Five steps to becoming a smarter consumer
No one likes to find out they’ve gotten a bad deal or been taken advantage of by a con artist. Even worse is the nagging feeling that maybe you could’ve done something to prevent it. While not all consumer pitfalls are avoidable, a few simple rules can help you steer clear of scams and other problems and help you get the most for your money.
In honor of National Consumer Protection Week (March 6-12, 2011), here are five things you can do to become a smarter consumer:
1. Always read paperwork carefully before you sign it.
Take the time to read contracts and other paperwork thoroughly. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Make sure all written documents match what you’ve been promised. And once you sign, be sure to get a final copy for your records.
2. Just say no to now-or-never offers.
Don’t get forced to make a decision before you’re ready. If you’re told the deal is good today only or you’re pressured to sign on without a chance to think things through, walk away.
3. Be skeptical of upfront fees.
North Carolina law makes it illegal to collect advance fees for some types of work, such as foreclosure assistance and debt settlement help. In other cases, such as for home repairs, paying the full bill in advance is never a good idea. If you must pay upfront for other kinds of transactions, use a credit card when possible to protect yourself in case things don’t go as expected.
4. Be cautious when responding to telemarketers, email pitches or door-to-door sellers.
Instead of responding to unsolicited offers, decide when and where you want to go shopping. If you decide to do business with someone who knocks on your door, remember that state law generally gives you three days to cancel for a full refund. And never give out your Social Security Number, credit card or bank account number, or other personal information to anyone you don’t know who contacts you.
5. Check out a company before you do business with them.
It’s best to workwith businesses you know or which are recommended by people you trust. Before you make a major purchase, or if you have any doubts about a company, check them out with my Consumer Protection Division (1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina) or your local Better Business Bureau. You can also research companies online—just remember that a fancy looking website doesn’t mean the business is legitimate.
As always, if you have a problem with a business or spot a scam, let my office know about it. You can file a consumer complaint online
or call us at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.