2002-04-13 / Columnists

Tips On Consumer Affairs by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Tips On Consumer Affairs by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

For the past seven years, I have served as the Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection. As the Chair, I have had the opportunity to become involved in many diverse issues such as: the lemon law, home improvement practices, warranties, food safety, rental car policies, telemarketing practices, predatory lending and privacy, just to name a few.

The Committee is responsible for researching and developing legislation aimed at protecting consumer’s rights and ensuring the public’s ability to make informed choices in the marketplace. Generally, the committee has jurisdiction over legislation that amends sections of the Agriculture and Markets, General Business and Personal Property Laws. The broad interests of the Committee reflect the fact that today’s consumers can be victims of fraud, misinformation, or the lack of information that is vital to their health, safety, and welfare.

My column will cover a wide range of consumer issues that impact consumers in everyday decisions. My goal is to simply inform consumers. As the phrase goes, "an educated consumer is always a better consumer." This column will focus on the travel industry.

The September 11th terrorist attacks have led to almost overnight increased security measures at airports, train stations, border crossings, government buildings and monuments. The way we travel has greatly changed over the past few months. We are told to be "prepared travelers" which means to have proper identification readily available, to allow more time when traveling, be smart about packing, and to choose paper tickets over electronic ones.

Being prepared during your travels is very important. In light of the Sept 11th attacks, I have come to realize that being "prepared" when making travel arrangements is almost as important as the actual travel period.

Over the last six months, my office has received numerous inquiries concerning various travel issues. These issues include cancelled trips, as well as, the effectiveness of travel insurance. Residents have spoken about an agent that sold a travel package, canceled it, refused a refund, dissolved the travel agency, only to open up another one down the road.

These issues raised concerns about New York State’s consumer protection laws regulating the travel industry. New York’s Truth in Travel Act was enacted in 1974 with the purpose of "safeguarding the public against fraud, false advertising and misrepresentation." The act applies to travel agents, travel services and travel consultants and prohibits several specific types of misconduct. The act provides a consumer with a three day cooling off period, which is the time frame to cancel the agreement.

Other than several disclosures, prohibited conduct and the three-day cooling period, the travel industry is largely unregulated. To protect consumers and to protect the travel industry from the deceptive practices of a few, New York needs to examine the impact that legislation requiring at a minimum, the registration and bonding of certain travel entities would have on the industry.

Many businesses are required to register and bond, such as barbers, hairdressers, telemarketers, and health clubs. With the expense associated with traveling, coupled with the increase of deceptive practices, such action would not be unfair or unprecedented. In fact, it would provide greater protection to consumers while also protecting honest travel industry professionals who compete for business against unscrupulous travel entities.

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