Commentary

June 7, 2013

Consumer awareness – don’t get taken

Each year, Fort Huachuca Legal Assistance Division, or FHLAD, personnel see hundreds of people who experience problems when they buy goods or services. Many result from a lack of consumer awareness or impulsiveness such as jumping into contracts and purchasing agreements without thinking. Before agreeing to buy anything, ask yourself at least two questions: Can I afford to pay for this, and do I really need it?

People need to ensure beforehand that they understand exactly what they’re buying, the cost, and how they will pay for the item. They also need to make sure they are fully aware of what the seller has agreed to provide in the way of goods and services.

No doubt the salesman told the prospective buyer fine things about the product or service. These are representations or warranties which need to be part of the contract. Never rely solely on a verbal promise made by a seller. A good contract will describe the deal so clearly that a stranger could pick up the document, read it and know specifically what both buyer and seller agreed upon.

A good rule of thumb for consumer contracts is that if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Those who have doubts about the seller should call their state attorney general’s office, the Better Business Bureau or the local consumer protection agency where the company is located before signing the contract. Ask about complaints on file.

Then walk away. If the seller chases you with claims that “this is a one-time deal that won’t be good tomorrow,” question whether his urgency is an attempt to get you to throw common sense out the window. If doubt persists after you’ve had a chance to think about the offer, don’t make the purchase without further research.

FHLAD personnel see certain types of cases on such a regular basis that they deserve special attention.

‘Dream vacation?’ Buyer beware

There are many companies which market vacation clubs. The idea is that once a consumer purchases the vacation club membership, he or she can vacation at luxury resorts at reduced rates. However, the list of participating resorts is subject to change, so the one resort a vacation club purchaser had their eye on may no longer be a participating partner.

Additional charges over the regular club fees may apply, so be sure to check the fine print in the contract. Many resorts don’t allow vacation club members to exercise their club options during peak tourist times. A dream vacation contract may give a purchaser a week in a beach-side bungalow right in the middle of hurricane season.

Another common complaint about vacation club contracts is that “free” airline tickets provided as part of the deal are often of very little value. These “free” tickets often require the payment of additional administrative fees before they may be used. Also, extensive “black-out” dates provide few available opportunities for use.

Take care when arranging auto repairs

Car repairs are another source of headaches. While there are repair facilities

which have taken advantage of a bad situation or have engaged in outright fraud, most problems FHLAD personnel see result from a failure of the client and mechanic to understand their respective responsibilities.

When taking a car in for repair, instruct the mechanic that he or she is not to undertake any work without your express consent. Both customer and mechanic need to agree in writing about the repair actions and their cost. Additionally, both need to discuss warranties of the work he performs and any warranties on the parts. Get this in writing.

Ensure you and the mechanic discuss the timeframe for completion of repairs and what will happen if the repairs are not completed when promised. And above all, realize that even with high-tech computer diagnostic equipment, some car problems still involve “trial and error” before a problem can be fully diagnosed.

Those with questions about consumer issues or people who wish to consult with an attorney before entering into a consumer transaction are invited to call the Fort Huachuca Legal Assistance Office at 533.2009.

 




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