CFA News Update- December 22, 2011

Guide Helps Consumers Get the Auto Insurance Settlement They Deserve

Filing an insurance claim can involve lots of paperwork and procedures.  Knowing what steps to take (and keeping good records) is the best way to insure that your claim is settled fairly.  To help consumers through that often intimidating process, CFA has released a new comprehensive guide to navigating the auto claims maze.  “Most people are intimidated when they file an auto insurance claim, perhaps because they have never done it before or are worried about getting less than they deserve for personal injuries or damages to their car,” said CFA’s new Insurance Claims’ Projects Director Mark Romano.  “Unfortunately, some insurance companies have begun using practices in recent years – such as computerized systems that don’t adequately consider the individual circumstances of each claim – that can result in an unfairly low settlement for consumers.”

Released just in time for a holiday travel season in which an estimated 325,000 auto accidents are expected to occur, the guide also includes a handy two-page checklist that consumers can use to keep track of key information and to make sure they are treated fairly.

Tips for a “Food-Safe” Holiday Season

For many Americans, holidays are celebrated with special meals, but food, especially raw foods, can be contaminated with deadly foodborne pathogens.  As consumers prepare for the holidays, Consumer Federation of America released tips for having a “food-safe” holiday season.  “When preparing meals for family and friends during the holidays, or anytime during the year, consumers can take steps in the kitchen to help reduce their risk of foodborne illness,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of CFA’s Food Policy Institute.  “Consumers should follow these four important safe food handling steps: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.”  In addition to detailed tips in each of these four categories, the release includes advice for safe food shopping.

Avoiding Payment Scams While Holiday Shopping

Crooks are always looking for new ways to get people’s money, and they don’t take holidays off.  Now some fraudsters are luring victims to send them money through MoneyPak®, a product that is designed to allow consumers to load cash to prepaid cards or make transactions with approved merchants. In one common scenario, the crooks advertise merchandise online for great prices and ask for payment via MoneyPak®.  But they’re not MoneyPak® partners – they simply pocket the cash and never deliver the orders. To help consumers recognize the tell-tale signs of these scams and avoid losing their money, CFA has released new tips and an entertaining video in partnership with the Green Dot Corporation, which makes MoneyPak®. “Scammers take advantage of many different payment systems,” said CFA Consumer Protection Director Susan Grant. “It’s a problem year-round, but during the holiday season it’s especially important for consumers to be aware of how crooks may try to get their hard-earned cash.”

Advocates Cheer End to Costly Bank Refund Anticipation Loans

Taxpayers who struggle to make ends meet got an early Christmas gift this month, when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reached a settlement with Republic Bank & Trust, which requires the bank to terminate its refund anticipation loan (RAL) program after the end of the next tax season. CFA, Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina, and the National Consumer Law Center issued a release cheering the settlement.  “The FDIC action is an important step toward protecting families who struggle to make ends meet from unfair bank credit products and practices,” said CFA Financial Services Director Jean Ann Fox. “With a confirmed director, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be empowered to protect consumers from similar loans sold by nonbank lenders,” she added.

Privacy Victory for Consumers

Consumers scored a major privacy victory when House “robo-call” legislation (H.R. 3035) was withdrawn by its sponsors due to public outcry.  The bill would have significantly weakened existing protections that prohibit calls to cell phones by debt collectors and other companies using prerecorded messages and auto-dialers.  CFA and other groups wrote Congress to oppose the legislation.  “This is a great holiday gift for consumers who want to keep control over calls to their cell-phones,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s Director of Consumer Protection.

Happy Holidays!

CFAnews Update wishes its readers a safe and happy holiday season.  We will be back in the New Year.