Will Lund, superintendent of Maine's Bureau of Consumer Protection and his staff have put together a useful guide for individuals, families and businesses seeking to improve their financial health in 2017.
Lund's "Top 10 list of financial health New Year's resolutions" is based on the agency's discussions with hundreds of consumers who called the bureau's hotline (1-800-DEBT-LAW) for assistance and advice during 2016.
Here's the list:
1.) Check credit reports with each major credit reporting agency (Trans Union, Equifax and Experian) at least once this year, which can be done for free by going to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
2.) Reduce or eliminate credit card balances and resolve to use cash or a debit card whenever possible. Resolve to consider doing business with banks or credit unions that have offices here in Maine, because then if a problem arises you'll be more likely to find an actual person to resolve it.
3.) Resolve to be suspicious of offers that involve romantic relationships with individuals you "met" only online. Ditto for offers involving Nigerian finance ministers who claim to need your help moving large amounts of money out of their country.
4.) Resolve not to send funds in order to claim foreign "sweepstakes" winnings when you didn't even enter the sweepstakes contest.
5.) Resolve to purchase a telephone caller ID and an answering machine for elderly relatives who are bothered by too many junk calls and teach them how to use the system, reminding them that "real" friends and family who call will leave a message.
6.) Resolve to stay in touch with elderly relatives, encouraging them to tell you or their friends if they are presented with investment opportunities. Remember that investments are governed by the Maine Office of Securities, whose helpful staff can tell someone whether the investment they are being offered has been properly registered with the state.
7.) Resolve to take time when making a big purchase like an automobile or major appliance, learning all you can about the product beforehand, visiting more than one retailer, negotiating the best price, getting all aspects of the deal in writing and walking away if the sales pitch becomes pressured.
8.) Resolve not to be intimidated by collection calls demanding payment for debts you do not owe. Remember that debt collectors must be licensed by the state and that the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection stands ready to provide assistance and to enforce the laws.
9.) Resolve to be suspicious of any phone call you receive from someone you don't know, including callers who tell you that a virus has been detected on your computer and that you must turn on your computer and give the caller access in order to fix the problem.
10.) If you find yourself providing credit card numbers over the phone to someone you don't know on a call you did not initiate, or are heading to the Western Union window to purchasing prepaid cash cards to send money to someone you don't know, resolve to recognize that you are likely being scammed. Seek immediate advice and assistance.
Lund urges people with questions about items in this Top 10 list or any other issues related to consumer credit or financial concerns to contact the bureau. Its website is www.Credit.Maine.gov and the phone number is 1-800-332-8529.
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