December 9, 2011 Transcript of Lisa Harris Director of Consumer Protection at the New York Department of State

TOP December 9, 2011 Transcript of Lisa Harris Director of Consumer Protection at the New York Department of State
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Read the transcript from the web chat with Lisa Harris Director of Consumer Protection on December 9, 2011.

11:00am
Lisa Harris said:
Hello and thank you for joining us today. I am Lisa Harris, Director of the Division of Consumer Protection at the Department of State. Consumer Protection is a top priority of Governor Cuomo’s administration and the Department of State. As the state’s top consumer watchdog, we are committed to providing the public with sound information to help all New Yorkers make informed decisions in the marketplace. This is a particularly good time to be aware of important consumer tips, especially since so many people are in the midst of holiday shopping. I am looking forward to spending the next hour with you to answer your questions, so let’s get started.

11:01am
Question from Anna in Cortland:
How do I choose a toy for my grandson, who is under 3 years of age?

11:03am
Lisa Harris said:
Children under 3 tend to put everything in their mouths. Avoid buying toys which may have small parts, marbles, balls, and games with balls that have a diameter of 1.75 inches or less as these all pose a choking danger. Children at this age pull, prod and twist toys. Look for toys that are well-made with tightly secured eyes, noses and other parts. Avoid toys that have sharp edges and points.

11:04am
Question from Ericka in Syracuse:
I am considering purchasing gift cards this year for my family and friends. Are there any specific rules I should be aware of in New York?

11:07am
Lisa Harris said:
The expiration date, fees and all other terms and conditions must be clearly and conspicuously stated on the card, package, or accompanying printed document with a toll free number. There should be no dormancy fees imposed before a year and one month (13 months) of inactivity. Always ask the sales associate or store manager if there are any fees associated with a lost or stolen card. Also, ask about any restrictions on the card and the process for replacing a lost or stolen card. Note the law does not apply to prepaid calling cards, flexible spending cards, and cards linked to bank accounts.

11:07am
Question from Mary in Syracuse:
Am I entitled to a rain check if the store runs out of the item I want to buy?

11:08am
Lisa Harris said:
No. New York law does not regulate rain checks. If no language exists indicating whether a rain check will be offered in the event your item is sold out, ask a sales associate.

11:09am
Question from Amy in Riverdale, NY:
I hear lots of stories about people who have had their identity stolen. Is it more prevalent during the holidays?

11:12am
Lisa Harris said:
Yes. The holidays are a time when consumers tend to be more vulnerable to this crime because many people tend to be more generous with their money and their personal information. To avoid becoming a victim, be sure to provide only the information that is necessary to make a purchase. Protect your personal information including your social security number, your date of birth, your salary, and your mailing address. Also, be vigilant about checking your credit card statements. With all the activity surrounding the holidays, identity thieves will often use this time to make small purchases of gas or meals that you may not immediately notice. If you think you may be a victim of identity theft and need help, call our toll-free consumer complaint line at 1-800-697-1220 or complete our online form which can be found at www.dos.state.ny.us.

11:13am
Question from Mike in NYC:
Do I need to buy the warranty they offer me at the check-out?

11:15am
Lisa Harris said:
Most extended warranties for electronics and household appliances aren't worth the extra cost. When malfunctions occur within the warranty period, the average cost of repair isn't much more than what you paid for the warranty. Additionally, some credit card issuers offer free extended warranty protection on products purchased with their card, so do your homework before you spend money on additional protection.

11:16am
Question from John in Bronx, NY:
I want to make a charitable contribution this holiday season and would like to know how I can confirm if the charity is legitimate?

11:19am
Lisa Harris said:
Research the organization's status, registration filings and complaints. You can do this by contacting the New York Department of State, the State Attorney General, the Internal Revenue Service and/or the Better Business Bureau. You also can search the New York State Attorney General's online database of registered charities at www.oag.state.ny.us or seek information from other various national databases including Guidestar, American Institute of Philanthropy, and Charity Navigator. Also, be alert to charity scams and don't disclose personal or financial information. Never give your Social Security number, credit card or debit card number or other personal identifying information in response to an unsolicited charitable request, especially over the phone.

11:19am
Question from Jeff in Hudson:
What is the safest method of payment to use while shopping online?

11:21am
Lisa Harris said:
The expiration date, fees and all other terms and conditions must be clearly and conspicuously stated on the card, package, or accompanying printed document with a toll free number. There should be no dormancy fees imposed before a year and one month (13 months) of inactivity. Always ask the sales associate or store manager if there are any fees associated with a lost or stolen card. Also, ask about any restrictions on the card and the process for replacing a lost or stolen card. Note the law does not apply to prepaid calling cards, flexible spending cards, and cards linked to bank accounts.

11:22am
Question from James in Mohawk Valley:
HOw long should it take for me to receive my rebate and what if I don't receive it?

11:23am
Lisa Harris said:
New York law requires your rebate to be mailed to you within 60 days. If you don’t receive yours, file an on-line complaint form with the Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection at http://www.dos.state.ny.us/.

11:25am
Question from Justin in New York City:
Many stores give discounts if you open up a credit card on the spot, is that a good idea?

11:27am
Lisa Harris said:
As with any offer take your time to read the terms and conditions of using the store credit card. Having lots of store cards can negatively impact your credit score, as can opening several new cards all at once as some consumers may do around the holidays. Unless you have great credit and shop at a store often enough to make the discount or card perks worthwhile, skip these offers.

11:27am
Question from Jennifer in New York City:
How do I choose a safe toy for my child?

11:30am
Lisa Harris said:
First, check the label and warnings and ensure that the toy is age appropriate. Check the consumer product safety commission website at www.cpsc.gov or the recall site at www.recalls.gov to ensure that a recall or warning has not been issued on the product. Make sure the toy has no loose parts or magnets that could be ingested by the child. Look for toys in good condition without long cords which can pose a strangulation hazard. You also can check the site www.toysafety.org for its annual list of the top ten dangerous toys as well as www.sightandhearing.org for a list of toys that can be harmful to your child’s hearing.

11:31am
Question from Dom in Cortland:
My son bought a toy for my grandson but Im not too sure about it. Where do I report a product that has not been recalled but that I think is unsafe?

11:32am
Lisa Harris said:
Report your product to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.saferproducts.gov.

11:33am
Question from Ashley in Utica:
Do refund policies apply to the items I buy online?

11:35am
Lisa Harris said:
Most online retailers post their refund policies on the home page of their website. If the retailer does not post a refund policy on its website, think twice before engaging in a transaction with that merchant. Make sure to carefully read online refund policies and check to see who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees if a return is necessary. Sellers must ship items within the timeframe promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is provided. Many sites offer tracking options, so you can check the status of your purchase and estimate when you’ll receive it.

11:37am
Question from Darlene in Rochester:
I have been receiving a lot of offers that seem great, but I am not sure they are legitimate. Do phishing emails and scams increase around the holidays?

11:39am
Lisa Harris said:
Many unscrupulous people take advantage of the fact that many consumers are shopping online. They will take advantage of the increased volume of online consumers and try to exploit those who are unaware of cyber risks to gain access to their personal information. Never open an email from an unknown source and do not click on links within these emails if you do open them. Even if it seems like a “great” deal, many of these solicitations contain spyware or are phishing for personal information to commit identity theft.

11:39am
Question from Deanna in Mohawk Valley:
If I am mailing a gift this holiday how can the recipient return it if they need to?

11:41am
Lisa Harris said:
First, review the refund policy before considering a purchase and pay close attention to the time limits within which your gift can be returned. Remember, by the time you give your gift, it may already be beyond the store's refund deadline. Make sure to ask for and send a gift receipt with your gift along with a copy of the refund policy. In New York we require retailers to produce, upon request, a written copy of the refund policy.

11:42am
Question from Rachel in Rotterdam:
How do I research products to make sure they are appropriate for gift giving?

11:46am
Lisa Harris said:
A number of different websites provide information about various products. Do your homework and check resources such as Consumer Reports, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission for reviews, studies and complaints. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Manufacturers and retailers often have information on their websites about the products they carry. Also, call the retail stores and ask questions about the products you are interested in.

11:47am
Question from Kandi in East Greenbush:
How do I know a website is safe to order from?

11:48am
Lisa Harris said:
Do your homework prior to engaging in a transaction with an unfamiliar retailer. Ask others if they have shopped at the site before. Use only secure corporate websites to shop. If the site uses “https” – not just “http” in the web browser line, it indicates a higher level of security for your transaction information. Check the web address by opening up a new internet session and retyping the web address and any links embedded in the site to help ensure you are dealing with the correct company.

11:49am
Question from Preston in Sratoga:
How do I stay within my budget and not overspend this holiday?

11:51am
Lisa Harris said:
Create a plan of action, which includes the list of items you wish to purchase; the stores you want to hit; and, the amount of money you have to spend on gifts. Try to use cash to help keep you within your budget. If you choose to use a credit card, choose one to use for all of your purchases and be sure to reconcile your receipts against your next credit statement.

11:52am
Question from Bryan in St.James/Suffolk County:
I’ve heard about something called dynamic pricing. What is it?

11:55am
Lisa Harris said:
Some online retailers use dynamic pricing to engage in price discrimination by charging different prices to different consumers for identical goods or services. When you purchase goods or services online, you may be paying a higher or lower price than another online customer buying the same item from the same site at the same time. While online shopping enables consumers to easily compare prices, it also allows businesses to collect detailed information about a customer's purchasing history and preferences. Online stores can use that information to customize the prices they charge you.

11:55am
Question from Jeremy in Mastic Beach, NY:
Is there anything I can do to protect myself from dynamic pricing?

11:57am
Lisa Harris said:
Protect your personal information. Don’t be so generous with personal identifiers such as your name, telephone number, annual salary and marital status. Retailers will use this information to send unsolicited offers and establish buying profiles to determine what you will be willing to pay. Be prepared to bargain. Call the number the online retailer provides and request a lower price. There may be an unadvertised alternative that may suit your needs and your budget.

11:58am
Question from aron in albany:
what do your opinion reguarding the price chopper gift cards concerning other retail stores and are they really a savings

11:59am
Lisa Harris said:
You should always read the terms and conditions of any gift card prior to purchase. Contact the retailer directly and ask them what their policy is about buying a gift card to their store from another merchant. Always ask the seller what their policy is if the card is lost, stolen or if there is a problem with the card.

12:00pm
Lisa Harris said:
Thank you for all of your questions. I hope that I was able to provide you with some important holiday consumer tips, as well as some new information about other consumer related issues. The Division of Consumer Protection at the Department of State is here to help you. If your questions didn’t get answered during today’s chat, call our toll-free consumer complaint line at 1-800-697-1220. Staff is on hand to take your calls 5 days a week between the hours of 8:30am to 4:30pm. You also can file a complaint online at http://www.dos.state.ny.us.