Attorney General: ‘Tis the season to know your consumer rights
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.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/CPD%20Documents/ 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.