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Troubleshooter - Advice from the Bucks County Consumer Advocates

Do you have a question about a supermarket scale? Are you concerned about a gas pump? Will you know what to do if your landlord doesn't fix your heater. All these questions and more are answered by the Bucks County Troubleshooter. 

Get advice for the future, or catch up on something you weren't familiar with. The Troubleshooter is published every Sunday in The Intelligencer and The Bucks County Courier Times. Or, ask your own own question by emailing consumerprotection@buckscounty.org and putting Troubleshooter Question in the subject line; you may also fax your question or call the office at the numbers listed below.

This Week's Troubleshooter:

Fraud Alert!
24/7 HOLIDAY SHOPPING BEGINS !

Just as holiday shopping becomes a 24-hour, seven day a week proposition for more and more retailers, consumers need to be on guard 24/7 when shopping for holiday gifts online, by phone or by mail, or through local brick and mortar stores.

Ads & Sales

  • Read store ads carefully.  Is the store offering sale items at a limited quantity?  Can you get a rain check if it’s an out-of-stock sale item?
  • Take the ad with you when you go shopping to make sure you find the right item at the price advertised.
  • Focus on bottom-line prices, not discounts.  Discount claims may not reflect real savings, if the seller inflated the original price of an item and then discounted it to make the “discount price” appear as a bargain.

The Seller

  • Buy from a seller you trust. Whether the seller is down the street or across the country, know who you’re buying from.  Be wary of online retailers that don’t disclose contact information, including a phone number and physical address.
  • Understand the seller’s return and refund policies.  How long do you have to return the item?  Will you get a full refund, store credit, or nothing?  Is there a restocking fee?  Do you need a receipt and the product packaging?  If the seller ships an item that you later decide to return, who pays for shipping?
  • If you’re making an online purchase, make sure it’s a secure website.  Secure sites use an “https” prefix in their web address.  The “s” stands for secure, which means the site is not secure without it!  Don’t email financial information, such as credit card or bank account numbers.
  • If ordering online or by phone, use a credit card because credit cards generally offer consumers better protections in cases of fraud or disputes.  Only give credit card numbers to sellers you know and that you called.  Review your monthly statements to ensure the charges are correct.  Avoid using a debit card, because debit transactions draw directly from your bank account.  Don’t wire money or send cash.
  • If it’s a mail or phone order, the merchant is required to ship the item within 30 days of the order, unless the seller clearly discloses a longer wait in advertisements or catalog.  If the merchant cannot meet the 30-day deadline, the seller must disclose it to the customer and offer the option of a cancellation and full refund.
  • If you’re buying through a layaway, be sure you understand the policies, including any additional fees or restrictions, and cancellation policies.

Warranties & Extended Warranties

  • How long does the seller warranty the product?  Does a seller’s warranty go beyond the manufacturer’s warranty?
  • Think carefully about extended warranties and service agreements.  Be sure to understand the terms, including what is and is not covered.  Extended warranties often mean add-on profits for sellers, but they can also offer peace of mind for the buyer and convenience if the product breaks during the warranty period.

Gift Cards

  • Understand the terms.  Does the merchant charge a gift card purchase fee?  Does the merchant charge an inactivity fee (which is allowed after 12 months of inactivity)?
  • The card must clearly disclose the expiration date, and fees must be clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging.  Gift cards must be good for five years from the purchase date, or from the last date any additional money was loaded onto the card.
  • Urge the recipient to use the card sooner rather than later to avoid loss, theft, and future inactivity fees.  And keep your receipts, or give the recipient a receipt in case of problems down the road

Monthly Fraud Alerts brought to you by:

Bucks County Crimes Against Older Adults Task Force

Bucks County District Attorney's Office
215-348-6344 
A Woman's Place (AWP)
1-800-220-8116 
Bucks County Area Agency on Aging
215-348-0510 
Bucks County Consumer Protection
215-348-6060 
Bucks County Coroner's Office  Bucks County Register of Wills 
 Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) 1-800-675-6900 

   

Department of Consumer Protection / Weights and Measures 
Michael D. Bannon, 
Director 
The Almshouse Building
1260 Almshouse Rd., 4th Floor
Doylestown, PA 18901
Phone: 215-348-6060 or 1-800-942-2669
Fax: 267-885-1420
email: consumerprotection@buckscounty.org