It’s National Consumer Protection Week.
We try to protect you, the consumer, throughout the year, by helping individuals with their disputes with companies and red tape, and we try to educate you about scams and frauds.
Now, though, we’re putting the spotlight on efforts by government agencies and watchdog groups who do the same thing, sharing their resources and advice to educate consumers so you can better protect yourself in a world where grifters and con artists are around every corner.
To learn more about this week’s consumer protection efforts, check out the National Consumer Protection Week web site at NCPW.gov.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is hosting a Fraud Prevention Information Booth at the main post office in Monroe on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Postal inspectors will be there distributing fraud prevention literature, and they will discuss how people — especially senior citizens — can avoid being the target of a scam.
“National Consumer Protection Week provides a great opportunity to raise consumer awareness of frauds and schemes perpetrated to victimize American consumers,” said Maria Kelokates, the postal inspection service’s Newark Division Inspector in Charge. “It is also a great opportunity to educate the public on the many resources available to safeguard our families from scam artists.”
You can also see some videos about fraud prevention and scams, including mail-related, telemarketing and work-at-home scams, on the Postal Inspection Service’s web site.
If you have fraud-related concerns, contact the Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455 or you can file a complaint online.
Service-related concerns should go to (800)ASK-USPS or (800) 275-8777), or you can send an email by visiting its site.
Federal Communication Commission (FCC)
The FCC has a new help center for consumers. It’s supposed to give consumers a better and easier experience when they file complaints.
The agency said it can now process complaints more quickly. Once the agency receives your complaint, it has a pretty fast turnaround to serve the complaint on service providers, who then have a 30-day time frame to respond.
Consumers can now track the progress of complaints with a unique identification number that allows you to log in and see your complaint’s status.
AARP New Jersey offers a great tool to help consumers report and avoid scams. It’s called the Fraud Watch Network, and it’s free for consumers of all ages.
“It provides New Jerseyans with a wide range of resources,” said AARP New Jersey’s Jeff Abramo. “This includes access to a scam-tracking map that shows them exactly where scams are happening here in the Garden State, and also gives people the opportunity to offer their own experiences in helps of helping protect their neighbors.”
He said signing up provides access to real-time alerts about the latest scams, and the inside scoop on how con artists think so you can outsmart them before they strike.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC)
FDIC offers lots of helpful educational resources for consumers. This week it’s highlighting offerings on banking topics such as mortgages, credit and prepaid cards, and identity theft on its new “Consumer Assistance & Information” web site.
On the page, you can also ask a question or file a complaint related to financial products and institutions.
New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs
The state’s Division of Consumer Affairs has been spotlighting a different consumer topic each day this week.
“Millions of people fall victim to fraud each year. It can happen to anyone,” said acting director Steve Lee. “Protect yourself from these scam artists by doing your homework. Know what you are buying – whether it is a consumer good, investment product, or service – and the person or business selling it, before you make any purchase.”
Earlier this week, the agency spotlighted how consumers can avoid investment scams.
It noted, along with the Bureau of Securities, the most common red flags of investment fraud. These include warnings about guarantees, overly consistent returns — we know the stock market doesn’t only go up — missing documentation and pushy salespeople.
“Fraudsters often use the same sales tactics and promises to swindle investors out of their money, and many of the most common investment frauds – including pyramid, Ponzi and pump-and-dump schemes – share similar traits,” said Brueau of Securities Chief Laura Posner.
Make sure a company is properly registered by calling the Bureau of Securities at (866) I-INVEST (866-446-8378) or visit NJsecurities.gov.
Consumer Affairs also focused on scams that target seniors, including the grandparent scam, advance fee or sweepstakes scams, phishing scams and others. Check out the agency’s senior fraud education and protection handbook, called “FedUp.”
Auto complaints were the No. 2 complaint category for Consumer Affairs last year, so it also gave warnings about buying, repairing and leasing motor vehicles.
Today, it’s drawing attention to Home Improvement Contractors and Home Elevation Contractors, and on Friday, it will focus on identity theft and cyber-safety.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business can complaint to Consumer Affairs online, or by calling (800) 242-5846 (toll-free within New Jersey) or (973) 504-6200.
Or you can send Bamboozled an email.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.