Consumer Rights: Common Consumer
Do you feel scammed or cheated after a purchase
you've made turned out to be defective or did not
perform as advertised? Are you confused by lemon
laws, return policies and other consumer rights?
Consumers believe that our legal system provides more
statutory protections than it really does. The U.S. is a
caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware"), meaning the law
allows sellers to do almost anything in the way of
advertising and it is up to the consumer to research
before making the purchase. We can argue that is not the
way it ought to be, but unfortunately, that is how
things presently stand.
Here are some commonly held misunderstandings about consumer's rights:
Rights to cancel
purchases within three days.
Unfortunately, the three-day right to cancel applies to only a limited number of cash or
credit card transactions of $25 or more. In many states, it applies to
door-to-door sales, health club contracts, time share purchases and home improvement contracts . Purchases of automobiles and other vehicles are
In most states, each store sets its own refund policy, which must be
disclosed or displayed at the time of sale. If the policy is not displayed
or if the store has no refund policy, a consumer may be able to return goods
purchased for a credit or a refund within a matter of days - each state
varies. & days is common. This obviously does not apply to:
- perishable items,
- custom made or custom ordered items,
- items which have been used,
- items which by state regulation cannot be resold (such as underwear), or
- items marked "as is" or final sale."
Retailers are also not obligated to make refunds without proof of
Almost all states have lemon laws covering new car purchases. But there
is where it ends. Don't make the mistake of thinking lemon laws apply to all
expensive items such as used cars, televisions, lawn mowers and
refrigerators. Always investigate the history of a used car or other product
and have it checked by a mechanic or other knowledgeable person before
Donations to charities
Charitable organizations are not required to spend a certain percentage
of what they raise on their stated charitable goals or activities. Some
charities are notoriously inefficient and ineffective and waste most of the
money they collect on administrative costs and staff salaries. Donors should
ask if the caller is a paid solicitor or a volunteer for the charity and
what percentage of the donation with actually go to the charitable
organization. generally, your donations will be more effectively used in
smaller, local organizations, and some of the carefully watched national
Do not give out your credit card number over the phone
Never use your credit card for identification purposes, especially over
the phone. Criminals use your credit card number and expiration date to make
unauthorized charges. Stick to using a credit card to place catalog orders,
make hotel reservations, or make other purchases from established
businesses. Credit card purchase protection policies and laws generally
protect you better than using cash or checks.
Guard your checking account!
Any criminal who gets hold of your checking account number or your check
book or even an old check may be bale to withdrawal money from your account.
Scammers can contact your bank, using your account number, and claim
that you authorized a withdrawal> The bank may pay it even though it lacks
your signature. Often, consumers don't find out about it until it's too
late. Remember, the system allows others access to take money directly from
your bank accounts without your written authorization - use checks as rarely
as possible. Paying by credit card offers more protection.
Credit reports are not private
Many companies and individuals, such as potential employers, landlords,
insurers and retailers may access credit reports as part of a background
check. You may obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the 3
credit reporting agencies every 12 months (see this page). If you notice
errors, contact the company immediately.
Accuracy of Advertisements on radio, TV and in newspapers and magazines
There is no government agency that reviews advertisements in advance of
their showing. Only public pressure, state attorney general's offices and in
rare cases, the FTC bring actions against advertisers for showing false or
misleading ads. Be very skeptical of claims that seem too good to be
true, especially those "make money schemes" and "work from home programs"
The Federal Trade Commission works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent,
deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide
information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. Click here to file a
complaint or call
toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters
Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into
Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil
and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. You may also want
to contact your state's
attorney general's office.
See this page for more information
about reporting scams and filing complaints.