Vol. I Issue 3 September 21, 2000 CONSUMER ALERT A Publication of the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs Philip S. Porter, Administrator/Consumer Advocate Prepaid Legal Services Prepaid legal services are provider attorney who either handles prepaid legal services company must becoming increasingly popular in the matter or refers it to a local register with the Department. Also, South Carolina. Have you ever attorney in the consumer’s area. legal services sales representatives heard of prepaid legal services? Indeed, prepaid legal must be appointed a representative Perhaps not, but they have been services may be convenient for the of a particular prepaid legal service around for the past 25 years. The consumer, yet, there are certain company by filing with the state of South Carolina defines cautions that a consumer must Department. prepaid legal services as legal consider prior to joining a prepaid Please see the Consumer Checklist below services provided by an individual legal service group. The consumer prior to hiring legal counsel. licensed or admitted to practice law in the jurisdiction in which the should know what kinds of legal services he or she needs to make sure CONSUMER services are rendered, and which are provided in return for a their specific needs are included in their contract. Know what is not CHECKLIST predetermined specific periodic fee. included. Many matters, such as Middle income North DUI defense or domestic cases, are 1. Know what kind of legal services you need, or may anticipate needing. Americans are the target of prepaid excluded and some contracts are legal services. Generally, a prepaid limited to business or personal 2. Before signing the contract, check to see if it is a business or a personal group appeals to consumers because policies. The consumer should read policy. finding an attorney can be expensive and understand the contract prior to and prepaid legal services provide a signing. If the consumer is not 3. See if the total cost covers legal fees and the actual costs that may occur. chance for consumers to have legal satisfied with the answers that the support at low monthly costs. The sales representatives give to his or 4. Will a time arise that you may have to pay beyond the agreed legal fees? consumer buys into a plan and pays her questions then the consumer on a month to month basis. should not sign the contract. 5. Look at the exclusions stated in the Prepaid legal services’ plans Another important step is contract. operate like HMOs. A consumer checking with the South Carolina 6. Are you getting satisfactory buys a plan that provides them with Department of Consumer Affairs to answers from the salesperson? certain legal services. When the see if the prepaid legal service group 7. Most importantly, make sure that need arises, the consumer contacts a is registered. You can contact this you have read and that you completely Department be calling 1-800-922- understand the contract. 1594. The South Carolina In this issue: Department of Consumer Affairs Prepaid Legal Services.............................1 Consumer Checklist.................................1 licenses and regulates all prepaid Consumer Education................................2 legal services as of July 1, 2000. Fast Facts..................................................2 Scams.......................................................2 That is, prior to commencing business in South Carolina, any S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs 3600 Forest Drive, Suite 300/P.O. Box 5757 Columbia, SC 29250 (803) 734-4190 or 1-800-922-1594 *All information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed Vol. I Issue 3 September 21, 2000 CONSUMER EDUCATION: Teachers please discuss this concept Facts for SCAMS with your students! The South Carolina Department of Consumers: Online Auctions Top List of Internet Consumer Affairs offers the Solving Consumer Problems: Fraud at Internet Fraud Center: following services to consumers: Fast Facts: In the year of Y2K, the number one source of fraud according to the FBI is *Analysis and investigation of individual *Whenever you have a problem with online auctions. This past year the FBI along with the Department of Justice complaints; a product or service, first discuss set up the Internet Fraud Complaint *Investigation of business practices if your complaint with the merchant. Center. Since it opened in May 2000, patterns of fraud are indicated or suspected; *If necessary, write a letter to the the Center has received approximately *Referral to agencies with direct company’s consumer affairs office or 1,000 complaints a week. Though not jurisdiction for immediate and specific fully up and running the Center expects assistance; its president. Your letter should be at least 1,000 complaints a day starting *Public educational and informational brief and to the point. See the November 2000 when the Center will programs designed to educate the consumer sample letter below. be linked to such major search engines *You also might contact as Yahoo and America Online. The about credit practices and problems, unfair FBI has referred some 4,000 cases to and deceptive practices, remedies and relief organizations and agencies that law enforcement agencies concerning available to consumers; provide consumer assistance. In online auctions confirming suspicions *Initiation of and participation in legal addition, dispute resolution programs fueled by tales of fraudulent paintings actions to prevent individuals from offer more substantive consumer and kidneys sold for transplants. The violating the S.C. Consumer Protection second most common complaint assistance through mediation and received by the center is products that Code, to prohibit unconscionable conduct, arbitration. are ordered but never received. and to protect consumers from paying Victims of this scam have lost an excessive or unfairly discriminatory utility average of $800 and are mostly men. and insurance rates; Sample Complaint Letter: Some law enforcement agencies are ill *Inform customers who file requests under prepared to handle the cases referred to the Freedom of Information Act whether (Your address) them, says Richard Johnson, Director complaints have been filed against a (Your City, State, Zip Code) of the Justice Department’s National (Date) White Collar Crime Center, Inc. particular company and how complaints were resolved; (Name of Contact Person) Therefore, the Internet Fraud (Title) Complaint Center was established to *Legal representation of the public in utility help these law enforcement agencies. and insurance rate and policy proceedings (Company Title) (Street Address) Source: USA Today before State and Federal regulatory (City, State, Zip Code) agencies; *Licensing and regulation of motor clubs, Dear (Contact Person): rent-to-own businesses, physical fitness On (date), I purchased (or had service organizations, pawn brokers, repaired) a (name of product with the serial mortgage loan brokers, automobile brokers, or model number or service performed). I athletic agents, staff leasing companies, made this purchase at (location, date, and other important details of the transaction). continuing care retirement communities, Unfortunately, your product (or and telephone solicitations. service) has not performed well (or the For more information see our web site: service was inadequate) because (state the www.state.sc.us/consumer problem). Therefore, to resolve the problem, To Request Free Educational Materials I would appreciate your (state the specific or Arrange for a Speaker Contact: action you want). Enclosed are copies Sherry King (copies, NOT originals) of my records (receipts, guarantees, warranties, canceled Brandolyn Thomas C. Pinkston........Deputy S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs checks, contracts, model and serial Public Information & Education 3600 Forest Drive, P.O. Box 5757 numbers, and any other documents). Sherry Gore King.........Education Coordinator Columbia, SC 29250 I look forward to your reply and a 1-800-922-1594 resolution to my problem and will wait (set (803)734-4195 a time limit) before seeking third-party Shana Kinard........................Newsletter Editor assistance. Please contact me at the above firstname.lastname@example.org address or by phone (home or office Consumer education should numbers with area codes). start now! Sincerely, (Your Name) (Your Account Number) S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs 3600 Forest Drive, Suite 300/P.O. Box 5757 Columbia, SC 29250 (803) 734-4190 or 1-800-922-1594 *All information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed. Vol. I Issue 3 September 21, 2000 S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs 3600 Forest Drive, Suite 300/P.O. Box 5757 Columbia, SC 29250 (803) 734-4190 or 1-800-922-1594 *All information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed.