CT Department of Consumer Protection

This, the last of a four part series published to coincide with the National Consumer Protection Week, March 1-7 (NCPW), focuses on the CT Department of Consumer Protection (CTDCP). Since so many of our members reside in Connecticut, it just seemed appropriate.

The three previous articles:

CTDCP: Mission Statement: To ensure a fair and equitable marketplace, safe products and services for consumers in the industries that we license, regulate and enforce.

In a nutshell, the CTDCP looks out for consumers by the following:

We License: Each year, the Department of Consumer Protection issues over 200,000 licenses, registrations, and permits for more than 200 types of jobs and businesses, including pharmacies, liquor stores, casinos, mobile home parks, electricians, home improvement contractors, lottery agents and real estate brokers, to name just a few. We also oversee food and beverage industries, to ensure safety and wholesomeness. We regulate gasoline retailers and home heating fuel dealers, and oversee the production and distribution of all prescription medication in the state.

We Regulate: We enforce many federal and state laws, investigate consumer complaints and mediate disputes between consumers and businesses. The Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act gives us broad authority over unfair business activity and offers the possibility of financial restitution for consumers who have been unfairly treated. The Pure Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the State Child Protection Act and the Weights and Measures Act also help us safeguard residents from harmful products and from unfair or dishonest treatment.

We Monitor: To protect citizens from unfair businesses and unsafe products, we continually monitor the marketplace and remove tainted, fraudulent, and dangerous products from store shelves. We inspect gasoline pumps, scales and all measuring devices used in business to ensure their accuracy. We prevent the illegal sale or prescribing of prescription drugs, and we work to put scam artists out of business and to keep alcoholic beverages away from minors and intoxicated persons. We also ensure the integrity of all forms of legalized gaming.

We Protect: A written complaint is the first step a consumer must take to alert us of a problem. We carefully review each complaint, investigate as needed, and work to find a solution that restores fairness, ensures legal compliance, and wherever possible and appropriate, provides monetary restitution to the consumer.

Wow!
That’s a pretty broad sweep of responsibility. There’s no way that we could tell you all about it, except by republishing their web site, and nobody wants that.

But Be Informed!
Still, most everyone at sometime or other has need for services and products from providers that CTDCP regulates and monitors, so it really isn’t a bad idea to have a working knowledge of the CTDCP structure and what regulations it applies to protect us, the Connecticut consumers. So, read on for a short overview of the CTDCP organization and how it protects us. Not a bad idea to bookmark their web site as well: CTDCP. Continue reading

Malware Can Hurt – Protect Yourself

Malware is short for “malicious software.”  It includes viruses and spyware that get installed on your computer, phone, or mobile device without your consent. These programs can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity. Criminals use malware to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud.

Today’s article focuses on Malware and how to protect yourself. This is the third in a series of four articles in support of NCPW logoNational Consumer Protection Week (NCPW).This year, NCPW takes place March 1-7, 2015. NCPW highlights free resources from government agencies and consumer organizations to help people make smarter buying decisions and spot rip-offs. Visit www.ncpw.gov to find out more.

First two articles:

Today’s material is taken the government site “OnGuardOnline.gov“, which is a federal government website to help you be safe, secure and responsible online.  Continue reading

Identity Theft – Yes It Can Happen To You!

EveNCPW logory year, National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) encourages people and businesses to learn more about avoiding scams and understanding consumer rights. This year, NCPW takes place March 1-7, 2015. NCPW highlights free resources from government agencies and consumer organizations to help people make smarter buying decisions and spot rip-offs. Visit www.ncpw.gov to find out about consumer education materials available from NCPW partners, and order free FTC materials.

Tri-Town Apple Is On Board
We’re getting with the program and will publish four articles under the banner of consumer protection, beginning last week with an introduction to NCPW. This article focuses on perhaps the most important topic, Identity Theft.

It Can Happen
If you think it can’t happen to you, think again. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, there were 12 million cases of identity theft in the U.S. during 2012. If you do the math, that’s one every 3 seconds!

“Consumers and institutions are now starting to act as partners—detecting and stopping fraud faster than ever before. But fraudsters are acting quicker than ever before and victimizing more consumers. Consumers must take data breach notifications more seriously and maintain vigilance to safeguard personal information, especially Social Security numbers.” Jim Van Dyke, CEO of Javelin Strategy & Research

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) views Identity Theft as a serious threat:

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation – and it can take time, money, and patience to resolve. – FTC Taking Charge

This can happen to you!

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief might even file a tax return in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest. – FTC

So what should we do to protect ourselves?
The FTC provides a thorough list of steps that everyone should be aware of:

  • First of all there are a number of precautions that we all can follow to lower the risk of having our identity stolen.
  • Secondly, monitor key information:
    • Review Your Credit Reports – You have the right to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.
    • Read Your Account and Billing Statements.
    • Review Your Explanation of Medical Benefits.
    • Respond Quickly to Notices from the Internal Revenue Service.
  • If it happens, you want to minimize the impact and rectify the damage as quickly as possible. The FTC has published a very complete booklet, “What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen“. In it are critical first steps you should take:
    • Place an Initial Fraud Alert
    • Order Your Credit Reports
    • Create an Identity Theft Report
  • Beyond these very important first steps are many other actions you may want to take, for example filing a FTC Identity Theft Affidavit. There are sample forms and letters to help you communicate with the many financial institutions and agencies  if your wallet or other information

Obtain a Copy
It would not be a bad idea to have a copy of this document in your possession. They are available from FTC, free. Or the Tri-Town Teachers Credit Union has a supply. Stop by and pick up a copy.

Tri-Town Teachers Federal Credit Union
61 Jesup Road
Westport, CT 06880

Be Prepared
In a nutshell, Identity Theft is very real. It is very serious. It very well can happen to you, especially if you are not taking all precautions. But even if you do take the best precautions, it may still happen to you. So be prepared, obtain a copy of the FTC booklet “What To Do I Your Identity Is Stolen“.

Being prepared will cost you nothing. Being ill-prepared could cost you really serious time, money and worry.

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Thank you for reading the Tri-Town Apple.

National Consumer Protection Week, March 1-7

We received a newsletter last week from the FTC. Among the items highlighted was a notice about the National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), which begins  March 1. Since Tri-Town Apple’s purpose is to provide useful and beneficial information to the Tri-Town Teachers Credit Union  membership, it seemed appropriate to look into this. We had never heard of the NCPW. Here’s what we found:

EveNCPW logory year, National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) encourages people and businesses to learn more about avoiding scams and understanding consumer rights. This year, NCPW takes place March 1-7, 2015. NCPW highlights free resources from government agencies and consumer organizations to help people make smarter buying decisions and spot rip-offs. Visit www.ncpw.gov to find out about consumer education materials available from NCPW partners, and order free FTC materials.

We discovered a vast collection of resources on the web, made available by about 75 government agencies (federal, state & local) and other organizations, such as the AARP & Consumers Union (part of Consumer Reports). We are going to focus on this subject over the next four weeks, but there is no way we can even begin to bring breath and depth of this information to light here. Today’s article is the introduction. We’ll cover three of these topics  in the next three articles.

We strongly urge you to take a quick look at the summarized list of topics below. If one or more of these topics relates to a concern or question you have, click here or on the image below for more information.

ncpw.01

Was This Helpful?

We hope this post helpful. Let us know, leave a comment. Tell us what topics would most help you. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading the Tri-Town Apple.

 

 

Is It Time to Recalculate Your Withholding?

Reprint From 4/29/2014: Handy Tool: IRS Withholding Calculator

Last year (2014), Tri-Town Apple published two articles about adjusting your federal withholding tax amount. Since we are into this year’s “tax season”, we thought it might be a good idea to reprint that information to help anyone who feels they need to have more, or less, money withheld from their paycheck.

Since many of our members live and work in Connecticut, we included a link to the CT W-4 Form. We also included a link to a CT publication which explains the withholding requirements for tax year 2014, contains tables for computing withholding amounts, and the necessary forms. Since it doesn’t appear that Connecticut has published an updated version, we’ll leave the link to the 2014 version in place.

Connecticut Income Tax Withholding Requirements for Connecticut Employees
Effective January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2014.

 

Yes, it’s that time of year again, Tax SeasonToday we’re turning our attention to an important factor in almost anyone’s yearly tax experience, namely the amount of money already paid to the government, either withholding or estimated payments, compared to the amount of tax owed. In particular, today’s post is about withholding, but the thoughts apply to estimated taxes as well.

Did You Withhold Enough or Too Much
If you’ve been under withheld sometime in the past, you probably know that there can be penalties and interest charged when this is the case. On a straight dollars and cents view, this is something you would like to avoid.

At the same time, you don’t want to give the government substantially more money than necessary during the year. Yes, the excess will be returned as a refund, but you lost the earning power of those funds for a period of time.

What Would You Like To Do
So, what most taxpayers would like to do is come out about even when they figure out their yearly taxes. That is, during the year, they had withheld just about the same amount as they owe in taxes. Some people prefer to have a bit of withholding cushion, i.e. they over  withhold slightly to assure they do not have to write a check to the IRS on April 15 and they will have a small refund coming. Others prefer to under withhold slightly, not enough to cause a penalty. They, of course, make up the difference with a check to the IRS. It’s a matter of personal preferences.

OK, that introduction is essentially Tax Paying 101. Most people are familiar with that. What they may not have is an easy way to calculate how much withholding they should have taken out of their earnings and how to change the amount withheld.

Here’s the Tool You Need
If that describes you, then here’s what you are looking for, the IRS Withholding Calculator. It will help you determine what you need to have withheld to achieve the level you are looking for, (i.e. to hit the tax amount right on, have a little over withheld, or perhaps under withhold slightly). It’s your call.

Online W-4
There’s even a W-4 Form download available (that’s the form you give to your employer to set the withholding amount). You can fill in the blanks on the W-4 Form online and print a copy to submit to your employer. You can also save a copy on your computer, so you will always have a record of what your current W-4 withholding is. Not bad.

Visit Our Tools Page
We’ll bring this up again, right after the tax deadline, to help those who, after doing their 2013 taxes, decide they need to change their withholding. But if you want to take a look at your withholding some time between now and late April, just remember this. The Tri-Town Apple has a Tools Page and the link to the IRS Withholding Calculator is there.

Not only is the Withholding Calculator there, but there are many more useful calculators, checklists, guides, and other tools. Check it out!

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Automotive Series

Over the last few months, Tri-Town Apple has published a series of articles (7) on the acquisition and care of an automobile. for the most part these were based on material from the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC)  web site for consumer information.

Series Summary

This article is a summary of the seven series articles with links to each of them. Keep it in mind or bookmark it. The next time you’re looking for a car, considering a service contract, or facing major repairs, give the appropriate article a read. It can’t hurt and you might save yourself yourself some serious money and/or hassle.

Buying a New Car:

A new car is second only to a home as the most expensive purchase many consumers make. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States is about $30,000. That’s why it’s important to know how to make a smart deal. – Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) 

Buying a Used Car:

Buying and owning an automobile for most all of us, is a life-long experience. The purchase cost, especially for a new car, may be second only to a home purchase or college tuition in size. Buying a used car is fraught with it’s own set of hidden pitfalls. And whether new or used, auto ownership will involve maintenance & repair questions, warranty issues, and eventually  questions about trade-in value.

Used Car Warranties:

When you buy a used car from a dealer, get the original or a copy of the final Buyers Guide that was posted in the vehicle. The Guide must reflect any negotiated changes in warranty coverage. It also becomes part of your sales contract and overrides any contrary provisions.

Automotive Services Contracts:

A service contract is a promise to perform (or pay for) certain repairs or services. Although a service contract is sometimes called an extended warranty, it is not a warranty as defined by federal law. A service contract may be arranged any time and always costs extra; a warranty comes with a new car and is included in the original price.

Renting a Car:

Even though most of us do own a car, we have the need to rent a car now and then, e.g. for vacation or business travels. Comparing prices online can save you a bundle. But make sure you compare the total cost — not just the advertised rate — because fees and options can increase the base price dramatically.

Auto Repair Basics:

Buying can be fun, repairing never is!

Car: Purchase or Lease?

The rate of leasing in the United States was higher last year than at any time in more than a decade, according to data provided by Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book.

 

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We hope this post helpful. Let us know, leave a comment. Tell us what topics would most help you. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading the Tri-Town Apple.

 

Car: Purchase or Lease?

In a recent New York Times Article (Auto Leasing Gains Popularity Among American Consumers) the author, Aaron Kessler, reported that not only are cars sales up generally, but that the number automobiles acquired through leases as opposed to purchase has risen sharply:

1-27-2015 1-28-06 PMThe rate of leasing in the United States was higher last year than at any time in more than a decade, according to data provided by Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book.
More than one out of every four new vehicles were rented, rather than bought, by American consumers — and the percentage choosing a lease has risen sharply over just the last two years. It is now roughly 27 percent, up from 22 percent in 2012, according to Edmunds.

So clearly a larger portion of the buying public believe that leasing an automobile is the better option for them.

What About You?

Would car leasing , rather than purchase, be a good strategy for you? Like so many questions in life, the answer is, “It all depends.” But there are several considerations that can help you decide whether it may be an option worth pursuing. Continue reading for our thoughts on these factors.

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