Get to know the connsumer – the connecticut story – march 2016

Kevin Hunt

Does the typical Connecticut consumer know the true meaning of “Get One Free,” where to find unclaimed riches or whether a pro-Trump robocall just broke the law?

Let’s hope not everyone does, because that’s the job of The CONNsumer, a new column dedicated to the state’s largest constituency, the consumer. The bottom line: that’s every state resident — even you, Jeffrey Immelt, and all the short-timers at General Electric — who purchases goods and services for personal use.

Need some help with a prickly consumer problem? Don’t know where to turn or how to fix the issue on your own? We’re here to help — email us at CONNsumer@connecticutmag. com .

Remember to share this consumer wisdom with the (extended) family.

Feeling lucky?

Here’s how to win even if you don’t play the lottery: Look for your name at the CT Big List, the state Treasury’s Unclaimed Property site (www. ctbiglist. com).

The database, searchable by a person’s last name or business name, uncovers unclaimed bank accounts, payroll checks, estates, insurance payouts, bonds or stock proceeds and other funds.

At the end of 2015, the site listed about 1.4 million names of private citizens and organizations entitled to about $758 million in unclaimed property.

In fiscal year 2015, 17,888 owners claimed $61 million in property. The biggest windfall — more than $2.6 million — went to a California business. Someone now living in Florida received almost $1.5 million.

Anyone without Internet access can call 800-833-7318 weekdays between 8 a. m. and 5 p. m.

Get a freebie

How do you identify a consumer who knows Connecticut’s “Get One Free” law? (Hint: It’s not the one gazing at the “Man’s Head Explodes In Barber’s Chair” tabloid headline at the checkout counter.)

Catch an item, up to $20, that scans higher than the posted price and you get that item free. That’s the law covering consumer commodities, defined as items depleted and replaced. The consumer’s obligation: Tell a store representative and ask for the free item.

Don’t get scammed

The IRS does not call taxpayers! The first contact is always by U. S. mail.

That basic information might have saved the 4,550 consumers nationwide who have lost more than $23 million since October 2013 to scam artists identifying themselves as IRS representatives. The scammers call taxpayers and demand money or personal information, sometimes threatening jail time, or deportation, if they don’t pay immediately — often with an untraceable prepaid card.

IRS fraud flashback: Scammers last year called the home of Kevin Sullivan, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Revenue Services. (He didn’t bite.)

More than 736,000 people nationwide have reported contact from IRS scammers since October 2013. If you receive a call, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, using the “Complaint Assistant” at the FTC’s site ( www. ftccomplaintassistant. gov).

Also notify the state attorney general office’s Consumer Assistance Unit (860-808-5420), the state Department of Consumer Protection (860-842-2649) and Department of Revenue Services (860-297-5962).

Know your robocall rights

Any autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing call to a mobile phone without the recipient’s written consent is illegal. That includes automated political calls.

Penalties start at $500 for every call or unsolicited text message. Once you opt out from a telemarketer’s automated calls, the penalties rise to $1,500 per call. Save an image, a printscreen, of every unwanted robocall to your mobile phone or maintain a log with date and time of each call. To file a complaint, go to www. donotcall. gov (the same site where you can add your number to the do-not-call list).

A political robocall to a landline is legal, alas, even if your number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.

$99 well spent

Show your house some love this spring with a $99 energy assessment that almost guarantees your home’s energy efficiency will improve by at least 20 percent. The assessment, part of Energize CT’s Home Energy Solutions Program, is available to all residential customers (renters included) of Eversource, United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas.

During the assessment, which can last half a day, technicians use a powerful fan placed in an exterior doorway that pulls air from the house and identifies leaks when higher-pressure air from the outside filters through unsealed cracks. After this blower-door test, they seal leaks with foam insulation or weatherstripping. They also seal ductwork leaks, then install low-flow showerheads and up to 25 energy-efficient bulbs.

They’ll connect you with rebates on insulation, high-efficiency heating and cooling, ductless heat pumps and other energy-efficient projects.

Whether you know it or not, you’re already funding the Energize Connecticut program through a mandatory contribution that shows up on monthly bills as the Combined Public Benefits Charge. So pay the nominal $99 (no charge for eligible low-income households) and start saving on your energy bill.

For more information, call 1-877-947-3873 or go to www. energizect. com and click on “Home Solutions.”

The balance transfer

How do you pay for a home-improvement project without dipping into savings or applying for a home equity line of credit at the local bank?

Even with interest rates still near historical lows, no bank can match the short-term zero percent rates available to credit card holders with excellent or good credit. Here’s the plan for the next home-improvement project: Pay with a credit card, then immediately transfer the balance to a new card with no transfer fees and zero percent introductory interest rates.

CardHub. com likes Chase’s Slate card, with no annual fee, no transfer fee and zero percent interest for 15 months. Transfer your balance, set the card aside — to avoid interest charges on the balance — then pay it off before the intro rate expires or until you flip it to another low balance-transfer offer. Click here for the CardHub report.

Send your consumer complaints, concerns and tips to CONNsumer@connecticutmag. com.

About the author

​Kevin Hunt is the former consumer columnist (“The Bottom Line”) for The Hartford Courant. His technology column for The Chicago Tribune/Tribune Newspapers was among the longest-running columns of its kind in the country. He now writes for TechHive. com. Vinyl records and music played through vacuum tubes are among the retro tech he still enjoys. Hunt lives on the Connecticut shoreline, where, on a clear day, he can see Long Island.

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