At­tor­ney General: ‘Tis the sea­son to know your con­sumer rights

The Avenue News - - POLICE -

At­tor­ney General Frosh is urg­ing con­sumers to know their rights, ed­u­cate them­selves, and to be ex­tra vig­i­lant as con­sumer spend­ing on­line and in stores sharply in­creases. Win­ter also marks the start of a sharp in­crease in char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. Con­sumers spend ap­prox­i­mately $60 bil­lion on hol­i­day shop­ping, es­pe­cially dur­ing the Thanks­giv­ing week­end alone.

“Hav­ing the ba­sic knowl­edge of your con­sumer rights can make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence in the way you shop and do­nate, whether it’s on­line, or in a brick and mor­tar store,” said At­tor­ney General Frosh. “The num­ber one rule: if some­thing seems too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is.”

In an ef­fort to help con­sumers avoid fall­ing vic­tim to hol­i­day sea­son traps, At­tor­ney General Frosh is­sued the fol­low­ing tips for con­sumers:

• Make sure your char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions are

go­ing to the in­tended cause. The only way to be sure a char­ity is le­git­i­mate is to do some re­search be­fore you give. For more, check out www.mary­lan­dat­tor­ney­gen­­u­ments/ Tips-Pub­li­ca­tions /147. pdf.

• Check re­turn and re­fund poli­cies. The Mary­land re­fund rule re­quires that the re­tailer dis­close its pol­icy in writ­ing so con­sumers are aware of the store’s pol­icy be­fore mak­ing a purchase. This rule does not ap­ply to foods and per­ish­able goods or mer­chan­dise that was cus­tom made for the buyer (like win­dow draperies) or cus­tom al­tered (like a busi­ness suit). Al­ways ask the store about its re­turn pol­icy, and read the fine print.

• Be mind­ful of the web­sites you visit. On­line shop­ping is a con­ve­nient way to get your hol­i­day shop­ping done, but con­sumers should triple check that the web­site

• ad­dress they are vis­it­ing is le­git­i­mate.

• Avoid po­ten­tial pit­falls with gift cards. Ask ques­tions and read all dis­clo­sures so you know all the terms and con­di­tions of gift cards you are pur­chas­ing, es­pe­cially the ex­pi­ra­tion date and any fees. Only purchase gift cards from rep­utable sources, or di­rectly from the store.

• Be wary of bar­gains and “sale” prices. De­liv­ery charges and/or other added costs such as assem­bly fees are of­ten not re­flected in the “sale price.” In many cases, hid­den costs like these negate the value of the sale. In other cases, a prod­uct of­fered at a cer­tain price may be avail­able only if pur­chased with other items.

• Know the terms of lay­away plans. The Mary­land Lay­away Sales Act re­quires a mer­chant to give you a writ­ten lay­away agree­ment, spell­ing out your rights and obli­ga­tions when you buy an item on lay­away. If the seller does not com­ply, you can can­cel the agree­ment and get a full re­fund. Con­sumers have the right to can­cel a lay­away agree­ment within seven days and re­ceive all the money they’ve al­ready paid. A mer­chant may only keep 10 per­cent of the full price of the item if a con­tract is can­celled af­ter eight days or more, or if the con­sumer does not make a pay­ment within 15 days of a due date.

• No-in­ter­est fi­nanc­ing can cost you plenty. While no-in­ter­est plans can save you money, many carry hid­den charges. For ex­am­ple, some of­fers have a time limit. If you don’t pay off the amount of the purchase within the time pe­riod al­lot­ted, you are then charged in­ter­est on the en­tire purchase amount. Al­ter­na­tively, some of­fers in­flate the sell­ing price to make up the dif­fer­ence. Con­sumers should read the fine print and un­der­stand the terms of the agree­ment be­fore sign­ing.

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