Senator Fuschillo Alerts Consumers To New Protections

Charles J. Fuschillo Jr.

November 23, 2005

To assist consumers as they begin their holiday shopping, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (8th Senate District), Chairman of the Senate’s Consumer Protection Committee, was joined by Commissioner Roger C. Bogsted of the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs to inform residents about two innovative laws that will protect New York consumers. The laws streamline the process for consumer recovery of rebates, and also protect the value of gift cards and gift certificates.

Senator Fuschillo authored a new law which will simplify the rebate process by requiring stores to make all application forms readily available to customers at the time of purchase, or provide them directly with the product. Prior to the September 1st effective date of this law, retailers were not required to provide rebate forms at the time of purchase, and were not required to process the rebate application within a timely fashion.

"Applying for a rebate was often like trying to navigate through a maze. Due to the lengthy and confusing process, many consumers were not taking advantage of the discounts to which they were entitled. If businesses are truly interested in giving a discount, they should make sure that their customers can easily understand the redemption requirements," said Senator Fuschillo. "By requiring stores to make rebate forms available at the time of purchase, it will be easier for consumers to take advantage of the savings to which they are entitled."

Under the provisions of this law, businesses must also give consumers a minimum of fourteen days to apply for the rebate after making their purchase, and provide rebates within sixty days of receiving a redemption form. Sale prices, instant rebates given to the consumer at the time of purchase, and rebates automatically granted following a purchase would be exempt from the provisions of this law. Stores that violate this policy face fines between $100 to $1,000 per infraction.

New York State’s gift card law, which Senator Fuschillo fought for in2004, protects consumers who purchase or receive gift cards from hidden fees, unfair restrictions and decreasing card values.

"Hidden costs are not only unfair, they are unethical. This law will allow the consumer to know what they are paying for when they are making their purchase," added Senator Fuschillo.

The law prohibits companies from assessing retroactive fees against the balance of a gift certificate or gift card. Businesses may not impose any monthly service fees to the balance of a gift certificate or gift card until the thirteenth month of dormancy. This period would be extended for an additional 12 months if the customer makes a purchase or adds value to the card.

Additionally, businesses must place a sign in their store stating "terms and conditions are applied to gift certificates/gift cards". If the offer is being made by mail, the business must conspicuously state "terms and conditions are applied to gift certificates/gift cards" within the mailing. This provision does not apply to a business that offers a gift card/certificate without any terms or conditions.

Certain terms and conditions must be clearly printed on the card/certificate itself, including expiration dates, fees charged against the balance of the gift card/certificate, and whether a replacement card will be issued if the gift certificate is lost, stolen, or destroyed. Any additional terms and conditions can be printed either on the card, on a separate sheet of paper, or the envelope, along with a toll free number that the consumer can use to access additional information.

The Attorney General can bring legal action against any company who is believed to be in violation of this law. If found guilty, the courts may impose a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per offense and may order restitution for the consumer.

"These two laws will greatly enhance the protections afforded to consumers. By simplifying the rebate process and protecting gift card and gift certificate users from hidden fees, we will make sure that residents are not losing any of their hard earned money unnecessarily," stated Commissioner Bogsted. "I would also urge anyone who believes that they have been victimized to contact our office at 516-571-2600."

"New York State remains at the forefront of consumer protection, and these two laws are another step in the right direction. By opening up the process and making it easier to understand, we will also increase the trust between businesses and their customers, which will benefit everyone across Long Island during the holidays," Senator Fuschillo concluded.

If a consumer feels that either of these laws have been violated, they shouldcontact the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs at 516-571-2600, the Suffolk County Office of Consumer Affairs at 631-853-4600 or the New York State Consumer Protection Board at 1-800-697-1220.