2007-06-08 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey Pheffer
Audrey Pheffer When is "free" really free?

We have all seen those bright, colorful and often animated advertisements on internet websites promising a free iPod, free gift certificate, free movie, and a host of other free products and services. It has often been said that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but what about a free iPod? Unfortunately, many of these online offers are designed to get you to enter your e-mail address and credit card information, and many consumers never actually acquire the product or service advertised.

These scams often entice consumers with the promise of a free product or service in exchange for participation in a short online survey. As you enter page after page of information into these electronic surveys, you may feel that you are traveling down the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, as the questions continue in a seemingly unending fashion. These lengthy surveys often contain numerous solicitations inviting participants to sign up for additional offers. The surveys often continue until you agree to something, at which point you may be informed that the free product or service you desired is not available. Some require you to sign up for free trial offers or buy additional products in order to get your free product or service. Consumers who provide their e-mail address should prepare themselves for an onslaught of unsolicited e-mail messages advertising an array of products and services.

Often, companies who administer online surveys promising free products or services will ask for your credit card information if you agree to purchase something or sign up for a promotion during the survey. Consumers who agree to these conditions should watch their credit card statements carefully to ensure that they only get billed for the product or service they agreed to purchase.

As always, there are reputable companies who actually give you the product or service in exchange for your trouble, but it has been reported that they are few and far between. It is better to be safe than sorry and resist the lure of "free" offers advertised online in order to save yourself time and aggravation.

If you feel that you have been the victim of fraud or a deceptive business practice, you should consider filing a complaint with the New York State Attorney General's Office. You can do so by calling 1-800-771-7755, visiting http://www.oag.state.ny.us/complaints/ complaints.html , or writing to: Office of the New York State Attorney General, The Capitol, Albany, NY 12224-0341. You may also want to file a complaint with the New York State Consumer Protection Board. You can do so by calling 1-800-697-1220, visiting http:// www.consumer.state.ny.us/complaint.htm , or writing to: New York State Consumer Protection Board, 5 Empire State Plaza, Suite 2101, Albany, New York 12223.

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