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LEGAL MATTERS: Protect Yourself While Holiday Shopping

Friday, November 23, 2012

 

Holiday shopping can be a frantic exercise depending on how many folks you are shopping for and what items you are purchasing. Because of this, all too often we wind up taking risks with purchases when a little research and attention can help protect both the giver and receiver.

Safety First

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), “(d)eaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $900 billion annually.” Before you buy anything, check the CPSC website at www.cpsc.gov to see if a recall or warning has been issued on the item you want to buy. This is particularly true of items for sale on line or second-hand items.

Protect your Purchase

Many stores sell extended warranties on high-priced items, but there are experts who will tell you that a lot of these warranties are not cost effective.

Before purchasing an extended warranty, we recommend you do the following: First, read the warranty on the item. Most expensive, electronic items offer a one-year warranty. If an item is defective, it will most likely malfunction in the first year and the manufacturer’s warranty will cover the problem. Furthermore, many extended warranties are filled with numerous exceptions so that it is questionable whether they will cover a problem, anyway. In addition, if something does happen after the manufacturer’s warranty expires, the item will have depreciated and it may be cheaper for you to buy a new one.

Also, make sure you know whether you are buying a service contract or a warranty. Often times the terms are used interchangeably. An extended warranty protects against manufacturing defects beyond the express warranty. Service contracts, on the other hand, provide for maintenance.

Be advised, also, that your credit card may provide protection for products purchased with your card. The details and protection vary with the card.

Be Careful with Layaway

The recession has brought layaway back with a vengeance. For folks with bad credit or those who do not want to use their credit cards layaway can be the solution, but make sure you know the laws that protect you.

Under Massachusetts law, retailers must disclose layaway polices accurately. Furthermore, they must tell you that it will only be set aside for a certain time. They cannot substitute the product without your prior approval nor increase the price by increasing the payment or giving you a product of lower quality or price. You must also receive a receipt for every payment.

The terms of the layaway must be in writing and signed and dated by you. It also must contain notify you that you are entitled to a copy of the document and that you may payoff the full, unpaid balance at any time and are entitled to receive a partial rebate of the finance and insurance charges. You may cancel the agreement in person or by registered or certified mail no later than10 days after the day you sign the agreement. (Sundays and holidays are excluded). If you do cancel, the seller has 30 days from the date of cancellation to refund your payments. If you cancel later than 10 days after, the seller may not keep more than 10% of the total payments made. Note, however, that this does not apply to special order merchandise, meaning custom- made merchandise that substantially differs from that which the seller ordinarily offers for sale.

You may also have other protections under federal law depending on the circumstances.

Lastly, as the old saying goes, it it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be taken in by retailers who promise verbally to take care of a problem if anything happens. GET IT IN WRITING.

Susan G. Pegden is a litigation associate with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins in Providence.  She is admitted to practice in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Rhode Island Association of Justice (RIAJ) and a member of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association.

Sean P. Feeney is a partner with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins. He is admitted to practice in Rhode Island, Illinois and Wisconsin. Mr. Feeney is a former special counsel to the City of Providence, military prosecutor with the United States Marine Corps and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California.

 

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