Here are some timely things to know:
A reader emailed last week and asked whether a check he had received for $18.04 from the Foreign Currency Fee Litigation Settlement Fund was legitimate. He had looked up a website mentioned, www. ccfsettlement.com and found a phone number of 888-567-5450, but still wasn't positive.
Of course, I report all the time about how scammers will send you a bogus check and once you cash it, it'll bounce and you'll be out the money. So it's natural that this reader was questioning the check.
In this case, it appears to be legitimate. In December 2007, I wrote about a class-action lawsuit against Visa, Mastercard and Diner's Club regarding foreign card fees they charged in the previous 10 years on credit and debit cards.
The lawsuit alleged the companies conspired to set and hide the price of foreign transactions, including fees, which were typically 1 to 3 percent, in violation of state and federal laws.
People who filed for a claim in the proposed settlement before May 30, 2008, were entitled to part of the settlement. The most popular option was a flat $25 refund and other options were 1 percent of a total estimate of fees or a very labor-intensive option of 1 to 3 percent of actual fees paid.
Originally, the settlement was $336 million. I'm not sure whether that's the final amount, but I was able to confirm on the website as well as find settlement documents in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York, so I am fairly confident the checks are legitimate. The website does not explain how the settlement amounts came about, but I suspect with attorney and court fees, that might be why the settlement is around $18 instead of $25. The website said there are more than 10 million claims, so be patient while checks are cut and distributed. Consumers can look for more updates on that website or at that phone number.
I put in for a settlement and haven't seen a check yet, but I'm sure it's coming. The reader said when he went to the bank to deposit his check, the tellers said a few others had brought in similar checks to deposit.
Eighteen bucks won't get you much, but at least it's something. And it only took four years!
As always, be careful with possible scams involving people getting these checks. If your check seems too large or doesn't match information you can find on the Web or through that phone number, be suspicious.
I've received a few calls and emails from readers whose natural gas bills have recently switched over to what is called the Standard Service Offer (SSO) and will then be switching over to the Standard Choice Offer (SCO), which I've done myself.
Remember, I decided to go with the SCO, or the monthly variable price regulated by the state-approved formula, because the prices are so low compared to fixed rates and look to remain that way.
Here are some details for those watching bills closely:
When you switch, you'll get the SSO price for two months before being placed on the SCO with a randomly selected provider by Dominion. I've said in the past that the SSO and SCO prices are exactly the same. There is what’s called a rider that SCO customers get a credit on and SSO customers don't. It’s .0173/mcf, or about 2 cents per mcf, which isn’t much.
When you get your first SSO bill, it will look different from previous bills with another provider.
SCO bills are the same as with a provider you select in that the Dominion basic monthly charge is listed as a separate item.
That is a flat $20.37. Usage charges, which are for delivery, are currently at $1.1189/mcf or rounded to $1.19/mcf).
When you move to the SSO bill, Dominion lists the basic monthly charge and then combines the usage-based charge with the SSO rate for one price. So consumers are confused when they see a price per mcf that is higher than the quoted SSO/SCO rate I put in the paper (for November, it was $4.52/mcf and for December, it is $4.36/mcf).
If you read the small print below, it kind of helps, but could be confusing. It says the charges include a total amount for the SSO at the rate listed.
So, bottom line, you’re getting the right rate; the bill is just confusing. For the two months you are on the SSO, you are paying an additional 2 cents/mcf and a gross receipts tax on your gas usage (4.6044 percent) instead of sales tax when you move to the SCO or have your own provider.
Once you move to the SCO, you'll see the delivery or usage-based charges on a separate line again.
For simplicity’s sake, I usually quote the SCO for a particular month. In actuality, the SCO changes monthly, usually around the ninth, but it can vary. The actual rate you get depends on what date your meter is read. So, for instance, if your meter was read Dec. 8 and your bill was prepared shortly after, you'll get the November SCO rate, even though the new SCO rate started on Dec. 9. Customers whose meter are read on the ninth or later will get the December rate.
If you need a refresher on what I've done or what you need to do, all of my natural gas columns are available online at www.ohio.com/betty.
I've warned of this scam before, but the experience of Robert Showalter of Akron is a good reminder for older readers to be careful. The “Granny scammer” or “Grandparent scammer” will make a distressed phone call to a grandparent pretending to be that person's grandchild. The caller explains that he or she is traveling in Canada or some other foreign country and has been arrested or involved in an auto accident and needs the grandparent to wire money to post bail or pay for damages — usually a few thousand dollars.
While many people have reported the scam without falling for it, unfortunately some are victimized. One grandmother sent $15,000 to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident.
When I asked Showalter whether the scammers knew his grandchild's name, Showalter said he thinks he helped the scammer unknowingly. When the caller said he was Showalter's grandson, Showalter said the grandson's name and the caller picked up on it.
But Showalter said his heart strings were pulled when he thought his grandson, whom he hasn't talked to in years, was calling for help.
“I got all excited. I hadn’t heard from my grandson for so long. I'd spend the $2,900 if I could talk to him ... I grabbed my checkbook and was heading for the bank and then thought, ‘Wait, wait, wait, this doesn’t sound right,’ ” Showalter said.
After he spoke to some friends, who looked up the scam on the Internet, Showalter said he knew he had been almost duped.
Showalter said if he ever gets a similar call, he'll ask for information about the grandson's brothers or sisters or his grandmother's name.
Or “I'd start speaking to him in German and see if he’s going to speak back.”
Beacon Journal business writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or by email at email@example.com.