2010-06-18 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER The Legislature often enacts measures to secure consumers’ rights and to provide increased protection from abusive practices in the marketplace. Some of the provisions in these laws become effective immediately, while others are phased-in over time, most often to allow businesses adequate time to update their systems and methods in order to comply with new requirements. Here are some enhanced rights that have been phased-in and are now available to New York consumers.

Smart shoppers know that return policies can vary widely from retailer to retailer, and that it is a good idea to review a store’s policy before making a purchase. Existing New York law requires retailers to display their return policies. However, oftentimes such displays do not fully disclose all policy terms and provisions, as many return policies are quite lengthy. Chapter 278 of the Laws of 2009, which I sponsored, significantly strengthened New York’s retail store return policy disclosure law. This law includes a provision, which recently became effective, requiring retailers to make a written copy of the store’s return policy available upon request. If you are considering patronizing a new store, or are unaware of the current policy of a store at which you shop regularly, you may want to ask for a copy of the store’s return policy in order to avoid any potential hassles or confusion regarding your ability to return an item.

Security freezes are widely recognized as one of the most important identity theft mitigation tools available to consumers. By prohibiting access to a consumer’s credit report without his or her consent, security freezes effectively cut off an identity thief’s access to credit, loans, and leases. When it comes to preventing damage caused by identity thieves, a speedy response is critical. Under a new law, which I sponsored, credit reporting agencies must place a freeze on a consumer’s credit report no later than one business day after receiving a request. Prior to enactment of this requirement, which became effective January 1, 2010, credit reporting agencies were allowed up to three business days to freeze a report. For more information about your rights under the security freeze law, you may visit the New York State Consumer Pro-tection Board’s identity theft webpage at http://www.consumer. state. ny.us/ internet_security.htm.

Finally, a new law that became effective April 1, 2010, provides much-needed assistance to consumers with visual impairments. This law requires public utilities, landline telephone service providers, and cable television companies to provide large-print versions of billing statements to customers upon request. For more information about the rights and protections afforded to utility customers, you may contact the New York State Public Service Commission at 1-800-342-3377 or http:// www.askpsc.com/.

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