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Consumer Issues & Information

How can I open an account at the Federal Reserve?
The Federal Reserve Banks are not authorized to open accounts for individuals. Only depository institutions and certain other financial entities may open an account at a Federal Reserve Bank.

How can I prevent "identity theft" - someone is using my personal information to commit fraud or theft?

You should be cautious if someone tries to obtain your name, date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, bank account number, or credit card information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains a central web site for information about identity theft that contains more detailed information about how to protect yourself and what to do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.

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Where can I find information about leasing a vehicle?
The Federal Reserve Board's web site provides a consumer guide to vehicle leasing. Under the Consumer Leasing Act, consumers have the right to information about the costs and terms of leasing a vehicle. The information in the guide will help you compare lease offers and negotiate a lease that will best fit your needs, budget, and driving patterns.

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Where can I find information about credit cards and credit card interest rates?
The Federal Reserve Board publishes a detailed guide to selecting credit cards.

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How can I spot a financial fraud or a scam?

Criminals sometimes use the name of a government agency in an attempt to give legitimacy to fraudulent transactions, financial instruments, investment opportunities, and fund-raising proposals. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's website provides current information about frauds and scams, as does the Treasury's Bureau of the Public Debt web site.

The Federal Reserve is aware of the proliferation of these schemes but does not have any authority to investigate or prosecute the wrongdoers involved. Suspected scams should be reported to the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or to the U. S. Secret Service.

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I keep receiving notices about privacy rights from banks and credit card issuers. What do they mean, and what am I supposed to do about them?
Federal law requires financial companies to tell you about their policies regarding the privacy of your personal financial information. With some exceptions, the law limits the ability of financial companies to share your personal financial information. To learn more about what these notices mean and how you may want to respond to them, read the Federal Reserve Board's "Privacy Choices" guide.

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Do you have any resources that would help me teach about money in my classroom?
Visit the Federal Reserve's educational website, Fed, for resources for educators, students, parents, and the general public.

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Is it true that I can't cash a check that is over 6 months old?
State laws governs many aspects of check payments (the Uniform Commercial Code) and generally provides that a bank may, but is not obligated to, pay an ordinary check that is more than six months old (measured from the date on the check). Some states enact non-uniform provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code, so you should check your state's law for the specific rule that applies.

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What is a substitute check and what do I do if I have a problem with a substitute check?
A substitute check is a special paper copy of the front and back of an original check. The substitute check may be slightly larger than the original check. Substitute checks are specially formatted so they can be processed as if they were original checks. The front of a substitute check should state: "This is a legal copy of your check. You can use it the same way you would use the original check." The following web page contains samples that show what a substitute check looks like: tm Not all copies of a check are substitute checks. For example, pictures of multiple checks printed on a page (also known as an image statement) that is returned to you with your monthly statement are not substitute checks. Online check images and photocopies of original checks are not substitute checks either. You can use image statements and other copies of checks to verify that your bank has paid a check.

Check 21 provides a special process that allows you to claim a refund (also known as an expedited recredit) when you receive a substitute check from a bank and you think there is an error because of the substitute check. For example, you may think that you were charged twice for the same check. You may use the special process to get a refund of the money you lost. The amount of your refund under the special process is limited to the amount of your loss or the amount of the substitute check that you received, whichever is less, plus interest on that amount if your account earns interest. If your loss is more than the amount of the substitute check, you may have the right under other laws to recover additional amounts of money. If your bank finds that your claim is valid, you should receive your refund by the next business day after the bank's finding. Unless your bank finds that your claim is not valid, you should receive up to $2,500 of your refund (plus interest if your account earns interest) within 10 business days after your bank receives your claim. You should receive the rest of your refund (plus interest if your account earns interest) no later than 45 days after your bank receives your claim. If your bank finds that your claim is not valid, it will send you a notice explaining why. Your bank may reverse the refund (including any interest on the refund) if it can show that the substitute check did not cause an error in your account.

Can I require my bank to return my original check?
No. In general, the law does not require your bank to return your original check. Many banks destroy original paper checks. Other banks may store original checks for some period of time and then destroy them. Federal regulations ensure that you have the same legal protections when you receive a substitute check from your bank as you do when you receive an original check.

What do I do if I have a problem with a check payment?
If you notice a problem with a substitute check, you should contact your bank as soon as possible. In general, to use the special refund procedure for substitute checks, you should contact your bank no later than 40 days from the date your bank provided the substitute check or from the date of the statement that shows the problem. In general, you must: - Describe why you think the charge to your account is incorrect. - Describe why you believe the original check or a better version of the substitute check is needed to determine whether the substitute check should have been deducted from your account. - Estimate how much money you lost because of the substitute check. (Include any fees you were charged as a result of the substitute check. Also, alert your bank to any interest you lost, if your account earns interest.) - Provide a copy of the substitute check, or give your bank information that will help it identify the substitute check and investigate your claim.

What is electronic check conversion?
Electronic check conversion is a process in which your check is used as a source of information -- for the check number, your account number, and the number that identifies your financial institution. The information is then used to make a one-time electronic payment from your account -- electronic fund transfer. The check itself is not the method of payment.

How can I reclaim a lost or abandoned bank account?
First, if possible, contact the financial institution where you opened the account. If the institution no longer exists, contact your state banking agency. Provide the agency with as much detail as possible, including the financial institution's name, the account number, and the exact name(s) on the account.

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What is the prime rate, and does the Federal Reserve set the prime rate?
The prime rate is an interest rate determined by individual banks. It is often used as a reference rate (also called the base rate) for many types of loans, including loans to small businesses and credit card loans. On its H.15 statistical release, "Selected Interest Rates," the Board reports the prime rate posted by the majority of the largest twenty- five banks. Although the Federal Reserve has no direct role in setting the prime rate, many banks choose to set their prime rates based partly on the target level of the federal funds rate--the rate that banks charge each other for short-term loans--established by the Federal Open Market Committee.

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What is a routing number and where can I get information about valid routing numbers and the financial institutions to which they have been assigned?
A routing number (also called an "ABA number," a "routing transit number," or a "transit number") is a nine-digit number that identifies an institution and the region in which the institution is located. Routing numbers commonly appear in the lower left-hand corner of a personal check. Routing numbers are assigned by the Official American Bankers Association Registrar of Routing Numbers and are not assigned by the Federal Reserve.

You can get information on purchasing a copy of the American Bankers Association Key to Routing Numbers from the American Bankers Association, or you can consult with your bank to determine to whom a routing number has been assigned and whether the routing number is valid.

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How can I file a consumer complaint about a bank?
The Federal Reserve urges you to file a complaint if you think a bank has been unfair or misleading, discriminated against you in lending, or violated a federal consumer protection law or regulation. You can file a complaint online through the Federal Reserve's Consumer Complaint Form.

You can also call or email Federal Reserve Consumer Help, the System's central repository for consumer complaints and inquiries, and they will walk you through the process of filing a complaint and answer any questions you might have.

Although the Federal Reserve looks into every complaint that involves banks it regulates, it does not have the authority to resolve every problem. There are several federal agencies who handle complaints about banks and other financial institutions, so the Federal Reserve may connect you with or forward your complaint to another federal regulator.

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How can I get a copy of my credit report?
You can get one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit bureaus--Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion--by visiting www.annualcredit or calling (877) 322-8228.

You will need to provide certain information to access your report, including your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth.

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What were the Federal Reserve's emergency lending facilities during the financial crisis?
The Federal Reserve created a number of emergency lending facilities during the crisis that were designed to address severe strains in key financial markets and institutions.

In late 2007 and early 2008, the Federal Reserve implemented several programs intended to address the extremely limited availability of credit in short-term funding markets, which are frequently used by financial institutions and other businesses to finance their day-to- day operations. These programs included the Term Auction Facility, which auctioned term loans to depository institutions (that is, financial institutions that obtain their funds mainly through deposits from the public, such as commercial banks, savings and loan associations, savings banks, and credit unions), as well as the Primary Dealer Credit Facility and the Term Securities Lending Facility, which provided overnight and term loans to primary dealers, a group of major financial firms that have an established trading relationship with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The financial crisis was a global phenomenon, and many institutions outside the United States also experienced problems in obtaining short- term, dollar-denominated loans. To address this difficulty, the Federal Reserve established so-called dollar liquidity swaps with foreign central banks to help them provide dollar loans to financial institutions in their jurisdictions.

The financial crisis intensified dramatically in the second half of 2008, and many financial markets all but shut down. The Federal Reserve implemented a number of additional liquidity programs at this time to try to maintain the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses. To reduce funding pressures experienced by money market mutual funds and borrowers in the commercial paper markets, the Federal Reserve established the Asset- Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, and the Money Market Investor Funding Facility. And to address the shutdown in the markets for asset-backed securities, the Federal Reserve established the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility.

During the crisis, the Federal Reserve also supplied credit to financial institutions that were important to the entire financial system. Early in 2008, the Federal Reserve provided credit to facilitate the acquisition of The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc., by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bear Stearns was one of the largest securities dealers in the world, and its problems in obtaining funding threatened to create a domino effect for other securities dealers and other markets. Later in 2008, the Federal Reserve provided credit to support American International Group, Inc. (AIG)--one of the largest insurance companies in the world--to allow time for an orderly resolution of the firm's difficulties. In 2010, the Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act), which is designed to address many of the fundamental problems seen during the crisis, and the Federal Reserve is working with other regulators and federal agencies to implement the new law. The Dodd-Frank Act gives federal authorities additional tools to address in the future any problems like those experienced by Bear Stearns and AIG.

What foreclosure resources are provided by the Federal Reserve?
There is a "Mortgage Foreclosure Resources" section on the Federal Reserve Board's public website that directs consumers to many sources of information relating to foreclosure. Mortgage Foreclosure Resources includes links to regional Foreclosure Resource Centers as well as to resources for small municipalities, housing counselors, and consumer and community groups:

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