 18 months with a particular company they are also allowed to contact previous customers, but they are only allowed to do so for the next 18 months.

Registration is easy and can be completed either through phoning the National Do Not Call List center or signing up through their website. This takes very little time and requires only a few simple steps. Additionally, requesting addition to the list can be accomplished by the center within 24 hours. Telemarketers are then given 31 days to update their lists. Although effective it may mean that calls will not cease immediately, but should they continue a complaint can be filed that could even result in financial compensation for individuals who feel they are being harassed.

It’s important to remember that a number is placed on the list for only five years after which time re-registration must be completed. Additionally, should numbers be changed or added each number must be registered separately. Unfortunately, this law has not found its way to Internet email addresses as yet, but that is being considered throughout the world as contact from solicitors can allow viruses to damage computer systems.

After signing up, should an unsolicited call be received it’s important to get some vital information in order to file a complaint. The Do Not Call center requires the name of the organization or their phone number, your number, and the date of the call in order to track the originator. Since many of these types of calls hide numbers from caller ID systems, it’s important to remember that, by law, solicitors must provide their name and number if requested.

Anyone adding a number to the National Do Not Call List can expect relief from unwanted solicitations by telemarketers. Even after adding a number, however, it may be removed at any time upon request. Protecting personal privacy is important and the fewer people allowed to call the safer the identity of individuals will be.

How To Stop Debt Collectors From Calling | Know Your Rights!

When a person is already overwhelmed by debt, the last thing they need is a debt collector calling to collect on credit cards or other contracts. As everyone knows, if money were available, the payment would be made. For those who keep receiving these unwanted contacts, especially by phone, there are measures that can be taken to reduce them or eliminate them all together.

The most important thing to know is that debt has an expiration date. Debt older than seven years is no longer collectable expect in the case of bankruptcy which can last up to ten years. Therefore, keeping track of when the initial contract was made is important to eliminating harassing calls. One need only report, in writing, that the debt has expired. As with other measures, if calls continue then complaints can be filed with official agencies after which the collection agency can be fined.

Based on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act debtors are allowed to tell collectors that any future contact must be made in writing. This is a federal law that could lead to fines for those who violate the mandates it contains. One element is what are called cease and desist letters that can be written to debt collectors in order to ensure future contact is only made by mail. When writing such letters they should reference the law, the contract number, the date the contract was entered into, and the date in which calls must stop. Although this will not prevent future legal action, it will stop harassing phone calls.

By making all contacts in writing and keeping copies of all payments made proof can be provided in case legal action is pursued that demonstrates an effort to fulfill the obligations of the contract. It’s important to remember that debt collectors must prove you owe the money by providing a copy of the original contract with your signature on it. If such proof is provided and the case ends up in court, however, by providing information related to current financial status, work history, and efforts to pay, court authorities will take it consideration when making judgments. This can not only help eliminate unwanted phone calls, but can also ultimately save thousands of dollars when judgments result in a compromise of the total amount and terms of repayment.

One alternative to consider prior to reaching the point of going to court is to negotiate terms directly with the lender. Often they will accept a lesser amount, reduce interest, or reduce payments in order to clear a debt especially during difficult economic times. Additionally, they are often willing to reduce the amount of monthly payments until such time as the economy improves. The thing to remember is that open communication is often the key to resolving issues involving debt.
Although there are many “get out of debt,” offers especially online today, they should be researched carefully as there are many people who are now taking advantage of those who are under financial stress. If money is asked for in advance before assistance is provided, be wary as it could be a scam which could leave an individual in worse shape than when they stated. Ultimately, the best way to stop unwanted debt collection calls is to take a proactive stance.

MagicJack recorded Message, the good the bad and the ugly

Although MagicJack may seem like a great solution to costs associated with phone service, it does not come without problems of its own.  Basically, the way the system works is that the device is plugged into a computer USB port at one end and into a telephone at the other.  A new user then selects the number they want to use and shares it with others.  So, what’s the problem?

As of November 12, 2010 a new pre-recorded message now informs customers and callers that calls have been rerouted improperly.  Instead of all calls being considered local, they are now considered long distance as they have been routed through a 305 area code which is actually located in Florida.  It has been reported that this problem came about when MagicJack merged with another company, but identifying the origin has been difficult.

MagicJack claims that problems have been caused by major carriers who, actually, have nothing to do with the system while carriers proclaim that since they have no connection with the system they cannot possibly resolve it.  There is also some question as to which outside company was part of the merger.  Therefore, it has not only been noted that the exact company involved remains unknown, but so is its location.

The result has been a feeling of panic and frustration for many people who utilize only this source to provide communication needs.  AT&T has contacted individuals using this system to inform them that individuals attempting to call have been informed that the recording originates in the 305 area code.  Callers have then been directed to contact their individual providers as well as to generate the call as a long distance number.

Many utilizing the MagicJack system have posted their concerns in online forums.  Although customer service for this company has attempted to pacify customers, ultimately they maintain that it is not their fault, but is that of the carriers through which the service is provided.  In response these carriers are to be instructed to reroute calls to the appropriate number.  This has left many in a dilemma as to who is actually responsible.

Recently it has been suggested that the problems experienced by customers as well as callers may be the result of online hackers who may be intercepting calls.  This claim is supported by that fact that not all major carriers are affected.  However, enough are involved to force MagicJack to frequently shut down their live chat system due to overload.  One way to ensure protection is to contact the FCC, Florida Attorney General’s Office, US Attorney General’s Office, and Better Business Bureau in order to file formal complaints.  Although phone numbers and addresses for the company or companies who may be involved in the merger have been posted online, few have found resolution by contacting them directly.

It’s important to remember that MagicJack works through collaboration with major carriers.  Should they and the companies they work with be involved in a dispute, this could be the trickle-down effect that often forces companies to surrender their stance under the pressure of consumer complaints.  For those who are not willing to wait for a resolution, however, many cable companies and major carriers now offer programs that are equally affordable and negate the need to put up with problems of this kind.

Travel Cruise Scam (fake vacation packages)

In a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission, scams involving travel have been found to be among the top ranked in complaints for the past several years.  These offers can come in many forms from entering a contest at the county fair to email contacts, but they all have several things in common.  Solicitors want your personal and credit card information so they can charge fees and services while reselling your information to telemarketing companies.  These individuals often refuse to identify themselves or their companies and require that claiming prizes be delayed for at least 60 days which is the time it takes for a credit card company to cancel any charges on a card.

One of the best ways to spot a scam is to question the contact person until they begin what’s called a hard-sell.  This is where they ask questions to which an individual must answer “yes.”  For example, they may say, “Don’t you want to take a vacation in a tropical paradise?” or “Don’t you deserve a break?”  Of course you deserve a break and would love to take it in paradise.  By getting an individual to answer “yes” to a successive series of questions, they are more likely to get you to say “yes” to claiming the “prize,” which doesn’t really exist.

There are several ways to identify a scam from a legitimate promotion or contest and, in the end, following some simple rules can save you thousands of dollars as well as anxiety, aggravation, and disappointment.   It’s important to remember that some companies will offer something for free in order to get personal information that can be sold for marketing purposes.  If receiving notification by email, however, it should be deleted immediately if the sender is unknown.  If it is opened and only images are shown with no substantial information, it is more than likely a scam and spyware has probably been loaded onto your computer by the time you realize it.

With legitimate offers, vacation details should be provided in writing along with a copy of the cancellation and refund policies.  Vague terms such as “luxury cruise ship” and “major hotels” are warning signs.  You need to know where you’re going, how long you will be there, and the address and telephone numbers for all aspects of the trip.  You also need to call vendors for verification that the price quoted includes all fees.  This should be done prior to the time any personal or credit card information is provided to the solicitor.

Travel agents offering promotional trips will run credit card charges through cruise lines and not the agency they represent.  If the cruise line is not listed on the statement this should be a warning flag.  The agent should also provide the booking number that will allow access to the booking details.  These can be accessed directly through cruise line websites once the number has been provided.  This also works with airline reservations.

If the contact uses questionable language such as “You’ve won a dream vacation to a coveted destination” they aren’t really promising the trip will be free so be wary.  This is also true for verbiage such as “subject to availability” or “run of the ship” which isn’t really promising anything.  Even if a trip is won an individual should expect minimum accommodations and no amenities.  These are just a few of the things to watch for in cruise scams.  Caution is always a good policy along with remembering that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

New Office

There’s some big news at the Callercenter headquarters. And the news is that we moved into a different location. Here are some pictures of the new place:

When I say “new” I actually mean Old. This is a historic building which has been transformed into an office space. It has big airy rooms with very high-ceilings. The place has a nice atmosphere and it’s right in the center of the city.

Looking forward to spending a lot of time here working on CallerCenter.com