There is good news about the annoying voice on the phone identified as “Rachel,” calling incessantly about credit card accounts — even if we don’t have problems.
The Federal Trade Commission filed lawsuits last week against five firms they say were allegedly responsible for millions of pre-recorded calls from “Rachel” and “Cardholder Services.”
A federal court temporarily halted operations at the firms.
“At the FTC, Rachel from Cardholder Services is public enemy number one,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a news release. “We’re cracking down on illegal robocalls by bringing in law enforcement actions and pursuing technical solutions to the problem.”
The agency is holding a public contest, offering a $50,000 cash prize for the best technical solution to block illegal robocalls on land lines and mobile phone lines.
These calls are most often from companies ignoring the federal Do Not Call rules and are not specifically targeting you. It’s likely they are just cold calls.
Steve Baker, director of the FTC’s Midwest region, which coordinated the Rachel effort, said the five companies have essentially been put out of business.
“We think we have made a significant dent in this industry,” Baker said.
“Has Rachel gone away? No.
“Fraudulent companies that use robocalls are going to be high on our enforcement list,” he said.
State attorneys general in Arizona, Arkansas and Florida also filed lawsuits. The five companies were in Arizona and Florida.
Here’s what to do if you get a call:
• Hang up and don’t press any numbers to talk to a “live” person or to get off the list. That likely will make things worse because you have confirmed their random call reached a working phone number.
Often, the scammers are hijacking real telephone numbers to show up on your Caller ID, but any information can help authorities.
Baker said the complaint data is helpful in tying numbers together during investigations.
Also, consumers who have lost money to Card Services calls are especially helpful to enforcement officials, Baker said.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about special programs offered by local utilities to help with energy savings and energy efficiency, including Dominion East Ohio and Ohio Edison.
You can find that story online on the Home Energy page at www.ohio.com/energy .
I failed to include some of our area communities, which are powered by municipally owned electric companies. Residents in those communities are not eligible for the programs offered by Ohio Edison, but there are programs through their own electric companies.
Communities with municipally owned power are: Cuyahoga Falls, Wadsworth, Marshallville, Orrville, Hudson, Lodi and Seville.
All except Seville participate in a program called Efficiency Smart, which offers rebates on certain Energy Star appliances, rebates for recycling an old refrigerator or freezer and discounts on Energy Star light bulbs and products.
More information is online at www.efficiencysmart.org . Click on “For Your Home.”
Coupons for efficient lighting products will be mailed separately to customers of the Efficiency Smart communities in November or December, said Michael Dougherty, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Falls Electric Department.
Be wary of scams related to Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. After natural disasters, scam artists look to prey on the kindness of strangers.
The national Better Business Bureau, with Western Union, has launched a Scam Stopper consumer education website for scams in general. Information is at www.bbb.org/scam-stopper .
Here is advice from the Summit County Office of Consumer Affairs and the Akron-area Better Business Bureau about Sandy solicitations:
• Do not donate money in response to social media messages, Facebook posts, tweets, unsolicited emails or websites. Summit County Office of Consumer Affairs Director Cynthia Sich said there could be confusion with familiar-sounding names that mimic legitimate organizations.
• Call the Ohio Attorney General at 800-282-0515 to determine if the company asking for a donation is registered to raise funds in Ohio. Information also is available online at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/CharitableSearch.aspx .
• Legitimate charities or fundraisers will send you information about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
• If you have property damage, do not rush into making financial decisions. Contact your insurance company, take pictures of the damage and let your agent know how to reach you.
• Before you hire any service or contractor for home repairs, including tree care, research the company’s complaint history with the Office of Consumer Affairs by calling 330-643-2879.
Get everything in writing, avoid huge down payments and never make cash payments until all work is completed to your satisfaction.
• Read more online at www.co.summit.oh.us/conaffairs.htm .