Consumers are inundated with choices, whether they are planning for retirement or shopping for insurance or the best rate on a loan. Knowledge is the key to helping them stretch their dollars and avoid unsuitable or fraudulent products and services.
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) encourages Virginians to take charge of their financial future by comparing products and prices, learning to spot risky or fraudulent products and knowing where to turn if a problem arises. The SCC is participating with other federal, state and local government agencies and national consumer advocacy organizations in the 18th annual National Consumer Protection Week, March 6-12.
The SCC offers numerous consumer guides and other information on a variety of topics. Its specially trained staff can assist Virginians in making informed choices and filing a complaint if they are not satisfied with the responses they receive from regulated industries. Those industries include insurance, state-chartered financial institutions, securities, franchises and investor-owned utilities (electric, natural gas, water, sewer and telecommunications).
Consumers with questions or concerns about a regulated individual or entity can contact the appropriate SCC division or visit the Commission’s website at www.scc.virginia.gov.
“Safeguard your financial future by protecting your money and your personal information,” said E.J. Face, Jr., SCC commissioner of financial institutions. “Learn to spot fraudulent offers, unnecessary fees, predatory loans and unsuitable financial products. We can arm Virginians with information they can use to successfully navigate today’s increasingly complex financial marketplace,” he said.
“Knowledge is your best policy when it comes to making important financial decisions and finding products best suited to your particular needs,” said SCC Insurance Commissioner Jacqueline K. Cunningham. She encourages consumers to shop around; compare prices and terms; ask questions, and know their rights if a problem occurs.
“Learn to recognize the difference between a real deal and a rip-off,” said Ron Thomas, director of the SCC’s Division of Securities and Retail Franchising. “Don’t fall for pie-in-the-sky offers touting high returns with little or no risk. Thoroughly evaluate any securities product and the person or company offering it. Keep written records of all transactions and verify that an individual or company is licensed or registered with the SCC to provide the service,” he said.
“Be aware that some new landline telephone services, as well as cordless phones, may not work if you lose commercial power,” said William Irby, director of the SCC’s Division of Communications. “Check with your phone provider to see if you have battery backup capabilities. If you lose power, you want to make sure you will be able to make an emergency call, if necessary.”
Just a few of the many ways the SCC has helped consumers in the past include: facilitating payments by insurance companies for claims that were improperly denied; recovering monies improperly charged on loan transactions and securities offerings; ensuring that utilities provide reliable service and respond promptly to any customer billing issues, and reaching out to Virginians before and after disasters.
In the event of a problem, the SCC encourages consumers to work directly with the regulated company or individual. If they still are not satisfied, contact the appropriate SCC division by phone, mail or email using an online complaint form. To access complaint forms and a description of the complaint process, visit the SCC website at www.scc.virginia.gov and click on the appropriate division.
For more information, call the SCC toll-free in Virginia at 1 (800) 552-7945 or contact the following divisions directly:
• Bureau of Insurance, (804) 371-9741; Bureau of Financial Institutions, (804) 371-9657; Division of Securities and Retail Franchising, (804) 371-9051; Division of Energy Regulation, (804) 371-9611; and Division of Communications, (804) 371-9420.
Even if the SCC does not have regulatory authority over a particular firm, individual or product, its staff will assist consumers by referring them to the appropriate local, state or federal organization for assistance. These may include the Attorney General’s Office, local consumer protection office, Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission’s toll-free helpline at 1-(877) FTC-HELP (382-4357).
For more information about National Consumer Protection Week, visit www.ncpw.gov/.