Senator Farley Advises Consumers Should Know Their Rights

Hugh T. Farley

December 30, 2005

January is known for its sales by retail stores, especially as this is the time that many people are returning and exchanging unwanted or unneeded Christmas gifts, or buying things with the gift cards they received. When out shopping, be sure to know your consumer rights. Whether you shop by mail, by phone or at the local store, familiarize yourself with the laws that help protect you and your purchasing decision.

When dealing with mail orders, companies must mail goods within 30 days of the order, unless a longer time is clearly advertised. When an order is placed by phone, the merchandise must be delivered within 30 days from the date the seller makes the charge to your account. If you received a product through the mail that you did not order, you do not have to pay for it. If you are pressured to pay for it, you can bring the sender to court to stop billing you. To help clarify such situations, State law requires unsolicited mail items to be clearly marked: "This is a gift. Payment not required for this item."

When a product has a money-back guarantee, the retailer must return the entire purchase price if you return the product, or you can get a prorated refund if the product does not last for a set period of time.

If a store offers a credit or refund for returned merchandise, you can choose either the credit or the refund, unless you are informed differently when you buy the product. Retailers must post their refund policies conspicuously in the store.

A retailer must honor a maintenance agreement until its expiration date. In the case of consumers who bought an item on credit, if the services noted in the warranty are not provided, you can contact the holder of the retail installment credit agreement and request that all future payments be held in an interest bearing escrow account until the matter is cleared up. However, be aware that these rights don't hold up if you fail to make payments. If you do not make payments, the retailers can cancel the maintenance agreement, but must notify you in writing that the services have been stopped.

While it may be rare in today's society, there are still door-to-door sales. State law allows you a "cooling off" period in which you can cancel any door-to-door purchase costing $25 or more within three business days of purchase. Door-to-door sales contracts also must state the seller's refund policy. If they fail to state a refund policy, they must provide you with a cash refund or credit if the merchandise is returned in reasonably good condition within 20 days after delivery.

Anyone with concerns with retailer practices can file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Board at (800) 697-1220.

Finally, I'd like to remind shoppers that the next sales tax free week for items of clothing under $110 will be held January 30th through February 5th.