RICHMOND — Every day, Virginians conduct financial transactions that require them to make an informed decision. Those decisions may involve something as simple as deciding how to pay for a purchase. Or, they may be more complex such as shopping for a mortgage or auto loan; comparing insurance policies; understanding and reconciling credit card statements and utility bills; or choosing a retirement plan.
Consumers now have more choices than ever when it comes to insurance, banking and investment products. It is up to individuals to arm themselves with the knowledge they need to make prudent choices and protect their personal information and financial well-being. This means understanding how to compare products and prices and match them to their needs, being able to spot risky or fraudulent financial products, and knowing where to turn if a problem arises.
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) encourages Virginians to take charge of their financial future. It is participating with other federal, state, and local government agencies and national consumer advocacy organizations in the 10th annual National Consumer Protection Week, March 2-8. This year’s theme is “Financial Literacy: A Sound Investment.” The campaign encourages consumers to take steps toward building a solid financial foundation by making informed decisions, using credit wisely, protecting their personal information, and steering clear of fraudulent offers.
The SCC provides valuable information and assistance to help Virginians make informed financial decisions, avoid scams, and file a complaint if they are not satisfied. It offers numerous consumer guides and other information and has specially trained staff who can assist consumers with their questions and concerns. During National Consumer Protection Week, the SCC will sponsor an exhibit in the first floor lobby of the Tyler Building at 1300 East Main Street in downtown Richmond. There, SCC staff will answer questions and distribute materials relating to insurance, securities, and banking.
“There’s no time like the present to start on the road to financial literacy,” said E. Joseph Face, Jr., Virginia Commissioner of Financial Institutions. “Safeguard your financial future by protecting your money and your personal information. Learn to spot fraudulent offers, unnecessary fees, predatory loans, and unsuitable financial products. Take advantage of the many resources available to you and know where to turn for help, if needed,” he said.
“Knowledge is your best policy when it comes to making important financial decisions and protecting yourself against buying products unsuited to your needs or simply getting a bad deal,” said Virginia Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Gross. “Make sure you are dealing with legitimate individuals and firms. Shop around, compare prices and terms, ask questions, and know your rights if a problem occurs.”
Ron Thomas, director of the SCC’s Division of Securities and Retail Franchising, encourages Virginians to be wary of offers that sound too good to be true, touting high returns with little or no risk. “Take the time to become a knowledgeable and careful steward of your finances. Thoroughly evaluate any financial product and the person or company offering it,” he said.
The SCC offers the following tips:
- Educate yourself about rates, fees, and other terms before making a financial decision. Read the fine print, ask questions, and don’t allow yourself to be rushed.
- Shop around. Not every company offers the same product for the same price.
- Beware of pie-in-the-sky offers. Make sure an insurance, banking, or investment product is legitimate and is right for your needs.
- Deal with companies and individuals that you know and trust. Contact the SCC ahead of time to see if an insurance agent, insurance company, investment advisor, stockbroker, bank, mortgage lender, or payday lender is authorized to do business in Virginia.
- Get any offer or agreement in writing and keep a copy for your records. Know your rights and responsibilities and where to file a complaint in the event of a problem.
- Check your credit. The information in your credit report can make a difference when you apply for credit, insurance, or a loan.
Virginians may call the SCC in Richmond at (804) 371-9051 (Division of Securities and Retail Franchising), (804) 371-9741 (Bureau of Insurance), or (804) 371-9657 (Bureau of Financial Institutions), or toll-free in Virginia at 1-800-552-7945. Information is also available on the SCC website at www.scc.virginia.gov.
Additional resources include the Office of the Attorney General, local consumer protection offices, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission’s toll-free helpline at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357), and the National Consumer Protection Week website at www.consumer.gov/ncpw/.