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Consumer Alerts

Don’t Let Returns Make For a Blue Christmas

Don’t Let Returns Make For a Blue Christmas

Wed, Dec 23, 2015

Finding the perfect gifts for family and friends can be an overwhelming task, and sometimes no matter how much thought is put into gifts, the recipient needs to return or exchange it. When this happens, consumers need to know the company return policies.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to help both gift givers and recipients this Christmas season, should gift returns or exchanges be necessary.

“Gift giving and receiving can be fun,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But a problematic return policy can spoil the moment. Some retailers allow shoppers to make returns regardless of the reason, which leads consumers to wrongly believe they are entitled by law to a full refund or credit.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for gift recipients needing to make a return or exchange:

· Ask the gift giver about the store’s return or exchange policy.

· Keep all gift receipts.

· Do not open the box or remove the tags if you may return it.

· Some online retailers allow purchases to be returned in store, while others require the item be shipped back. Check with the company ahead of time.

As a gesture of goodwill, most companies offer in-store exchanges if the customer has the receipt and the item is promptly returned. However, others have an “all sales are final” policy for deeply discounted or clearance items and do not allow returns or exchanges. Return policies not only differ from store to store but can also differ for items purchased in-store and items bought online or by mail-order.

Some retailers that allow returns may charge restocking fees for certain products. Consumers can sometimes pay a fee of 10 to 25 percent of the price of the item if the package is not in the condition in which it was purchased. Meanwhile, items like computer software, CDs, DVDs and Blue-Ray discs are not generally returnable after the seal has been broken.

Retailers are not required to accept at-will returns, and even in the case of a defective product, consumers may be required to contact the manufacturer. Sometimes retailers will require consumers to deal with the product manufacturer directly, rather than simply returning the item to the place of purchase.

The National Retail Federation estimates consumers will spend an average of $463 on family members this holiday season, up about $5 from last year, and holiday spending is expected to increase 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion.

For other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Are You Giving Gift Cards This Year?

Are You Giving Gift Cards This Year?

Wed, Dec 16, 2015

Gift cards can make great gifts for friends and family. Gift cards allow the recipient to go to favorite restaurants or stores and purchase an item or items at no charge to them.

Arkansas’s Fair Gift Card Act, along with federal regulations, provides protections for recipients of gift cards. These protections state that the expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card and must be at least five years from the date the card was purchased. Fees must also be clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging, and inactivity fees can be charged only after a card has not been used for two years.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to help Arkansans who are considering purchasing gift cards this Christmas season to give to friends and loved ones.

“The holiday season is upon us, and we are all searching for the perfect gifts for family members and friends,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “One option is to purchase a gift card that allows the recipient to pick out their own gift or go out to eat. If you decide to give a gift card, make sure the recipient is aware of the protections.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for consumers considering adding gift cards to their shopping list:

  • Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, as the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.
  • Read the fine print. Is there a fee to buy the card? Consider buying elsewhere if the terms and conditions do not seem reasonable.
  • Keep the original receipt so the recipient can verify the card’s purchase if it is lost, stolen or does not work. Be sure to provide the recipient with the terms and conditions and the ID number.
  • Consider the financial condition of the retailer or restaurant. Cards purchased from companies that later file for bankruptcy or go out of business may lose their worth.
  • Encourage the recipient to use the card as soon as possible to avoid misplacing or forgetting about it.

Contact the card issuer if the card is lost or stolen or problems arise with the gift card. Some retailers may replace lost or stolen cards for a fee if the user has the ID number on the card. If the company does not resolve the issue, contact the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division to file a consumer complaint.

For more information about gift cards and other consumer-related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Car Financing Tips for Service Members

Car Financing Tips for Service Members

Wed, Dec 9, 2015

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that military service members often become targets of scammers when purchasing or financing a vehicle, including paying money to a scammer posing as a lender who takes their money and disappears.

Meanwhile, overseas deployments or a change-of-duty station can create financial stress and unique financial difficulties. And some unscrupulous lenders target service members by exaggerating their ties to the military to pull at the heartstrings of potential consumers when taking out a car loan.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to encourage military service members to be educated buyers and borrowers.

“All Arkansans considering a vehicle purchase should shop around for the best vehicle and financing options for them,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But the brave men and women who serve our country need to make special considerations when buying a vehicle. All too often military service members become prime targets for scammers who pose as lenders, taking the service member’s money without providing promised financial services.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for members of the military who are considering buying a new or used vehicle:

Military personnel are provided some additional protections when looking for a new vehicle. Make sure the lender is aware of a deployment so they can honor the interest rate cap of 6 percent specified in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). A vehicle lease can also be broken without penalty if the service member is deployed, according to the SCRA. Some insurance companies offer discounts to service members. And some lenders provide military car loans that offer lower interest rates and down payments, but use caution because this also means it will take longer to pay down the loan

For more car-buying tips, credit reporting information and other consumer-related questions, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Securely Surf and Shop Online

Securely Surf and Shop Online

Wed, Dec 2, 2015

The holiday shopping season is underway, with retailers competing to provide the best deals and lowest prices to Arkansans. Many consumers are taking advantage of deals that an increasing number of retailers are offering online.

According to research by Wipro Digital, 61 percent of people in the U.S. reported doing more than half their 2014 holiday shopping online. This is a significant increase from 2013, when only 36 percent of consumers reported doing the majority of their shopping online. The trend is set to continue with the 2015 holiday season.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to encourage caution while shopping online.

“With Christmas just a few weeks away, our schedules continue to fill up, and Arkansans are going online to finish their lists,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But shoppers must be cautious when making these purchases to protect financial information. Hackers are always looking for new ways to gain access to credit card numbers and online user information.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help keep consumers safe while shopping online:

  • Use a secure browser — software that encrypts or scrambles the purchase information you send over the Internet — to help guard the security of your information as it is transmitted to a website. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer.
  • Check the site’s privacy policy before providing any personal financial information and determine how the information will be used or shared with others. Also check the site’s statements about the security provided for your information. Some websites’ disclosures are easier to find than others — look at the bottom of the home page, on order forms or in the “About” or “FAQs” sections of a site.
  • Read and understand the refund and shipping policies before you make your purchase.
  • Pay by credit card, which is the most secure payment method. Under federal law, charges can be disputed. Many credit card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the purchaser pays nothing if their credit card is stolen and used to make unauthorized purchases.
  • Keep personal information private. Do not disclose personal information – address, telephone number, Social Security number, bank account number or email address – unless you know who is collecting the information, why they are collecting it and how they will use it.
  • Be cautious when buying gifts from an online auction. Understand how the auction works and check out the seller’s reputation before bidding. Always ask about terms of delivery and return options. Never wire money for the purchase; use some other form of payment.
  • Keep records of online transactions and check for emails from merchants while doing business. Merchants may send important information about purchases.
  • Review monthly credit card and bank statements for any errors or unauthorized purchases promptly and thoroughly. Notify the credit or debit card issuer immediately if a card or checkbook is lost or stolen or if you suspect someone is using your accounts without your permission.

During the holiday season, there are many great deals; however, do thorough research on companies and products before finalizing each online purchase. And check the anticipated delivery date to make sure it will be delivered before the holidays.

For more information on identity theft, ways to protect your money and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Monitor and Secure Prescriptions During the Holidays

Monitor and Secure Prescriptions During the Holidays

Wed, Nov 25, 2015

Families across Arkansas are gathering for Thanksgiving to give thanks for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us this year. But as we all give thanks, many conversations turn to family news, which often includes our recent ailments or upcoming doctor appointments. Unfortunately, many children and teens listen closely to these conversations and they hear an opportunity to get their hands on “safe” medications prescribed by doctors.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to remind Arkansas families of the prescription drug abuse epidemic in our State and to offer ways they can protect their loves ones by properly storing and disposing of prescription medication.

“Many teens have easy access to prescriptions from the family medicine cabinet and believe these pills are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But the prescriptions are written for a different family member, and it is dangerous to take them for non-medical use. These drugs are very addictive and can be a gateway to even more dangerous drugs, such as heroin.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for parents and family members to protect access to prescription medications:

  • Get educated on the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse at MayoClinic.org.
  • Talk to your children about the dangers of taking medication that is prescribed to someone else.
  • Maintain a pill count as a monitoring method to know if any pills have been taken.
  • Keep medications in a secure, out-of-reach location that limits accessibility.
  • Clean out expired medications from cabinets and drawers and make plans to visit a local drug drop-off location.
  • Do not flush medication down the toilet or pour down the drain because it can pollute water supplies.
  • Research prescription drug drop-off locations at ARTakeBack.org.

Nearly 44,000 people die from drug overdoses each year, with more than half of those because of abuse of prescription drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports 5.5 percent of Arkansans over age 12 have used prescription drugs for non-medical use, with the most often abused drug being painkillers. Meanwhile, a study from the University of Texas reports 62 percent of teens who use prescription drugs use because they are easy to obtain from family medicine cabinets.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Arkansas Office of the Drug Director have drop-off locations for Arkansans to drop off any unused prescription medications with no questions asked. The medications will then be disposed of in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

Earlier this month Attorney General Rutledge partnered with the Arkansas Office of the Drug Director, Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy and the Criminal Justice Institute to host the annual Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in which participants learned about more research and strategies to fight prescription drug misuse and abuse.

For consumer-related questions, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Beat High Heating Costs This Winter

Beat High Heating Costs This Winter

Wed, Nov 18, 2015

Temperatures are beginning to drop into the 30s overnight across Arkansas, which means winter is on its way. Lower temperatures also mean turning on the heater and increased energy costs.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to offer ways to save money on energy this winter.

“Home heating costs can add up quickly for Arkansans during the colder months,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “It is important that Arkansans educate themselves about ways to stay warm and save money this winter.”

Attorney General Rutledge fights for lower utility rates for Arkansans, but there are tips consumers can follow to help keep energy costs lower throughout the colder months:

  • Keep curtains open during the day for natural heat, and close them at night to retain the heat.
  • Use a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the temperature when no one is home.
  • Seal cracks or holes around the home by weather-stripping doors and windows and adding insulation to walls, the attic and crawlspace to prevent it from losing heat.
  • Set ceiling fans to spin clockwise to recirculate rising hot air.
  • Make sure baseboard heaters, air vents and radiators are not obstructed.
  • Service the heating system at least once a year to ensure it is operating properly.
  • Consider wrapping the water heater in a water heater jacket or blanket and turning down the temperature to the warm setting to save money.
  • Close the vents and doors to rooms that are not being used.
  • Keep air filters clean and replace regularly.

Many Arkansans also burn wood as a heat source. Meanwhile, other consumers heat with liquefied petroleum gas, and those users should consider signing a long-term contract with a provider in order to lock in a specific price over a set period. In addition, homeowners should consider their consumption needs and order propane refills before the current supply runs out. And use caution while using space heaters and keep away from flammable materials. Also consider energy costs. The Department of Energy reports that space heaters account for about 45 percent of energy bills in average U.S. homes.

Be cautious of products that claim to drastically lower heating costs and avoid unsolicited high-pressure sales calls or visits from contractors offering furnaces, windows, roofing and other home-improvement projects. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Other tips and resources are available at EnergyEfficiencyArkansas.org, a partnership between Arkansas utility companies and the Arkansas Energy Office.

Arkansans having trouble paying heating or electricity bills this winter should contact their region’s Arkansas Community Action Agency to learn more about the Weatherization Assistance Program.

For more information about navigating utility costs and other consumer-related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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