Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Advertising and Purchases

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office

Retail Purchases:

Before making a purchase, consider the following tips:

  • Always read the fine print. Whether in an advertisement or the contract for the purchase of the product, the fine print may contain disclosures that materially affect the deal being made or the product being purchased.
  • Be wary if the deal seems too good to be true. If the price or the extras offered along with a purchase seem too good to be true, they probably are.
  • Understand the terms before signing any contract. Ensure that you understand the full price you will be asked to pay and any material conditions that appear in the contract.
  • Ensure all promises made by the salesperson, such as discounts, money-back guarantees or shipping costs, are present in the sales contract.
  • Ask about the terms of the company’s return or cancellation policy and any associated charges, such as restocking fees.
  • Consider using a credit card to make the purchase. Credit card charges can be challenged if the product is never delivered or does not live up to its billing. If you use a debit card or write a check, you will probably be unable to recover your money if you have been scammed.

Telemarketing:

Many telephone sales are placed by legitimate businesses offering legitimate products and services. However, telemarketing fraud is a billion-dollar industry in the United States. Consumers must always be on the alert when asked to send money to unfamiliar companies. Fraudulent telemarketers are skilled liars and adept at sounding believable.

Don’t be pushed into a hasty decision.

Fraudulent telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics. They want to get you to buy their products and get your money before you can check them out or change your mind. Telemarketers are trained not to accept no as an answer. Some telemarketers resort to insult and argument as a sales technique. Don't be intimidated and don’t be afraid to hang up.

Beware these common telemarketing schemes:

  • “Free prize” offers are never free. The consumer usually has to do something for the “free prize.” For example, the consumer is required to pay an advanced fee, buy another product, pay a tax or attend a sales presentation. The prizes are generally worthless or overvalued.
  • “Free” or “low-cost” vacations usually cost consumers much more than originally presented. There are hidden costs, “blocked out” dates and often the trips don't materialize.

Don’t provide financial information over the phone to unfamiliar companies.

The only time you should provide credit card or bank account information is if you have decided to make a purchase after researching the company. Be careful if the company wants to send a courier to pick up your money. What is the big hurry? If you have paid by credit card and have not received the product, immediately notify your credit card company in writing that you would like to dispute the charge.

Research the company.

Legitimate businesses understand when you want written information about their offers or companies. Request written material about any sales pitch you receive. Find out how long the company has been in business and search online to see if the business has a good reputation among its customers. Search online using the company’s name and “scam,” “rip-off” or “fraud” in a search engine to see if there are negative reviews. Also, check for complaints against the company with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.

Toy Advertising:

Almost every parent has heard a child yell, “I want that!” while watching the latest toy advertisement on television. Children, particularly younger ones, have difficulty understanding that the manner in which a toy performs in its imaginary television setting is different from the way it may perform when they open the box at home. To prevent disappointments, you may want to help children better understand what they see in television ads.

Remind children that some toys are harder to use than they appear to be on TV.

In some ads, toys may look easy to play with or operate. In fact, they may require hours of practice before a child could use them as shown. Additionally, some toys may be shown with parts from more than one package while others may be depicted in elaborate play settings not readily duplicated at home.

Research the product.

As with any product, find out information about a toy before purchasing it. Carefully examine the toy and its packaging in the store or ask friends for their experiences. Try to determine how the toy actually performs, which pieces come with it and how much assembly is required. You may also want to check to determine if the toy or any of its pieces have been recalled or had health and safety warnings issued. You may search for recalls at the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website at http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls.

File a complaint.

Consumers wishing to report a business or advertiser using unfair or deceptive business practices may file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone toll-free at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. Additionally, you may want to file a complaint against the firm with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint as well as with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.

You may also file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which acts as the State's consumer complaint clearinghouse, at www.floridaconsumerhelp.com.