July 13, 2020

Maine’s consumers are finding more and more answers online

For thousands of years -since the Egyptians invented papyrus, the precursor to paper – we have been tracking down small pieces of paper seeking important information. On these strips of paper are news articles, names of companies or individuals, telephone numbers or other vital information we can’t live without. If only we could find where we put it?

In the last century, the refrigerator came into prominence. During many early decades, they were plain white and undecorated. In the past few decades they have become bulletin boards, with magnets to hold photos of the family and pets, the children and grandchildren’s latest artistic masterpiece as well as every little important piece of paper mentioned earlier. Find your refrigerator and you will find the all-important scrap of paper attached.

Today, the computer serves in the inventory role. Find your monitor and you will find almost every document or comment ever written. Someone once described the Internet as similar to the Library of Congress. “Every thing ever written is all there, but it is as if all the books and materials are piled high in one big mountain in the middle of the floor. In other words, finding what you’re looking for is not easy!”

For the inquisitive Maine consumer, the Northeast CONTACT Web site (www.nc4betterbiz.org) is a good place to begin your search for consumer-related Web sites. If you move from the main page to the “FAQ,” or “frequently asked questions,” section of the site, you will find links to informative consumer information at your keyboard fingertips.

Many consumers call CONTACT seeking information about a specific company. Often, if the consumer had used their Internet service by Googling the name of the company of interest, they might have found the information needed, and canceled the phone call.

This does not mean going to the subject company’s own Web site necessarily, but reviewing newspaper articles, consumer reviews and other easily obtained sites.

One interesting site that can be found indirectly through the Northeast CONTACT site is Online Services provided by the state of Maine with your tax dollars. The site address is: www.maine.gov/portal/onlineservices/index/html. This location directs the consumer to information about a wide variety of topics, including ATV or snowmobile registration, hunting and fishing licenses, car registration renewals and vanity plate purchases. When selecting a Maine vanity plate, the site offers the opportunity to check whether your proposed vanity plate is available and get a visual preview of how it will look stamped on the style of plate you have selected.

For the hunting and fishing licenses available online, the viewer is introduced to “Moses,” Maine online sportsman’s electronic system, and with some clever graphics, a bit of whimsy and a few keystrokes, your hunting and fishing licenses will be downloaded to your printer. This service is available 24 hours day, 365 days a year. If you are working the midnight shift, and have no time to get to the town office, Moses will help you get that Maine fishing or hunting license without missing opening day.

One can also avoid another trip to the firehouse or town office by going to the burning-permit section on this site, where, with a credit card to cover the $7 permit fee, one can select the correct day for an open burn in participating towns.

The State of Maine Online Services information is worth the visit. It can save travel time, gas and money for permits and licenses.

And although there is something nostalgic about the old-fashioned face-to-face with state and local officials, some day, no doubt, online services will become the old-fashioned way.

Rapid access to consumer-citizen services is here to stay. Baby boomers, if they like, can clip this article and stick it on their fridge. However, count on Maine teenagers to bookmark it on their computer from the Bangor Daily News Web site.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT for Better Business, Inc., Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit organization. An individual annual membership is $25; business memberships start at $125. For consumer help and information write: Consumer Forum, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.

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