2004-04-02 / Community

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

Businesses today have more access to consumers than ever before. Con sumers are solicited via telephone, television advertisements Internet, pos tal mail, door-to-door sales people, and in publications and other media. There fore, it is the consumer’s responsibility to become informed as to how to prevent themselves from becoming a victim of scams or fraudulent business practices.

Generally, it is not readily apparent that you are being scammed when responding to an advertisement or solicitation. Most of the time being an informed consum er will be enough to alert you to the possibility; you may even be able to thwart a con artist by using one or more of the following techniques.

When you are solicited, take your time and do not rush into making purchases or investment decisions. The lure of a limited time opportunity may make an offer sound more appealing. However, if rushed you may make an impetuous decision that you will regret once you have a moment to reflect about the purchase. Rushing you to make a decision is a sales technique that may be used to force you into making one that is ill-informed. Whenever you have questions that are not being answered, or feel pressured to make a decision, say "no" to the offer until you believe that all of your questions have been answered satisfactorily or until you feel completely comfortable with your judgment.

Solicitors may ask you for personal information under the guise of confirming your information against their records in order to make you a special offer. The best rule of thumb is do not give out any personal information until you are sure that the solicitor is legitimate or that you have done business with him or her in the past and are comfortable disclosing your information. You should closely guard your social security number, credit card num ber (including the expiration date), driver’s license number, and bank account numbers, even if you are told it is only for identification purposes or for verification because the information may be used for unauthorized credit card charges or bank account debits. Generally, it is a good policy to refuse to give out any of this information when someone calls you on the phone. Rather, if the solicitor insists that it is a legitimate reason or company, ask to call back, and look up the phone number for yourself before doing so to make sure that it matches.

Before you sign a contract, make sure you read it fully and that you have all your questions answered. Make sure the contract matches what the salesperson had told you it would say and what you verbally agreed. Do not accept verbal assurances that contradict the contract. Do not feel pressured to hurry and sign; you have a right and a personal obligation to read and understand what you sign and will be held liable for if you do not follow through with the provisions in the contract. Do not fall victim to prize scams that claim you have won but need to pay a fee prior to collecting your prize. If you honestly won, you should not have to pay to collect your prize. Also, if you did not enter the contest, chances are, you did not win anything. Often, these calls or letters are for a non-required purchase with slim odds of actually winning.

Be informed and be in control of your consumer interactions. If you are feeling pressured, not receiving satisfactory answers, being treated rudely or if salespeople are pushy or you feel that you are being deceived, you should walk away from the transaction, or hang up if it is over the telephone.

For more information on ways to protect yourself, contact the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-771-7755, or visit his website at www.oag.gov. You can also investigate many companies by looking them up on the Internet using the Better Business Bureau’s website at www.bbb.org.

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