Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

April 2013 Archives

Would it surprise you that almost 1 in 4 Americans have never seen their credit report?

A new FindLaw survey shows that not only do nearly a quarter of Americans live in ignorance of their credit information, you may be less likely to have checked your credit score based on your sex.

The survey finds that while 18% of women have never checked their credit report, among men the rate is 25%.

Those who make more income are also generally more likely to be aware of their credit information, but up to 14% of individuals making over $75,000 annually claim they have never checked their credit reports either.

Why stay in the dark about your credit?

Here are three reasons to check your credit report today.

1. You See What Credit Reporting Agencies See.

When you receive your credit report, you will see the same sort of information that the credit reporting agencies see.

This information includes:

  • Your prior addresses and phone numbers,
  • Bank accounts and loans listed under your name,
  • A monthly analysis of each account (were you late on payments?),
  • Whether an account is in collections or foreclosure, and
  • Who accessed your account.

If you see any mistakes or surprises in the report, you can contact the credit reporting agency to resolve the problem.

2. Keep An Eye on Fraud.

Since you'll have access to any accounts opened in your name, keeping yourself familiar with your annual credit report is a great way to stay alert with regard to fraud.

If you find an account or loan that was opened without your knowledge or permission, contact the credit reporting agency and issue a fraud alert.

The Federal Trade Commission has more information about how to protect your credit if you suspect you've been the victim of identity theft.

3. It's Your Right As a Consumer.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was passed in order to protect consumers and regulate credit reporting agencies.

This law guarantees that each of the three national credit reporting agencies provide consumers a free copy of their credit report every 12 months. You can go to annualcreditreport.com to get your three free reports.

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Beware Boston Bombing-Related Malware, Charity Scams

Internet users have been keeping tabs on the tragic events in Boston, and so have hackers and spammers. If you've received unsolicited emails about the Boston bombing in the last couple days, odds are that you've been the target of a malware attack or charity scam.

Here are some ways to identify these threats and protect yourself.

The Malware Threat

Within hours of the Boston Marathon bombings, scammers were hard at work, reports TechNewsDaily. They created email spam messages that contained heading keywords like "Boston" or "Explosion" and invited users to click their links to see pictures and videos, according to the website HotForSecurity.

Clicking on those links can lead to seemingly innocuous pages with videos of the Boston Marathon -- but in the background, your computer may be infected by a Trojan horse virus.

There are three things you can do to protect yourself from malware:

  1. Don't click on links in unsolicited emails. If you get a link an unexpected email with a link from a friend or relative, contact them first to see if they have sent you anything.
  2. Have antivirus software enabled. This software will often warn you when you open a potentially dangerous link.
  3. Use your common sense. When an email or website looks like a bunch of random keywords and links, delete or ignore it.

Charity Scams

Some of these suspicious emails will contain links to charitable organizations claiming to be portals for donating money or pledging support. Once these links are clicked, you'll be taken to a website where you can input your credit card information, address, name, phone number and other valuable personal data.

Identity thieves will then use this information to access your bank accounts, credit cards, and financial information.

If you feel you've been the victim of a charity scam or worry that a link is untrustworthy, you can:

Contact the Better Business Bureau. This organization can help you to report any "charity" you think is fraudulent and can educate you on avoiding scams in the future.

Contact the consumer protection agency in your state. These agencies can investigate any complaints about money lost or information taken by a charity scam and inform you of your rights as a consumer.

Be skeptical and ask questions. If you haven't heard of an organization before and don't feel comfortable giving them your information, then don't. Even if you donate through a trusted charity, do it from their main website and not through a link in your email or on Facebook.

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News of an urgent recall of Alysena-28 birth control pills has understandably terrified patients who take the pill. According to the distributor, Apotex, one batch of the Alysena-28 pills may contain two weeks of placebo pills instead of one, CBC News reports.

Though the birth control recall is in Canada, it's a good reminder of why it is so important to stay informed about prescription drug recalls.

Recalls usually only affect a small amount of manufactured products. But when a recall involves potentially long-lasting consequences, like an unintended pregnancy, staying on top of the information is key.

Once you have been made aware of a prescription drug that has been recalled, stop using it and contact your healthcare provider. In the birth control recall, the women who may have received a faulty set of pills should stop using the placebo pills and use a backup birth control instead.

The next step is to determine what action is appropriate for you. In this case, plaintiffs who get pregnant because of the extra pills could pursue a lawsuit to make Apotex shoulder some of the costs of rearing the unexpected child. Similarly, if you are taking a recalled drug that has long-lasting consequences, you may have a right to recall remedies.

This is not to say that drug manufacturers are not without defenses. In Apotex's case, since the extra placebo pills were white and the active pills were blue, Apotex can defend themselves against lawsuits from patients who were used to taking the medicine, because the color difference would be pretty visible to them. But for new patients who just received a pack, the difference might not have been as easy to spot.

To the horror of patients in Canada who fear they may have taken the recalled Alysena birth control pills, Apotex had only informed wholesalers and retails about the recall. Apotex did not intitially contact the women who are taking the pill. For this reason, it is critical for people who take prescription pills -- especially oral contraceptives -- to be their own advocates and stay informed about drug recalls.

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Are Travelers' Checks Still Legally Valid?

Summer is around the corner and folks are getting ready to pack their knapsacks for a sojourn in a faraway land. But what's the best way for travelers to carry their hard-earned cash?

For those who are afraid of traveling with large amounts of cash or credit/debit cards, you may have entertained the idea of travelers' checks. They function like cash, but can be replaced if lost of stolen. But are they still legally valid?

The answer largely depends on where you are going. The golden era of travelers' checks is over in many areas, but is still a great option for others.

Europe

If you're heading to Europe, get your rubberbands ready because cold hard cash is the way to go, Budget Travel reports. In Europe, travelers' checks hail from yesteryear. Regardless of whether they're in euros, many retailers and hotels in Europe no longer accept them as valid forms of payment.

The United Kingdom

Following suit, the United Kingdom has largely bid adieu to the use of travelers' checks. In fact, a major government oversight hopes to ban all paper checks by 2018, says Budget Travel.

If you really want to take travelers' checks to Europe or the UK, you could take them to a bank and cash them for local currency -- but only after paying conversion fees. Get ready to endure some some sticker shock, because you'll be charged fees of up to $9.00 to cash those checks.

China

If your summer voyage includes a trip to places like China, you're in luck. Travelers' checks are a great option here. Because fees are low, and the exchange rate is regulated by the Chinese government, travelers' checks present an incredibly safe and affordable way to swap your Benjamins (or Washingtons...) for yuan. This is a particularly useful option if you are venturing out to more rural areas that may not have readily accessible ATM machines.

Before investing in a stack of travelers' checks, check out the policies of your bank and your vacation destination. If all else fails, there's always bartering.

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Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia are grappling with one of the largest recalls ever involving 1.9 million vehicles sold in the United States.

In a separate recall, Japanese automaker Subaru is recalling 200,000 vehicles for brake line cracks, NBC News reports.

Vehicle recalls and defects can lead to serious accidents and injuries. Hyundai, Kia, and Subaru could potentially face legal liability for any injuries that may have resulted from the taillight, electronic control or airbag defects.

Car Defect Liability

Under the doctrine of strict liability, no matter what steps Hyundai, Kia and Subaru took in designing, assembling, or handling their cars, they could be liable to an injured driver if the following conditions are met:

  1. The car or one of its components had an "unreasonably dangerous" defect that injured you. In Hyundai's case, customers have experienced serious lacerations to their ears during crashes, due to the installation of a special auto-dimming mirror.
  2. The defect caused an injury while the car was being used in its intended manner. For drivers injured by the defects, this condition will depend on the facts of each injured driver's case.
  3. The car's performance is close to its original condition. For example, customers who sustained injuries from recalled Subaru models manufactured between 2003 and 2007 might face some difficulty in meeting this condition.

Notifying Customers

Before the lawsuits start rolling in, Kia, Hyundai, and Subaru's major concern will be to notify affected owners. Manufacturers are legally obligated to give notice of the recalls to affected customers. Each notification must contain the following information:

  • A description of the defect,
  • The risk or hazard posed by the problem,
  • A brief description of the free remedy, and
  • A description of what the owner can do if she is unable to have the problem corrected within a reasonable time and without charge.

Remedying the Defect

Once a defect determination is made, the law gives the manufacturer three options for remedying the defect: repair, replace, or refund. All three manufacturers in the recall are promptly notifying customers affected by the massive recalls and plan to repair the affected vehicles at no charge, NBC News reports.

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