I was impressed by Ms. Gunderson's wish to help her readers and explain things to them correctly -- a difficult task when writing about the law in the few words allowed in a column. I wrote her a note thanking her for mentioning me, and added two suggestions: One, we didn't discuss the small claims court limit, so I didn't know she had found something with the old, lower limit of $7,500. The current limit for small claims court is $10,000. Second, I wish I had thought of NACA.net when we spoke and she asked me how consumers could find an attorney to help with a defective product or service. NACA -- National Association of Consumer Advocates -- attorneys are likely to be much more experienced in handling consumer problems, and NACA attorneys (like me) are all committed on the consumer side of things: to join NACA, you have to agree that you won't represent any business against a consumer.
"Never forget, the law is never settled until it is settled right, it is never right until it is just, and it is never just until it serves society to the fullest."
Note the attempts to make it seem to come from a government source
The folks who prey on the elderly -- the Elderscammers -- never tire of trying to make their scam letters appear to come from an official source (anything that will get you to open them). When you get mail in an envelope that looks like this, your best bet is probably to recycle it immediately without even opening it.
If you are really torqued about their deceptive technique and want to make it a bit more expensive for them, here's one thing you can do: Open the envelope, but only so that you can find out if there is a postage-prepaid "Business Reply Envelope" inside (there often are). If there is a BRE, take a dark marker and write "STOP SENDING ME JUNK" on the reply card, and draw a big X over the part where they want you to give them all your personal information. Then stuff everything they sent you into the BRE, seal it, and drop it in the mail. This has proven remarkably effective at getting them to stop sending me any such junk. Sadly, all my elderly neighbors and friends keep me well supplied in examples of this kind of scam. (This one was another come-on for funeral expenses insurance, the biggest ripoff this side of waterline insurance plans.)
Mixed in with the many honest businesses, I'm sad to say that there are a TON of ethically challenged businesses out there too. They especially prey on elders, offering them outrageously overpriced goods and services, using all the time-tested tricks of the trade, trying to make it look like they are doing you a favor, and that you might have to "qualify" to do business with them -- when the only qualification is excessive trust in strangers by you, and a willingness to give out private information to total strangers. These people will use any information they can get to take advantage of you (and they will sell and trade that information to similarly exploitation-minded outfits -- along with the key fact, that you were so foolish as to respond to their mailing).
There's a good saying that "Good deals don't call you on the telephone" and the same goes in spades for junk mail like this. Honest businesses don't try to make money off you by selling you wildly overpriced insurance. I wish there was a way to require outfits like this to put a skull-and-crossbones watermark on every page of every letter they send out, because then you'd have a chance of realizing what pirates they are.
(hat tip to "The Housekeeping Report")
NCOA Issues Updated Guide for Seniors Considering a Reverse Mortgage
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) today issued the 2013 version of Use Your Home to Stay at Home™, the official reverse mortgage consumer booklet approved by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). The guide is designed to help seniors understand the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are 62 or older to convert home equity into cash while remaining in the home.
Amy Ford, director of NCOA’s Reverse Mortgage Counseling Services Network, called the guide “an older homeowner’s best resource when it comes to examining whether a reverse mortgage is right for them.”
A free copy of the guide is available (download the pdf by clicking here).
The Federal Trade Commission is proposing to weaken the "Cooling Off Rule" that helps protect consumers from abuse by sellers who sell you goods away from their regular place of business (door-to-door, or the traveling shows that rent hotel rooms, etc.).
For whatever strange reason, the FTC is proposing to allow more sales to escape the rule by raising the threshold dollar value from $25 to $130.
This is dumb. Instead of weakening the rule, the FTC should strengthen consumer protection by making it clear that internet sales are covered by the rule. Here's the comment I submitted at the FTC comment site.
Rather than diminish the protections afforded by the cooling off rule, the FTC should instead make clear that all internet sales are presumptively governed by the rule, and require that sellers adhere to the rule for goods and services purchased over the internet except
(1) When the "goods" consist of software that is downloaded immediately upon conclusion of the purchase transaction; or
(2) when the buyer is informed, with a clear and conspicuous disclosure, that the cooling off period is limited to the lesser of three days or the period before seller delivers the goods to the delivery carrier for delivery to the consumer;
AND, if the seller does not transfer the goods to the carrier within the promised period, then the buyer may refuse the goods at delivery and receive a full refund of the total price paid, including delivery charges.