Previous month:
November 2011
Next month:
January 2012

16 posts from December 2011

CVS Caremark Agrees To Pay $20 Million To Settle With Three States For Pension Fraud Claims

CVS Caremark Corporation has agreed to pay about $20 million to settle lawsuits in three states about alleged pension system fraud. The lawsuits were filed by two whistleblowers, CVS pharmacists, and claimed that CVS resold returned drugs, changed presecription orders to increase prcies, and filed false reports about prescriptions fulfilment dates. The Los Angeles Times reported:

"... CVS Caremark will pay nearly $7 million to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, $4 million to the state of Illinois and $3 million to the state of Florida. Other money from the settlement went to plaintiff attorneys’ fees and costs..."

In 2007, CVS Corporation merged with Caremark Rx Inc.. The combined company operates about 7,000 retail stores, and provides prescription drug management services for employers.

Crain's Chicago Business reported Michael Leonard, a partner with Chicago-based law firm Meckler Bulger Tilson Marick & Pearson LLP, which along with Los Angeles-based law firm Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack LLP represented the whistleblowers, as describing the lawsuit:

“They fought the thing tooth and nail, and denied, denied, denied, despite what the evidence was...”

California Modifies Its Data Breach Laws To Improve Notification

Loeb and Loeb LLP reports that California has modified its security breach rules to expand notification. The revised law goes into effect January 1, 2012. Notification letters to consumers must include:

  • A list of the types of personal data exposed,
  • The date(s) or date range of the data breach,
  • A description of the data breach,
  • Whether or not an investigation by law enforcement delayed the notification, and
  • The toll-free phone numbers and addresses of the major credit reporting bureaus

Consumers must be notified in writing, unless law enforcement views notification as an obstacle to criminal investigations. Organizations with breaches affecting more than 500 California residents must also notify the California Attorney General's office. According to Loeb and Loeb, the organizations that must comply with Senate Bill 24:

"... any agency, person, or business that owns or licenses computerized data that includes personal information. In the event of a security breach to any California resident whose personal information was, or is reasonably believed to have been, acquired by an unauthorized person, that agency, person, or business must issue a security breach notification."

Loeb & Loeb LLP provides a variety of services for its Fortune 100 clients, including media and technology, antitrust, finance, corporate and securities, energy, and more. The firm has about 300 attorneys with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Nashville, Washington, DC, and Beijing.

These California modifications are good, because too many breach notifications lack details. More disclosure is better since it helps breach victims judge the severity of the breach. I have read several and some states post online the breach notices received by their state judicial agency.

Keeping Its Commitment To Its Customers: A Bank Does The Right Thing

In the rush by many banks to increase profits, charge consumers with numerous fees, acquire other banks and investment companies, and target the poor with high-fee services, there are a few banks left that value their fiduciary relationship with their customers. The ABC Evening News interviewed an executive at one bank that still puts their customers first.

Reporter Chris Cuomo interviewed James C. Smith, president of Webster Bank, headquartered iin Waterbury, Connecticut. I found his bank's actions both sincere and truly customer focused. First, Webster Bank owns 75 percent of the home loans it signs. This means it maintains local responsibility, and minimizes shipping home loans to third party vendors. Second, Webster Bank modified about 65 percent of the loan modification applications, compared to about 33 percent nationwide.

These actions have several key benefits:

  • It kept more people in their homes and paying down their mortgages,
  • It helped keep those neighbors whole because foreclosed home drive down the values of surrounding neighborhood homes, and
  • It is a clear, direct, measurable, and honest commitment which consumers can easily see

And, Webster Bank found a way to do this and remain profitable. At Webster Bank, its executives' bonuses are based on the number of loans modified, not foreclosed. Smith summed up well the bank's commitment:

"We have a responsibility to our customers to work with them. I think of it as being in our DNA. We're there to work with our clients, to help them through a very difficult time... We think the net cost to the bank of what would have been all of those foreclosures, by doing it the way we did, we've saved tens of millions of dollars. If you do the right thing it can help you grow, and you truly can do well by doing good..."

Executives at other banks should find this instructive, and direct their human resource departments to modify their internal compensation plans accordingly. Without customers, you won't have a bank.

I hope that as many people as possible move their money from big banks to Webster Bank. Read the bank's blog or Facebook page.

Do you know of a bank that operates with a customer-focused commitment like Webster Bank? If so, share your experience below.

Bank of America Merchant Services And Money Network Announce New Payroll Solution

Earlier this month, Bank of America Merchant Services (BAMS) and the Money Network(R) announced the launch of the Money Network(R) Payroll Distribution Service sponsored by Bank of America. According to the press release on MarketWatch:

"The program enables employers to comply with complex payroll distribution laws, such as the need to offer a paper paycheck and free check cashing locations, while providing a safe and convenient pay alternative for employees who do not have access to a deposit or checking account. With the Bank of America-issued Money Network(R) Service, the payroll process is efficiently streamlined through more than 17,750 Bank of America ATMs and 43,000 Allpoint(R) Network surcharge-free ATMs..."

This is huge news. The benefits for employers are numerous. I'd written previously about a version of this payroll solution at Walmart. Most employers would stop printing paper checks as paycards allow them to avoid check printing expenses. The benefits for consumers seem questionable.

This payroll solution enables companies to essentially provide selected banking services to their employees. Where is the line between a company and a bank? It seems blurred with payroll services like these. Have you asked your employer for check-cashing services? I doubt it. Something else is going on here.

Notice that the press release includes this statement: "for employees who do not have access to a deposit or checking account." The banking industry uses the term "underbanked" to identify consumers that have a checking account or a savings account, but not both. The industry uses the term "unbanked" to identify consumers who don't have both types of accounts.

According to a 2009 FDIC study (Adobe PDF document), only 7.7% of U.S. households are unbanked. Those unbanked households typically make less than $30,000 per year, and 66 percent of them use services with high fees: non-bank money orders, non-bank check cashing, pawn shops, payday loans, and rent-to-own services. The same study also found:

"Minorities more likely to be unbanked include blacks (an estimated 21.7 percent of black households are unbanked), Hispanics (19.3 percent), and American Indian/Alaskans (15.6 percent). Racial groups less likely to be unbanked are Asians (3.5 percent) and whites (3.3 percent)."

Those percentages are probably higher given the prolonged economic downturn of the last couple years. I doubt that BAMS and Money Network targeted this new payroll service at only the 7% unbanked slice of the market. The same study found that about 18% of U.S. households are underbanked. The market for this new payroll service seems to be both unbanked and underbanked consumers who currently use high-fee banking services, plus the upside potential:

  1. More consumers might become underbanked or unbanked during economic downturns,
  2. Employers with operations in developing countries have a larger percentage of unbanked employees,
  3. Employers with a large percentage of seasonal or contract workers, and
  4. If positioned a certain way, the new payroll service could capture more market share from employees that already have both checking and savings accounts

Upsides #3 and #4 worry me. This new payroll service seems to me to be a slick method to force consumers to use certain banks -- to restrict freedom of banking choice. Think of it this way: employees that are paid by their employer via a Bank of America-branded Money Network(R) PayCard, are being paid with a customized debit card. Use that PayCard within Bank of America and Allpoint networks and there are few or no surcharges. Use that PayCard outside of its network, and more fees and charges apply. Where do you think employees will shift their banking to?

If a company uses the Money Network Payroll Distribution Service for all its employees, then those employees who already have checking accounts (at the banks of their choice) either lose their freedom to bank where they choose, or pay more in fees to bank where they choose.

This reminds me of the old "company store" practice from the 1800's where companies forced their employees to shop only at the company store which effectively kept them in debt bondage. Haven't we learned from this history?

Perhaps, we are now seeing the future of banking and the big banks' response to customer fury about checking account fees. The big banks could co-mingle employer payroll solutions with limited consumer banking services -- all without having to highlight the embedded debit/checking fees to consumers and let the employers take the heat. Afterall, employees may not complain if they are afraid for their jobs.

This 2005 State of California study (Adobe PDF) researched the advantages and disadvantages of payroll paycards:

"... Pay Cards give an employee who does have a bank account an alternative to carrying cash or cashing a check, which may require a fee. Employees who do not have bank accounts gain the convenience of using a debit card. However, depending on the program chosen by an employer, Pay Cards may or may not reduce payroll costs for the business and/or for the employees."

This study documented a variety of fees charged to employees' pay cards:

  • Monthly maintenance fee
  • ATM balance inquiry fee (per transaction)
  • ATM in-network domestic withdrawal fee (waived or a limited number of withdrawals per month)
  • ATM outside-network domestic withdrawal fee (per transaction)
  • ATM in-network foreign withdrawal fee (per transaction)
  • ATM outside-network foreign withdrawal fee (per transaction)
  • ATM transaction decline fee (per transaction)
  • Domestic customer service automated inquiry via phone fee (per call)
  • Domestic customer service live-person inquiry via phone fee (per call)
  • Point-of-sale pinless signature purchase fee (per transaction)
  • Point-of-sale cashback fee
  • Emergency cash transfer fee (annual)
  • Emergency cash transfer fee (per transaction)
  • Bill payment fee (per transaction)
  • Funds transfer fee
  • PIN change fee
  • Paycard replacement fee
  • Paycard replacement fee (express delivery)
  • Negative balance fee
  • Account closure fee
  • Duplicate statement fee
  • Research fee (per hour)
  • Tax levy or garnishments fee (per occurrence)

And, all of these fees for employees are in addition to fees the bank charges the employer directly for the payroll service. So, costs for employees go up when multiple fees apply, or to use a payroll paycard outside of the network at the bank of their choice. More fees apply if the employer negotiated a poor deal for its employees. These fees are effectively an economic incentive to force employees to do business at certain banks.

It is easy to find paycard solutions. This guide for employers' human resources department professionals lists ten branded payroll paycard services.

If you think that this is enough, there's more.

Similar to the Walmart Money Centers, the Money Network PayCards are insured by the FDIC (via MetaBank). So, as more employers provide limited banking services, the federal government (via taxpayers) is responsible for insuring more accounts. It would be preferrable for more public discussion about whether we want to insure more non-banks doing banking during a time of limited government budgets. 

My first impression of this payroll solution was that it may be a security issue, since it allows consumers to easily move money around the globe, with Allpoint ATM locations in the USA, Mexico, Australia, and the United Kingdom -- today. In the future, Allpoint may serve more countries. In a world where governments are concerned about terrorism, this payroll solution struck me as a potential security risk.

Then again, this payroll solution could make it easier for employees to send money to relatives in their home country -- assuming the relatives have paycards, too.

After researching this investigative article, I have learned to keep an eye on both Bank of America Merchant Services, and Banc of America Merchant Services LLC. With this latest announcement, I have learned to also keep an eye on Money Network(R), a First Data Company.

What's your opinion? If your employer pays you with a payroll debit card or paycard, please share your experiences below. I've Been Mugged readers are interested.

Merry Christmas!

First, I would like to thank everyone for your support and readership. Readership has grown 40% compared to last year. And, the volume of comments has continued steadily, too. Since late September, page views have consistently averaged 22,000 or more monthly. I appreciate your taking the time to read, comment on blog posts, and tell others about I've Been Mugged.

Second, I want to wish everyone an enjoyable and safe Christmas and holiday season.

A Wide Variety of Scams Target Senior Citizens

The Detroit Free Press reported about a local workshop to help seniors stay alert about a variety of fraud schemes run by scam artists:

"Michigan AARP says, based on a recent survey, that 79% of its members are concerned about fraud... Seniors are losing $2.9 billion a year nationwide to financial abuse..."

Seniors are vulnerable, since many live on a fixed income and seek ways to to increase their income due to financial pressures and fears. Scam artists use these fears.

FBI agents spoke to seniors at the Fraud Fighter College workshop at Marygrove College. Linda Cena, a securities manager at the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation also spoke. Cena advises seniors to call her office to verify brokers and investments before investing large sums of money. Residents in other states can often find identity theft and scam resources in the division of insurance, secretary of state, or attorney general offices in their state government.

Typical scams targeting seniors include:

"... con artists promising a shopping spree in return for a small processing charge on a debit card to crooked financial advisers talking someone into shifting retirement money from a 401(k) plan into a self-directed IRA, and then putting that money into some fraudulent movie scheme. And, yes, a grandson or granddaughter on drugs can become a predator, too."

Experts warn seniors, and their caregivers, that the best defense against identity theft and fraud is to not disclose personal and financial information -- especially over the phone. Another tip: don't leave papers with sensitive information lying on tables around the home where visitors can steal valuable data like Social Security numbers.

Bank Of America Agrees to Pay $335 Million To Settle Discriminatory Lending Lawsuit

Bank of America Corporation has agreed to pay $335 million to settle a government lawsuit that its Countrywide Financial unit discriminated against minority home buyers. The settlement, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by the U.S. Justice Department, must be approved by a federal court.

The government alleged that Countrywide and its subsidiaries charged more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic home loan borrowers higher interest rates and fees than non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar incomes and credit scores. The lawsuit also claimed that:

"... Countrywide discriminated by steering thousands of African-American and Hispanic borrowers into subprime mortgages when non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans. All the borrowers who were discriminated against were qualified for Countrywide mortgage loans according to Countrywide’s own underwriting criteria."

Subprime loans are generally more expensive, with prepayment penalties and adjustable interest rates with sudden and huge increases after two or three years. Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said:

“Countrywide’s actions contributed to the housing crisis, hurt entire communities, and denied families access to the American dream... We are using every tool in our law enforcement arsenal, including some that were dormant for years, to go after institutions of all sizes that discriminated against families solely because of their race or national origin.”

The department’s investigation into Countrywide’s lending practices began in 2007 after referrals by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and the Office of Thrift Supervision to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Bank of America purchased Countrywide in 2008 for about $4 billion. The settlement amount is the largest of its type filed by the U.S. Justice Department.

Massachusetts Attorney General Sues Five Banks For Alleged Foreclosure and Loan Servicing Abuses

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Attorney General's office filed a complaint against five national banks for alleged abuses involving fraudulent documentation in home foreclosures (commonly referred to as “robo-signing”), foreclosing without holding the actual mortgage, and failing to uphold loan modification promises to Massachusetts homeowners. The banks named in the lawsuit:

  • Bank Of America, N.A. (and its BAC Home Loans Servicing LP subsidiary, formerly Countrywide),
  • JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.,
  • CitiBank, N.A. (and its CitiMortgage subsidiary),
  • GMAC Mortgage, LLC, and
  • Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Also named in the complaint (Adobe PDF, 4.1 MBytes) was MERSCORP, Inc. which owns and operates the MERS System, a national registry that tracks ownership and servicing rights in residential mortgages loans. The Massachusetts AG alleged:

"... the banks used false documentation in the foreclosure process, including so-called “robo-signing”, whereby bank personnel signed affidavits that were untrue, or not based on the signor’s actual knowledge. An entity wishing to foreclose on a property must demonstrate it has filed an affidavit in compliance with Massachusetts law... Filings with various Registers of Deeds provided to the Attorney General’s Office revealed the pervasive use of mortgage service employees to sign hundreds of affidavits and sworn statements without personal knowledge of the information contained in those affidavits. Evidence also suggests these practices were not confined to the foreclosure process, but also used in the assignment, transfer and modification of mortgages..."

About alleged foreclosure abuses:

"... these five entities participated in unlawful foreclosures when they commenced foreclosures on mortgages where they were not the holders of those mortgages. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), in Commonwealth v Ibanez, recently upheld Massachusetts law and stated that “only the present holder of a mortgage is authorized to foreclose on the mortgaged property.” The complaint alleges that these entities ignored this fundamental legal mandate and proceeded to foreclosure even though they did not hold the mortgage... The banks’ failure to obtain a valid assignment of the mortgage prior to foreclosure has adversely impacted titles to hundreds, if not thousands, of properties..."

And, about alleged failures regarding home loan modifications:

"... the banks deceived and misrepresented to borrowers the process, requirements, and availability of loan modifications. The banks publicly claimed to be engaged in widespread loan modifications aimed at preserving home ownership and avoiding unnecessary foreclosures. Through the National Homeownership Retention Program, which commenced on November 6, 2008, these banks represented that they would work with borrowers to help them avoid unnecessary foreclosures by reducing monthly mortgage payments to affordable and sustainable levels. The complaint alleges these banks misled borrowers about their eligibility for this program and the amount of relief available, failed to achieve a significant level of modifications, and often strung along borrowers for months in trial modifications that were ultimately rejected."

ICO Updates Requirements For Data Breach Disclosures

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently updated its data breach disclosure regulations for ISPs and telecommunications providers in the United Kingdom. To make reporting requirements easier for businesses, the ICO suggests that companies submit a list of data breaches monthly.

However, companies would still need to report major breaches in detail and separately. The existing regulations require companies' breach disclosures to include:

"The nature of the breach; the consequences of the breach; and the measures taken or proposed to be taken by the provider to address the breach."

The existing regulations require companies to maintain a log of any breaches affecting consumers personal information, and to provide affected consumers or customers with a breach notification covering:

"The nature of the breach; contact details for your organisation where they can get more information; and ow they can mitigate any possible adverse impact of the breach."

Companies do not have to report data breaches where the data is protected by encryption. The ICO describes itself as:

"... the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals."

Data Breach At Peoples Gas in Chicago

Last week, the ABC television network affiliate in Chicago reported that Peoples Gas has notified an undisclosed number of customers about a data breach. An employee at one of the utility's vendors accessed and used customers' personal information.

The vendor's employee attempted to apply for new credit cards using the stolen customer information. The employee has since been fired. Details about the breach were sparse. The utility did not announce the dates of the breach, nor explain steps to prevent a repeat occurrence with vendors. The utility notified affected customers by phone and by letter.

The utility warned affected customers to check their credit reports for fraudulent entries, to file a police report about any fraud, and to contact the illinois Attorney General's Office hotline (1-866-999-5630). Peoples Gas serves more than 800 thousand consumers in the city of Chicago.

CUNA Revises Downward Its Estimate Of New Accounts

An I've Been Mugged reader at the American Bankers Association provided a link to this December 6 American Banker article: Credit Unions Eat Crow On Customer Numbers. The article reported that the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) revised downward its initial estimate of the number of new accounts opened at credit unions by consumers who moved their money from large banks during the weeks leading up to Bank Transfer Day.

The CUNA is a trade association of 90 percent of 7,400 state and federally chartered credit unions serving about 93 million Americans. The CUNA originally estimated on November 3 that consumers opened 650,00 new accounts at credit unions from September 29 to November 2. The revised estimate is a third of the initial estimate: 214,000 new accounts at credit unions during this period. The American Banker article concluded:

"The [CUNA] association's scaling back of its numbers on Monday gave credence to banking industry officials and others who criticized the association's methodology last month."

The CUNA has admitted that its initial estimate was "rushed and flawed." The CUNA has not changed its estimate of more than 40,000 new credit union accounts opened by consumers on November 5, Bank Transfer Day.

I found the title of the American Banker article unnecessarily excessive: "Credit Unions Eat Crow On Customer Numbers." First, final new account numbers are not yet available, only estimates. Second, I hope that ABA members stay focused on the needs of consumers rather than this one-upmanship about a single flawed CUNA survey. If big banks truly were meeting consumers' needs, then this move-your-money situation would not exist. Banks have a lot of consumer trust to regain after huge credit card interest rate increases and alleged foreclosure abuses during the past two years. A recent consumer satisfaction survey found:

"Consumer satisfaction with credit unions has soared this year, posting scores well above their large-bank competitors, according to the 2011 American Customer Satisfaction Index... The satisfaction score for credit unions rose 8.7 percentage points to 87 points on a scale of 0 to 100. The index said it is the highest satisfaction score ever for any of the 47 industries."

Third, if you read about the genesis of Bank Transfer Day, it was a voluntary call by a person for consumers to move their money by November 5. Consumers can continue to move their money after November 5, and it may simply take consumers longer to move their money. Fourth, consumers value stability. This analysis suggested that credit unions survived recent economic crises better than commercial banks.

On December 1, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) agency reported performance results about credit unions during the third quarter of 2011:

"Membership and Total Assets Growth Continues: Despite a slight decline in number, federally insured credit unions added more than 450,000 members during the third quarter, growing to 91.4 million individuals. In all, membership has increased by almost 1 million during the first 9 months of 2011. Credit union total assets also continued to expand, standing at $951.1 billion on Sept. 30, an increase of almost $8.7 billion for the quarter... For the second quarter in a row, credit union lending increased to end the period at $567.1 billion, an increase of $3.1 billion over the prior quarter. New auto loans and other real estate loans continued to decline, while used vehicle loans, unsecured loans—including credit cards—and first mortgage real estate loans again all rose during the quarter. Notably, demand for non-federally guaranteed student loans jumped 20.5 percent during the third quarter to end at $1.3 billion on Sept. 30."

The NCUA report included only the 7,179 federally insured credit unions, and excluded results for October 2011 and Bank Transfer Day. I look forward to reading in January comprehensive actual results, not estimates, from all sources for all of 2011.

Class Action Settlement For Users Of Identity Protection Services With Discover Financial Services

Discover Financial Services Last week, I received a notice from Discover Financial Services about a class-action settlement offer for consumers who used one a Discover identity protection service:

"If you were enrolled in or billed for Discover Payment Protection, AccountGuard, Identity Theft Protection, Profile Protect, Wallet Protection, The Register and/or Credit Score Tracker between January 21, 2004 and November 9, 2011, this notice describes your rights in connection with a settlement of a lawsuit and your potential recovery."

The settlement combines class-action lawsuits in several states which claimed that Discover Financial Services used improper marketing, enrollment, and pricing practices:

  • Walker v. Discover Financial Services et al (N.D. III Case No. 10-cv-06994-JWD)
  • Callahan v. Discover Financial Services et al (N.D. III Case No. 1:10-cv-07181-JWD)
  • Alexander v. Discover Financial Services et al (D.S.C. Case No. 7:10-cv-02754-HMH)
  • Sack v. DFS Services LLC et al (W.D. Tenn. Case No. 2:10-cv-02906-JPM)
  • Boyce v. DFS Services LLC (E.D. Pa. Case No. 2:11-cv-00265-LDD)
  • Conroy v. Discover Financial Services et al (C.D. Cal. Case No. 2:10-cv-5260-MMM-E)
  • Triplett v. Discover Financial Services, Inc. et al (S.D. Fla. Case No. 1:11-cv-20519-AJ)
  • Carter v. Discover Financial Services, Inc. et al (E.D. Pa. Case No. 2:11-cv-01656-BMS)

Discover has agreed to set up a settlement $10.5 million fund. If you want to learn more, read the settlement offer details, file a claim, or exclude yourself from this settlement, visit the website, or contact the Settlement Administrator:

Settlement Administrator
Walker Settlement
P.O. Box 8023
Faribault, MN 55021-9423
Phone: (866) 944-5034

Claims must be filed by June 6, 2012. Exclusion requests and settlement objections must be received by March 23, 2012.

In April 2008, I discussed in this blog my experiences with the Discover Identity Theft Protection service. In September 2011, Javelin Strategy & Research rated Discover's identity fraud resolution services highly in its Seventh Annual Card Issuer's Safety Scorecard. The study evaluated the top 23 card issuers according to three categories: identity fraud prevention, detection and resolution.

The press releases section at the Discover website did not mention the Walker Settlement.

Much Of Consumers' Internet Usage Assumes Unlimited Access

On Friday, my wife and I returned from a two-week vacation in Central and South America. Our cruise ship sailed from San Diego through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale, stopping at ports in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Colombia. The trip included an instructive reminder of how consumers' Internet usage is shaped by price plans.

Cruise ships contain many modern conveniences, one of which is Internet access via WiFi. Typically, each ship has both an Internet cafe and several hot spots for convenient access. Prices are pretty consistent across cruise lines. The Holland America ship we sailed on provided Internet access "as you go" ($ .75 per minute), a 100-minute block ($ .55 per minute), or a 250-minute block ($ .40 per minute). I purchased a couple 250-minute blocks, since I am a heavy user.

It doesn't matter what device you use on board: desktop, laptop, smart phone, or tablet. If it uses a WiFi connection, you pay a per-minute rate because of the satellite connection.

While aboard the MS Statendam, I accessed to tease coworkers and friends who were working hard while I relaxed poolside on the Lido Deck. The experience reminded me -- in monetary terms -- of just how time intensive most social networking sites like Facebook are. I quickly chewed through the minutes I purchased.

The old school approach: you read and created email messages offline, and then signed in online to send and receive email messages. Then, you signed off. It was a quick "in and out" online.

Today's typical online session: you sign into Facebook to browse your timeline for messages to comment upon. Next, you stay signed in to browse the Walls of specific friends, because Facebook uses a formula to selectively display only some from all of your friends. Then, you spend even more time signed into Facebook while reading articles at other websites which you friends mentioned in their Facebook status messages.

Compared to email, Facebook is time intensive. This is good for Facebook but not good for consumers in situations paying for Internet access by the minute. Most consumers access the Internet from home (or work) via unlimited access plans. (Not so for mobile phone access.) Right now, that unlimited access is good for both Facebook and for consumers. Change that unlimited access and you quickly change consumers' online behavior.

How To File A Complaint About A Bank

Recently, a friend posted this status message on Facebook:

"How does Bank of America stay in business? They continue to threaten and harass even after I have been assured that all issues have been resolved! Issues, by the way, created by their own incompetence! Who do I lodge a complaint with?"

Consumers have several resources to help them with filing a complaint about a bank. Since my friend lives in Massachusetts, first I directed her to the Massachusetts Division of Banks, which regulates banks that operate within the state. This can include help with or submitting a complaint about abuses involving mortgage foreclosures or checking/savings accounts.

If your "banking" problem includes stock or securities fraud, then consumers should consider filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. The responsibility of this administrative agency varies across states, and is based upon the constitution and laws of your state. In Massachusetts, the Secretary of State's office manages several important functions including investment securities, deeds, registration of corporations, elections, and public records.

If you live in a different state, then you can search online for the consumer protection bureau or consumer complaint board within your state that regulates banks. Most states have one.

A second resource is the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), which insures banks and financial institutions operating within the USA. The link to the consumer complaint form is conveniently on the FDIC home page.

Sometimes, the problem includes both a bank and a retail company. Then, it is appropriate to submit a complaint the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates the activities of retail companies operating within the USA. It is appropriate for consumers to file complaints about deceptive marketing tactics, scams, identity theft, and other topics. The FTC operates a very comprehensive complaint process and database.

If your phone number is registered in the Do Not Call Registry and you belive a company has violated that telemarketing law, then you should file a complaint at the Do Not Call Registry website.

Related articles in this blog which you may also find helpful: