Consumer Protection Overview

No Credit Needed signNew Hampshire’s primary consumer protection law, “Regulation of Business Practices for Consumer Protection,” is commonly known as the Consumer Protection Act (RSA 358-A).   The New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act prohibits the use of any unfair or deceptive act or practice or any unfair method of competition in trade or commerce in New Hampshire. The state law specifically identifies the following practices as unfair or deceptive:

  • Claiming that goods are new or original when they are used, secondhand, deteriorated, reconditioned or altered.
  • Claiming that goods or services have certain characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits or qualities, or certain sponsorship or approval when they really do not have such, or that a person has a certain sponsorship, approval, status, affiliation or connection that he or she really does not have.
  • Falsifying the place of origin of goods or services.
  • Passing off goods or services as someone else’s.
  • Disparaging another business’ goods or services by false or misleading statements.
  • Advertising goods or services with the intent not to sell them as advertised or failing to have a reasonable supply of goods or services provided on hand (unless the advertisement specifically says that quantities are limited).
  • Making false or misleading statements about the existence of, reasons for, or amount of price reductions.
  • Conducting “going out of business sales” which last more than 60 days or which are held more than once every two years by the same owners of the business.
  • Selling gift certificates for $100.00 or less that have expiration dates. (This does not apply to gift certificates or coupons that are given away.)
  • Dormancy fees, latency fees, or any other administrative fees or service charges that have the effect of reducing the total amount for which the holder may redeem a gift certificate are prohibited. (Does not apply to season passes.)

The above list provides examples of deceptive acts and is not an exhaustive list. In addition, some entities are “exempt” from the jurisdiction of the state court regarding consumer protection statutes violations so complaints must be filed with the entities regulating agency. For example, mortgage servicers are regulated by the NH Banking Department, so any complaint against a mortgage servicer regarding violation of NH Consumer Protection statute must be filed with the NH Banking Department.

How to file a Complaint in NH Courts

If you feel a business has violated the Consumer Protection Act, you may file a lawsuit seeking damages in NH state courts. If the court finds a violation, you may be entitled to an award for actual damages, statutory damages of $1,000 and payment of your attorney’s fees. If the court finds a violation was willful, you may be entitled to double or treble damages.

How to file a Complaint with Attorney General’s Office

Alternatively, or in addition to a state court complaint, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Complaints are read and reviewed in the order in which they are received by the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau. The bureau responds to complaints as quickly as possible. Information about how to file a complaint and the complaint review process can be found here.  If the bureau initiates an action against the business, it initiates the investigation and complaint on its own behalf and not as your attorney.

Additional Information

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office provides a Consumer Sourcebook as a comprehensive guide with useful links to the following:

  • General information about the laws that apply to a variety of consumer transactions.
  • Examples of how the law might apply to a situation.
  • Points to keep in mind if you find yourself in a variety of circumstances.
  • Ideas for where to turn for more help.

NH Debt Collection Law

Debt collection practices in New Hampshire are governed by both state statute and federal law: The New Hampshire’s Unfair, Deceptive or Unreasonable Collection Practices Act (RSA 358-C); and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. § 1692-1695.)

Both are designed to instruct debt collectors as well as consumers as to the limits of collection practices, while protecting consumers from abusive debt collection practices. The laws are also in place to provide consumers an avenue for recourse in disputing a claim.

Both the state statute and federal act provide illustrative examples, and expressly allow consumers to sue debt collectors for violations of pertinent statutory provisions.

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector must always:

  • Identify themselves and notify the consumer that any information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt.
  • Give the name and address of the original creditor
  • Notify the consumer of their right to dispute the debt
  • Provide verification of the debt within 30 days of request

If you believe your rights have been violated under any of these laws, consulting with an attorney who regularly handles Consumer Protection cases can make all the difference.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to the right one, at no cost to you.  Call 603-229-0002 or submit an online request form.

Photo credit Flickr Creative Commonsfrankieleon

May Is National Moving Month – Don’t Get Scammed!

May is National Moving Month – the busiest time of the year for people changing residences.  It’s also a busy time of the year for unlicensed movers and scammers.  For tips on how to spot con-artists and avoid scams, check out this video by the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA).

 

 
If you have been scammed by an unscrupulous moving company, contact the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association for a referral to a licensed and insured attorney who represents consumers.  Call (603) 229-0002 or request an online referral.

 
 

LawLine: Free Legal Advice – 800-868-1212

Do you have a BRIEF LEGAL QUESTION? LawLine, the NH Bar Association’s free legal hotline is held on the second Wednesday of each month, from 6 – 8 pm.

Volunteer New Hampshire attorneys will take calls from the public and will give brief legal information and advice. This is a FREE public service. Call 1-800-868-1212.

Do you have more than a brief legal question and suspect you may need an attorney to represent you?  The NH Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to a competent local  attorney who handles your type of legal matter.  Call (603) 229-0002 today or fill out the Lawyer Referral Service request form at:  https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us.

Identity Thieves May File And Receive Your Tax Return

Waiting until April to file your tax return may allow identity thieves to beat you to it.  These crooks file fake returns using stolen names and Social Security numbers, along with false wage information, generating large fraudulent refunds.

“Our cases have increased by about 650 percent since 2008,” says Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, kind of the internal watchdog at the IRS. People go to her when they have a problem with their returns.

The IRS itself says the number of cases has doubled each year in recent years. And a lot of the fraud is coming out of South Florida.

It catches on like fire. It spreads like a virus. Friends tell their friends,” says Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

He calls this crime an epidemic. Fraudsters come from all walks of life: hospital workers, former Marines, white collar professionals and former gang members who have switched from street violence to tax fraud.

Read entire article at NPR.org.

Video Tips from the IRS

If you are a victim of this type of identity theft, contact your Local Taxpayer Advocate.

If you are still not able to resolve your issue, a lawyer  may be able to assist you.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to attorneys who are skilled at handling identity theft legal issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

For other tax related matters, contact the Low-Income Taxpayer Project of the New Hampshire Bar Association.

 

 

 

 

Sports Fans Permitted to Pursue Lawsuit

Sports fans have received the OK from a U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin to pursue a lawsuit against the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and several other networks, claiming antitrust violations in how the games are packaged for broadcast on television or the internet.

The case arose from what the subscribers said were anticompetitive “blackout” agreements between service providers such as Comcast and DirecTV, sports networks and the leagues.

These subscribers contended that if they wanted to watch games from outside their home markets, they were required to buy packages that included all out-of-market games, even if they were interested only in one or a few nonlocal teams.

For example, a New York Yankees fan living in Colorado could not pay simply for access to that team’s games, but had to buy a product such as the MLB Extra Innings television package.

The subscribers sought damages and a halt to arrangements that they said resulted in “reduced output, diminished product quality, diminished choice and suppressed price competition.”

The defendants include Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, several teams in both sports, cable TV company Comcast Corp, satellite TV provider DirecTV, Madison Square Garden Co and some regional sports networks.

Read the entire story by Jonathan Stempel at Thomson Reuters.

Photo by Dan4th at Flickr Commons

 

Consumer Alert: Deed Retrieval Services Solicitations

NEWS RELEASE

Released By      Michael A. Delaney, Attorney General

Subject:              Consumer Advisory About Deed Retrieval Services Solicitations

                     

Date:                      August 3, 2012

Release Time:       Immediate

Contact:        Senior Assistant Attorney General James T. Boffetti

                            Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau

                            (603) 271-0302

                            james.boffetti@doj.nh.gov   

CONSUMER ALERT

Attorney General Michael A. Delaney issued the following consumer alert to all New Hampshire property owners:

Consumers should be aware of mailings being sent to property owners throughout the state from companies using the names:

 SECURED DOCUMENT SERVICES, and DEED RETRIEVAL SERVICES

The mailings appear to be official government notices recommending, “that all United States [or New Hampshire] homeowners obtain a copy of their current grant deed” and further indicate that, for a fee of $86.00 or $87.00, these companies will provide the property owner with a copy of their Grant Deed and a Property Profile.

The Attorney General advises that these companies are providing a service of questionable value and the information advertised in these solicitations can be obtained from any of the State’s Registers of Deeds for significantly less money. With deeds so easily and inexpensively attainable, the existence of these companies depends greatly on the public’s unfamiliarity with the county registers of deeds offices.

 Attorney General Delaney stated, “The real lesson for an educated consumer is to know what you are paying for, which in the case of these deed retrieval companies is virtually nothing more than a homeowner can acquire for far less cost.  Don’t be fooled by a company whose name sounds ‘official’ or by an ‘official’ looking notice designed to confuse and mislead you.  If you would like a copy of your deed, you can obtain it yourself for nominal cost and time, or contact your county’s Register of Deeds, who would be glad to assist you.”

Under New Hampshire’s Consumer Protection Act, N.H. RSA 358-A, it is unlawful for any person to use any unfair or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of any trade or commerce within this state. Anyone who feels they have been the victim of any unfair or deceptive act should call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau hotline at (603) 271-3641 or 1-888-468-4454.  For more information on consumer fraud you can also visit the Bureau’s website at www.doj.nh.gov/consumer.

If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to licensed and insured attorneys who handle consumer protection matters in your area.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

Consumer Protection Watchdog Announces Action Against Capital One

Press Release: Jul 18 2012

CFPB probe into Capital One credit card marketing results in $140 million consumer refund

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced its first public enforcement action with an order requiring Capital One Bank (U.S.A.), N.A. to refund approximately $140 million to two million customers and pay an additional $25 million penalty. This action results from a CFPB examination that identified deceptive marketing tactics used by Capital One’s vendors to pressure or mislead consumers into paying for “add-on products” such as payment protection and credit monitoring when they activated their credit cards.

“Today’s action puts $140 million back in the pockets of two million Capital One customers who were pressured or misled into buying credit card products they didn’t understand, didn’t want, or in some cases, couldn’t even use,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are putting companies on notice that these deceptive practices are against the law and will not be tolerated.”

Through the supervision process, CFPB’s examiners discovered Capital One’s call-center vendors engaged in deceptive tactics to sell the company’s credit card add-on products. These products included “payment protection,” which allows consumers to request that the bank cancel up to 12 months of minimum payments – roughly one percent of their credit card balance – if they encounter certain life events like unemployment and temporary disability. It also provides debt forgiveness in the event of death or permanent disability. Another product was “credit monitoring,” with services such as identity-theft protection, access to “credit education specialists,” and, in some cases, daily monitoring and notification.

Consumers with low credit scores or low credit limits were offered these products by Capital One’s call-center vendors when they called to have their new credit cards activated. As part of the high-pressure tactics Capital One representatives used to sell these add-on products, consumers were:

  • Misled about the benefits of the products: Consumers were sometimes led to believe that the product would improve their credit scores and help them increase the credit limit on their Capital One credit card.
  • Deceived about the nature of the products: Consumers were not always told that buying the products was optional. In other cases, consumers were wrongly told they were required to purchase the product in order to receive full information about it, but that they could cancel the product if they were not satisfied. Many of these consumers later had difficulty canceling when they called to do so.
  • Misled about eligibility:  Although most of the payment protection benefits kicked in when consumers became disabled or lost a job, some call center representatives marketed and sold the product to ineligible unemployed and disabled consumers. Despite paying the full fees, they could not get all the benefits of payment protection; some later filed claims that were denied because their “loss” (e.g. loss of job or onset of disability) occurred prior to enrollment.
  • Misinformed about cost of the products:  Consumers were sometimes led to believe that they would be enrolling in a free product rather than making a purchase.
  • Enrolled without their consent:   Some call center vendors processed the add-on product purchases without the consumer’s consent. Consumers were then automatically billed for the product and often had trouble cancelling the product when they called to do so.

Enforcement Action
Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB has the authority to issue Consent Orders and take action against institutions engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. To ensure that all affected consumers are repaid and that consumers are no longer subject to these misleading and high-pressure tactics, Capital One has agreed to:

  1. End deceptive marketing: Capital One has ceased all marketing of these products, and will not resume doing so until Capital One submits a compliance plan, acceptable to the Bureau, which helps ensure these unlawful acts do not occur in the future.
  2. Complete repayment, plus interest, to two million consumers:  Capital One will pay approximately $140 million to all of the estimated two million consumers who either initially enrolled in a product on or after August 1, 2010, or who tried to cancel a product on or after August 1, 2010, but were persuaded to keep the product after speaking with a call center representative. In addition to the amount paid for the product, cardmembers will receive a refund of the associated finance charges, any over-the-limit fees resulting from the charge for the product, and interest.
  3. Pay claims denied based on ineligibility at enrollment:  For any of these eligible consumers whose payment protection claims were previously denied because their loss occurred prior to enrollment (because of unemployment, disability, etc.), Capital One will pay their claims as if they had been eligible, if that amount is greater than the refund for that consumer.
  4. Convenient repayment for consumers:  If the consumers are still Capital One customers, they will receive a credit to their accounts. If they are no longer a Capital One credit card holder, they will receive a check in the mail. Consumers are not required to take any action to receive their credit or check.
  5. Independent audit:  Compliance with the terms of this agreement will be assured through the work of an independent auditor, who will determine if Capital One has complied with the CFPB’s Consent Order.
  6. $25 million penalty:  Capital One will make a $25 million penalty payment to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

Today’s action is being taken in coordination with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which is separately ordering restitution of approximately $150 million from Capital One. This amount includes the same $140 million refund to be paid to the approximately two million customers harmed by the deceptive marketing practices identified by the CFPB’s examiners. The OCC’s order also includes separate restitution for additional consumers harmed by unfair billing practices taking place between May 2002 and June 2011 in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act. For the combined activity, the OCC is assessing a $35 million civil money penalty against Capital One.

In conjunction with today’s enforcement action, the Bureau is releasing two Consumer Advisories. One advisory is intended to make Capital One customers aware of today’s action and the other serves as a general warning to consumers who may encounter such deceptive practices.

Complaints received by the CFPB indicate – and the Bureau’s supervisory experience confirms – that other consumers have been misled by the marketing and sales practices associated with credit card add-on products. To further protect consumers, the Bureau is issuing a compliance bulletin that puts other institutions on notice that the CFPB will not tolerate deceptive marketing practices, and institutions will be held responsible for the actions of their third-party vendors. Companies engaging in deceptive practices will be expected to refund fees paid by consumers and, particularly where practices are widespread, pay an appropriate penalty.

The full text of the CFPB’s Consent Order

A factsheet on the Consent Order.

Find out how Capital One will handle refunds.

Beware of Smishing!

Smishing is when a scam artist pretends to be a lottery business on your cell phone.   They say you are a winner and ask for your bank information. The calls are computerized and are just calling numbers at random, which is how they get your cellphone number. Watch this video by the Better Business Bureau for more information.

 

 

If you have been “SMISHED” or otherwise scammed, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to an attorney who may be able to assist you with sorting out the financial mess created by the scam artists. Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Campus Debit Cards May Carry Hidden Fees

According to a report by the United States Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG)  many banks are taking advantage of students who need campus debit cards to access their financial aid.  They may appear to be an easy low-cost solution to handling finances while in school, but many of these cards carry excessive hidden fees.

“Campus debit cards are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Rich Williams, one of the co-authors of the USPIRG report, said in a recent press release,  “Students think they can access their dollars freely, but instead their aid is being eaten up in fees.”

Although campus debit cards are not required to access a student’s financial aid, many banks market their product directly on colleges’ financial aid websites, often creating the perception of being the only option.

Debit cards have received less federal oversight. And, according to a study, by the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, an advocacy organization, nearly 900 colleges and universities have card relationships with banks or other financial institutions, some of which manage student aid disbursements by turning student IDs into debit cards. Some schools save money by outsourcing administrative costs. Others receive payments from the banks.

Read the entire article by Jeff Ousley at Veteransunited.com

 

 

Few Borrowers in Foreclosure Apply for Free Review

Only a tiny percentage of the 4.3 million homeowners facing foreclosure have applied for a free foreclosure  review to check for errors, despite the fact that they could be eligible for up to $100,000 if errors are found.

The review process was put into effect as a result of the “robo-signing” scandal, where several banks admitted to mishandling some foreclosure documents, resulting in some homeowners wrongfully losing their homes.

In the wake of the scandal, federal bank regulators required 14 mortgage companies to establish the Independent Foreclosure Review process.

The review costs homeowners nothing, but at last count, only 165,000 people — fewer than 4 percent of those eligible — have applied.

The original April 30 deadline has since been extended to July 31.

Read the entire story by Yuki Noguchi at NPR.

Find out if you are eligible for an independent foreclosure review.

If you are facing foreclosure and would like assistance with reviewing your options, contact a home ownership and loss mitigation counseling agency for free counseling on the options available to you to prevent or mitigate the foreclosure.

If it is determined that you will need the assistance of an attorney, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can help with a referral to a competent attorney who specifically handles foreclosure matters.  Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.