Speaker: Learn to protect yourself from consumer fraud and identity theft

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Are you vulnerable to identity theft, predatory lending, and other consumer rip-offs?

If you use a credit card, own a home, or make purchases online, Cynthia Sich would tell you the answer is yes.

Ms. Sich is the director of the Summit County Office of Consumer Affairs and has over 23 years of experience in the field of consumer protection education and enforcement.  She is presenting a seminar on how to protect yourself, and those you love, from consumer fraud on Wednesday, December 5 at 7:00 p.m. at Stow Presbyterian Church, 4150 Fishcreek Road. This event is part of the ongoing SPC Wednesday Night Speaker Series and is free and open to the community.

Ms. Sich will share warning signs of consumer cons, including home improvement rip-offs, predatory loans, and check writing scams, as well as how to avoid telemarketing calls, where to go to file a complaint, and ways to protect your personal credit and identity.

Identity theft is one of the most talked-about consumer frauds in recent years, According to an article in The Washington Post, identity theft impacts over 8 million people each year in the United States, with an average out-of-pocket expense for victims of over $600 per incident. Stolen credit cards, Social Security numbers, and other financial information can allow a thief to purchase cars, houses and cell phones, as well as open up new lines of credit and rack up an astonishing amount of debt in someone else’s name.

Although consumers generally are not held liable for fraudulent debt, many victims still face legal fees and other expenses to clear their names. According to recent reports, identity thieves now increasingly target children, who may not become aware of the crime until they reach adulthood and discover years of credit history and hundred of thousands of dollars of debt in their names.

In Summit County, the most common complaint of consumer fraud is related to home-improvement schemes, for which elderly homeowners often targeted, either by phone or door-to-door. Prepayments on a great deal for a home repair or improvement project can result in sub-standard work or no work at all, and scams that involve predatory financing can eventually lead to the loss of the home.

With the boom of online purchasing, the Internet is also a growing source of consumer fraud. According to the National Fraud Information Center, 65 percent of online fraud involves transactions in which payment was never received or could not be processed, as in a bounced check, or good were never delivered or misrepresented.

The Federal Trade Commission receives over 20 million reports of identity theft, consumer fraud, financial and telemarketing complaints each year. While more laws are being put into place to protect consumers, it’s important for individuals to be on their guard.

The SPC Wednesday Night Speaker Series will continue into 2013 with:  Lincoln historian Geoff Elliott, who will speak on Lincoln’s journey to the Emancipation Proclamation for the document’s 150th anniversary (January 9); and famed sportswriter and author Terry Pluto (February 6). For more information, call 330-688-6935 or email info@stowpres.org.


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