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When I buy a product at a store, are there restrictions on what information the retailer can ask from me, such as my address or credit card number?
A: There are restrictions depending on the method of payment. When you purchase merchandise or services with a credit card, the seller cannot write or have you write on the credit card slip personal identification information such as your telephone number, address, or other information not required by your credit card issuer.
When you pay by check, the seller can only record your name, address, drivers or Mass. ID number, and your choice of home or daytime telephone number. The seller may ask you to show a credit card, but the seller cannot record the number. For more information on shopping rights, contact Attorney General Reillys consumer hotline.
I am about to purchase a travel package over the telephone, but Im not sure about the companys substitution or cancellation policies. Are they required to tell me those details?
A: Yes, they are. Anyone who sells travel services must disclose certain information to the consumer before asking for or accepting payment. This includes the sellers name and contact information; any information about the company actually providing the travel service if it is not the seller; and the price and payment terms, including the total amount to be paid, the date each payment is due, an itemized statement of the services purchased and balance due. Finally, the seller must tell you the complete terms of any substitution, cancellation, or refund policy and about any trip cancellation insurance policy they may offer. The seller must make these disclosures in writing, although if the purchase is made over the telephone, these disclosures should be made both orally and then in writing, either within seven days of the conversation or prior to the departure, whichever is earlier. For more information on travel protections, or to file a complaint, please contact our consumer hotline.
I ordered a product through the mail two months ago and I still have not received it. Are there any regulations governing the time a company has to ship the product?
A: Yes, there are. When you order a product through the mail or over the telephone, the company must deliver the item by the time promised in the advertisement. If the ad does not mention a time period, the company must ship the item within 30 days. If the seller cannot ship in the promised time, it must notify you and offer you the opportunity to cancel and get a prompt refund or get your consent to a delay in shipping.
My dry cleaner lost the clothes I left to be cleaned. What can I do?
A: You may want to contact the Northeast Fabricare Association and file a complaint. This organization is set up to resolve disputes between dry cleaners and consumers. They can be reached at (800) 446-1174. As always, you may also contact our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400. And, if you cant resolve the issue through Northeast Fabricare, you always have the option of filing in small claims court.
Does a store that is about to put an item on sale have to notify consumers of the upcoming change in price? What if the product was purchased just before it went on sale, do they have to refund the difference?
A: With the holiday shopping season right around the corner, it is important to be aware of your rights as a consumer. Generally stores are free to react to market forces and set and change their prices as they wish. There is no legal requirement for a store to refund the difference in price if a product goes on sale soon after a consumer has purchased it for a greater price. Some stores may do this out of good will, or tout it as a company policy, but it is not mandatory. Remember that a store must clearly disclose any return or cancellation policy at the point of purchase. Make sure to note a stores return policy before you make a purchase so you will know if you can return the item if you, later decide against the purchase.
Is it legal for a company to send me a check for a refund when I paid in cash?
A: Yes, stores can issue checks to consumers when they return items they purchased with cash. A store can only send you a refund check when you pay in cash, though, if the store clearly and conspicuously discloses that arrangement to consumers in its return policy. Stores often have these types of policies as a matter of security.
I recently had a salesman come to my house to sell study aides for my children. The books purchased did not cover all the topics that I wanted. Can I return them?
A: You can cancel contracts for over $25 for personal or household purposes made away from the sellers principle place of business (for example, at your home or a home show) by midnight of the third business day after you sign the contract. Beyond that, merchants can have any return or cancellation policy they wish as long as they disclose it to customers. Check the paperwork you were given at the time of purchase for any cancellation policy or instructions. For more information or to file a complaint, please contact Attorney General Reillys Consumer Hotline.
I made a very large purchase recently, but I was not informed about specific problems during the prior history of the item. Is there anything I can do about it?
A: The answer depends on whether you purchased the item from a merchant or a private party, and whether the item was a vehicle. When you buy a product from a merchant in Massachusetts, new or used, you are entitled to all the key facts about the purchase before you buy. Massachusetts law requires a merchant to disclose any fact that may influence the buyer not to enter into the transaction at all. Similarly, sellers must to disclose all material facts in advertising concerning the product or service that, if not disclosed, might directly or by implication mislead the consumer. Private party sellers, on the other hand, except in automobile sales, do not have to disclose material facts unless asked.
I recently purchased an item in New Hampshire and then took it in for an exchange at the stores location in Massachusetts. The store charged me sales tax. Can they do that?
A: When you purchased the product in New Hampshire and took it with you from the store, you did not pay sales tax. This was a New Hampshire sale and no sales tax is required. On the other hand, if you had the item shipped to your Massachusetts address, the NH store would have collected a sales or use tax and remitted it to Massachusetts because the company has stores in Massachusetts.
When you returned the item to the store in Massachusetts and exchanged it, a second sale took place under Massachusetts law, so a sales tax was due. For more information on sales tax you can contact the Department of revenue at (800) 392-6089.
I returned an item I bought to a store and they gave me a store credit slip. When I went to redeem the store credit a year later, they said it had expired and I could not use it. How much time are merchandise credits good for?
A: Merchandise credits, just like gift certificates issued in Massachusetts, are redeemable for 7 years from the date of issuance. Aside from that, stores can have any return policy they want (for example, they might only give merchandise credits for all returns, as long as they clearly disclose policy to the consumer. If a store will not honor your merchandise credit within the seven years from issuance, you can contact the Attorney Generals Consumer Hotline for assistance.
I recently purchased a product from a retail store and saw it go on sale a week later. I brought the advertisement and product in with me but they would not refund the difference in price. Isnt there a grace period for a situation like this?
A: There is no legal requirement for a store to refund the difference in price if a product goes on sale soon after a consumer has purchased it for a greater price. Some stores may do this out of good will, or tout it as a company policy, but it is not mandatory. Remember that any return or cancellation policy must be disclosed clearly at the point of purchase. Make sure to note a stores return policy prior to a purchase so you will know if it is possible to make a return if you decide against the purchase at a later date.
I went to buy stamps at a local retail store and they are charging fifty cents for a thirty-seven cent stamp. Can they do this?
A: The answer is yes. While the Postal Service sells stamps to everyone at face value, there is no prohibition on a private company or agency charging a higher rate to resell their products. You can avoid paying more than thirty-seven cents for First Class postage by purchasing stamps at your local post office, through the Postal Service's website, or by telephone. Remember that prices are determined by market forces, so for stamps as well as other products, shop wisely.
I was purchasing some items at a store when the attendant asked me to write some information on the credit card slip, including my address and telephone number. Can they ask me for this information?
A: This is a very common question. When you are making purchases in Massachusetts with a credit card, the seller cannot write, or ask you to write, any personal information, such as your address or telephone number, or any other information the credit card issuer does not require, on the credit slip.
On the other hand, when you pay by a check, the seller can record your name, address, driver's license or Massachusetts Identification number, and your home or daytime telephone number. The retail establishment may also ask you to show a credit card, but may not record the number or other information. Another important exception is that these rules do not apply when cashing a check at a supermarket courtesy window or a bank. If you have any other questions, please contact our Consumer Hotline for more information.
A store tried to charge me a fee on top of the regular price for using a credit card. Can they do this?
A: No, they cannot. No seller in any transaction may add a fee to a cardholder who chooses to use a credit card instead of cash, check or other means. On the other hand, a seller may offer a discount to induce a customer to pay by these other means if the discount is offered to all prospective buyers and its availability is clearly and conspicuously disclosed.
I have a gift certificate from a store in Massachusetts and have used up almost all of the money. Am I entitled to the remainder of the money back?
A: The answer depends on how much of the total amount you have already redeemed. A consumer has the option to receive the value of the gift certificate in cash after he has redeemed 90% or more of the certificate's value. Also remember that gift certificates are good for 7 years from the date of issuance, and must be redeemed within that period.
- I responded to an ad for a sale, and not only was there none left when I arrived, the store would not even offer me a raincheck. Isn't that false advertising?
A: Not necessarily. It is not false advertising if the store began its sale with a reasonable quantity of the advertised item, but then ran out because the demand was extraordinary, or if the store offered a comparable substitute item, or if there were shipping delays. It would also not be considered false advertising if the store did offer a raincheck, although they would not necessarily be required to do so. If a store does offer a raincheck, it must notify you when the item is back in stock (if the item sells for $25 or more), and the store must honor the raincheck within 60 days.
- I put a deposit on a new couch a while back, and when it wasn't delivered by the designated day, I went back to the shop only to find it empty and seemingly closed down. What can I do?
A: Unfortunately, even though you may not always be able to recover your money, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself. First of all, look over your paperwork to see if it list a manufacturer of the couch or other product you may have ordered. If so, contact them to see if your order has been placed and you can complete the transaction. Also, if you paid by credit card, you have 60 days from the time you receive your statement to file a dispute. If none of these steps work, you should try to find out if the business filed for bankruptcy, and, if so, you may attempt to file a proof-of-claim form with the court. If the company did not file for bankruptcy, you can file a complaint with our office and we can try to assist you as well.
- Why do some stores let you return merchandise for a refund within 30 days, but others say "All Sales Final?" What is the law on return policies?
A: This is a good question, especially at this time of year. In Massachusetts, a store can have any return policy it wants as long as the store clearly and conspicuously discloses its policy to the buyer before to the transaction. Usually this is done by posting a sign at the point of purchase. Printing the policy only on the sales receipt does not comply, since this is after the point of purchase. If a return policy is not posted, the law would infer a "reasonable" return policy - "reasonable" depending on the circumstances.
- I ordered a product through the mail two months ago and I still have not received it. Are there any regulations regarding the time a company has to ship the product?
A: Yes, there are. When you order a product through the mail or over the phone, the company must deliver the item by the time promised in the advertisement. If the ad does not mention a time period, the company must ship the item within 30 days. If the seller is unable to ship in the promised time, it must notify you, and offer you the opportunity to cancel and get a prompt refund, or get your consent to a delay in shipping.
- I was purchasing some items at a store when the attendant asked me to write some information on the credit card slip, including my address and telephone number. Can they ask me for this information?
A: This is a very common problem. When you are making purchases in Massachusetts with a credit card, the seller cannot write, or ask you to write, personal information, such as your address, telephone number, or any other information that is not required by the credit card issuer, on the credit slip.
On the other hand, when you pay by a check, the seller can record your name, address, driver's license or Massachusetts Identification number, and your home or daytime telephone number. The retail establishment may also ask you to show a credit card, but may not record the number or other information. Another important exception is that these rules do not apply when cashing a check at a supermarket courtesy window or a bank. For any questions similar to this, please contact our Consumer Hotline for more information.
- I was shopping in a retail store where the product scanned higher at the register than the price marked on the product. Under the law, am I entitled to one free?
A: Some supermarkets do have a voluntary policy where you can receive an item free if it seems higher than its actual price. Stores are not required by law to offer this guarantee, however. They are only required to scan items accurately and can be fined for making scanning mistakes.
If you do encounter scanning mistakes, you should first report them to the store management. You may also notify our office or the Division of Standards as well.
- I had an appointment at a beauty salon, but I needed to cancel the service. I called the day of the appointment, but they told me it was too late to cancel and that I would be fully charged for the unused service. Can they do that?
A: Unfortunately, the salon is allowed to charge you for an unused service if you did not cancel by a certain time, as long as their cancellation policy was disclosed to you in advance. Massachusetts law requires that merchants disclose their refund, return, and cancellation policies prior to the consummation of a transaction. A merchant may have any policy it chooses, but that policy must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed before the transaction is completed. Generally, merchants meet this requirement by posting a sign at or near the sales point. The requirement is not fulfilled by having the policy on the sales receipt, because the consumer does not receive the receipt until the transaction has been completed. A merchant may not misrepresent the policy or refuse to honor it. If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact our hotline at (617)727-8400.
- I have received bills in the past that specifically stated on them that under Massachusetts law, a business could not charge a fee for paying a bill over the phone, but a business I was just dealing with has told me that there would be charge if I did so with them. How can that be right?
A: Unfortunately, there are a number of businesses that have made this mistake which has resulted in some confusion for some consumers such as yourself. There is no such law in Massachusetts forbidding a business from charging a fee for paying a bill by phone. Of course, the business should inform you of the fee up front, and provide you with at least one other payment alternative. A similar law, however, does state that a merchant cannot charge you a fee for paying by credit card, although they may offer a discount for paying by other means, as long as these alternatives are available to all consumers.
- I was trying to purchase some food from a deli but I became extremely suspicious when I could not see how much the items I wanted weighed and therefore what the end cost was. How can that be fair?
A: It is not fair and it is not legal. The deli must place any scale it uses to determine a price so that the consumer can see the weight, price, and any other information displayed. Consumers also only have to pay the price per unit of the food ordered, and not the packaging. Although most scales are usually adjusted to deduct the weight of the containers, if something doesn't seem right, ask the manager. Also keep in mind that all weighing and measuring devices, such as gasoline pumps and scales, are tested regularly. Seals are usually placed on the equipment to show that everything was correct, so look for that seal, and if you don't see one, ask the manager.
- What is the limit a store can charge for a "restocking fee?"
A: "Restocking fees" fall under a store's general return policy. A store may have whatever policy it wishes as long as it clearly and conspicuously posts its policy in the store so that the consumer may see it before making the purchase. You can usually find the return policy near the cash register, but remember this does not include the receipt, since this would be received after the purchase. If you have concerns about a restocking fee, ask the store manager, because some stores have discontinued the use of restocking fees because of complaints made by consumers.
- What recourse is there for a consumer who trains in a health club where all payments must be in the form of an electronic transfer giving the health club direct access to my checking account?
A: That practice is unlawful. The Massachusetts "Electronic Funds Transfer Law" prohibits any seller from requiring a consumer to use an electronic method of payment for goods and services. Payment by electronic transfer from your bank account every month is a legal method of payment, but it cannot be the only option the health club offers to you.
- Can a store charge ridiculously high prices for a particular item and limit the quantity a consumer can purchase?
A: The answer to your question is yes. Market forces, not the state, dictate the price of most retail items. Unfortunately, as the demand for a product increases, the price of the product increases as well. In addition, a store may set limits on quantity as long as these limits are fully disclosed and equally applied to all consumers.
- I have been having trouble with a local merchant, and I do not think mediation would work in this instance, so I would like to take him to small claims court under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. I did hear that I am supposed to send him a letter first. Is this true?
A: The Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act allows both the Attorney General and individual consumers to take action against businesses that engage in unfair or deceptive practices. In order to pursue this claim, consumers must begin by sending the business a 93A Demand Letter, also known as a "30 Day" letter. This letter puts the business on notice of a claim and should include: your full name and address; an overview of the important facts and dates; a description of any unfair or deceptive acts at issue; and a summary of any injuries suffered, such as lost money or property. The business then has 30 days to offer either a settlement or other response. If the business fails to respond or fails to make a reasonable settlement offer, the consumer may then proceed with his or her 93A claim in court. For more information, contact Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Hotline at (617)727-8400.
- Any advice for last minute holiday shoppers?
A: It is always tough when you are shopping in a rush, but if you keep a clear head, you should be able to protect yourself. All of the usual regulations remain in place for consumers during this season, but the best security is to be aware of your rights. Advertisements must not be false or misleading, and should disclose sale end dates. Be conscious of the store's return or cancellation policy before making your purchases. If an item is out of stock, generally the store has to issue a rain check unless the ad stated that quantities were limited, or if demand was much higher than anticipated. For more information, and any specific questions you may have, please contact Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Hotline.
- I recently got into an argument with the manager of a store I was shopping at, and now he tells me I cannot go into the store. Is that legal?
A: A merchant may choose the people with whom he wants to do business with. As long as he does not make that choice in a discriminatory manner. If a merchant feels that you may cause a disturbance in the store, or simply may cause more problems than your business may be worth to him, he may ask you not to frequent his store. So, it is always important to try to remain calm and treat the people you are dealing with as much respect as possible and not to lose your patience. This is important in all situations, since people in general are more willing to come to an agreeable compromise if they are not fighting. If you feel that you are being excluded for a discriminatory reason, please contact our Civil Rights / Civil Liberties Division at (617) 727-2200. If you are in a situation where you feel you could use a neutral third party to intervene and attempt to resolve the issue for you, please contact the Consumer Hotline to take part in our mediation service.
- I purchased a microwave at a Best Buy in New Hampshire, and it was broken. I exchanged it at a Best Buy in Massachusetts and they made me pay sales tax. Can they do that?
A: Yes, they can. When you bought the microwave in New Hampshire, I assume you left the store taking the microwave with you. This was a New Hampshire sale and because New Hampshire has no sales tax, no sales tax was due at that point. (On the other hand, if you had the microwave shipped to your Massachusetts address, by the New Hampshire store would have collected sales tax and remitted it to Massachusetts because Best Buy also has stores in Massachusetts.)
When you returned the microwave in Massachusetts and exchanged it, a second sale took place, under Massachusetts law. You hadn't paid a sales tax on the original purchase in New Hampshire, so Massachusetts now collects tax on the second sale that takes place in our state. For more information on sales tax you should contact the Department of Revenue at (800) 392-6089.
- I just received some tickets to a Bruins game I had ordered from a ticket agent, but the face value of the tickets are much lower than the price I paid. Is that right?
A: Well, that probably depends on how much of a difference there is. Under Massachusetts law, a reseller of tickets may not charge more than two dollars over the face value of the ticket, plus any service charges the business incurs. These service charges may include costs like postage, messengers, long distance telephone calls, and extensions of credit. The reseller may also impose a separate fee for non-cash purchases. For other questions, or to file a complaint against an agency which you may feel is violating these standards, please contact our Consumer Hotline.
- I recently received a package from a company which contained items that I had not ordered and now I am being billed. Is this right?
A: That depends. Under Massachusetts law, if you receive goods that you did not actually order or request orally or in writing, you can consider them as unconditional gifts.
You should check first, though, to see if you've done business with the company before. They may have included a clause in previous agreements with you to request your permission to send you offers in the future. So try to find any paperwork you may still have before treating the items as gifts. Although you are not required by law to do so, if you intend to treat the item as a gift you may wish to notify the sender of this, setting forth the facts and explaining your rights under the law, in order to avoid possible problems. If you have any questions, or are having problems with a billing dispute, please contact our Office for assistance.
- If a store continuously runs a sale, how can I be assured that the price is actually discounted?
A: It is unlawful for a store to advertise that an item is on sale if the store always sells the item at the sales price. Under the Attorney General's regulations, an item on sale must be priced at least 10% less than the regular price if the regular price was $200 or less, or at least 5% less than the regular price if that price was more than $200. Stores cannot have the same item on sale for more than 45% of the 6 month period following the first "sale" date.
- If a store does not have an advertised item in stock, isn't that false advertising?
A: Not necessarily. Sellers must have enough supply of advertised items to meet reasonably anticipated demand. It would not be false advertising if a store runs out of an advertised item and any one of the following is true: (1) it had a reasonable quantity, but demand was extraordinary; (2) the ad stated that quantities were limited and no rainchecks were available; (3) the seller offered a raincheck; (4) the seller offered a comparable substitute item; or (5) the seller can prove shipping delays. If a store runs out of an advertised item, ask for a raincheck, if one is offered, so you can buy the item at the advertised price at a later date. The store must notify you when the item is back in stock if it sells for $25 or more and the raincheck must be honored within 60 days.
- I was trying to return some bottles and the business would not take them. Doesn't the Massachusetts Bottle Bill require them to take them all?
A: Perhaps. If the business is a dealer, like a retail establishment, they are required to accept any empty beverage container of the type, size and brand they sold within the past 60 days. If the business is a redemption center, they can determine what types, sizes or brands of beverage containers they will accept. Retailers may also refuse to redeem any containers which contain foreign material, or if the container is substantially altered from its original shape. The retailers are also only required to accept 120 containers in one day from any one person, although though may accept more.
- My husband just purchased a handgun in Massachusetts without any child-protection device. I made him get rid of it anyway, but shouldn't that be illegal?
A: It should, and it is. According to both the Massachusetts General Laws and the Code of Massachusetts Regulations it is an unfair or deceptive act under the Consumer Protection Act for a seller of handguns to sell, transfer, or even offer to transfer any handgun to a customer in the Commonwealth without a safety device. The Regulations require a safety device to effectively preclude an average five year old child from operating the handgun when it is ready to fire.
- I heard Ames is closing all of its stores in Massachusetts and I want to take advantage of some of their going-out-of-business sales. I know people that have been stuck with defective items from these sales before though, so how do I protect myself?
A: Most importantly, you should remember to comparison shop before you buy, not after, when it will be too late. Even though a store may have any return policy it wishes as long as it is clearly and conspicuously posted, in the case of a business closing its doors, it is unlikely you will be able to return any items. You may also want to make your purchases with a credit card so that you have the option of disputing the charge with your credit card company within 60 days of the purchase, although this will not guarantee that you will receive the credit. Finally, look for a manufacturer's warranty on any larger purchases you may make so that you have yet another option.
- I recently purchased a product from a local retail chain because of the great rebate they were offering. However, I sent in the form over a month ago and still haven't heard a word from the company. What can I do?
A: Rebate offers are popular enticements in retail transactions. First of all, it is important to know whether you have followed all of the instructions on the rebate form. This usually includes mailing the paperwork to the manufacturer or retailer within 30 days of purchase, and enclosing all of the required documentation (generally the original sales receipt, UPC code, and your name, address and telephone number). It is also important to keep copies of this for your own records. Consumers doing this generally receive their rebates up to 12 weeks later. The company is required by law to send rebates within the time frame promised, or if no time is specified, within 30 days. If the time frame has passed and you still have not received your rebate, call the Attorney General's Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400.
- I recently went into a fabric store, and they would not give me the manufacturer's name and style. Is that legal?
A: A fabric store does not have to give a customer this information. In fact, if the store purchased the fabric on sight from a "jobber," they may not know the information themselves. While there is no specific law that addresses this situation, as a consumer you are entitled under federal law to information about the care of the fiber content and the fiber itself. Also, the Attorney General's Regulations require that a merchant disclose any material facts that may influence a consumer's decision not to enter the transaction.
- Is it legal for a company to send me a check for a refund when I paid in cash?
A: Yes, it is legal for stores to issue checks to consumers when they return items they purchased with cash. Stores often have these types of policies as a matter of security. A store can only send you a refund check when you pay in cash, if the store clearly and conspicuously discloses that arrangement to consumers in the return policy.
- A store wanted to scan my driver's license to check my age for the purchase of alcohol or tobacco. What does all this mean?
A: You may have noticed that there is a magnetic strip on the back of your license, and certain scanning machines can read the information encoded on the strip. This code was created as a quick way for law enforcement to gather the information on the front of the card, but some scanners other than those used by law enforcement can also read this information.
You may want to ask if they can just look at the license without scanning it, or, if not, ask whether they save the information the card reveals, and, if so, what they do with it. If you are uncomfortable with the answer, you may want to "vote with your feet," and go to another store or business that does not use such scanners.
- Do you have to send a business a demand letter before you can sue under the Consumer Protection Act?
A: That's a frequently asked question, and, yes, you do need to send a demand letter. The Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 93A, protects consumers from unfair or deceptive conduct in the marketplace. Before you take action under this law, you need to begin by sending the business a 30-day demand letter. This letter informs the business of the complaint and gives them an opportunity to settle before going to court.
You may be interested in receiving the Attorney General's brochure, "A User's Guide to the Consumer Protection Statute." You can contact our Consumer Hotline to obtain a copy of that brochure.
- I recently went to a store that required me to use a scanner card to get discounts. What does all this mean?
A: Technology is everywhere, and information collection is a prime marketing tool for new sales for all sorts of businesses. Grocery store scanner cards, for example, can help a store decide what to order for future sales, and can even provide consumers with personally directed coupons on items they purchase, or might be interested in purchasing.
Consumers who are uncomfortable with these technologies (and I count myself among those) should ask if they can get the discount without a card, or if their buying history is individually tracked. Weigh your options--if it is important to you that someone not have your buying information, you may want to consider not using the card, or you may feel more comfortable if the store only collects information about store-wide purchases of a particular item, not data on what you personally bought.
- I purchased a microwave at a Best Buy in New Hampshire, and it was broken. I exchanged it at a Best Buy in Massachusetts and they made me pay sales tax. Can they do that?
A: Yes, they can. When you bought the microwave at Best Buy in New Hampshire, I assume you left the store taking the microwave with you. This was a NH sale and because NH has no sales tax, no sales tax was due at that point. If you had the microwave shipped to your Massachusetts address, because Best Buy has stores in Massachusetts a sales or use tax would have been collected by the New Hampshire store and remitted to Massachusetts.
When you returned the microwave to the Best Buy in Massachusetts and exchanged it, under Massachusetts law a second sale took place, and because Massachusetts has a sales tax and no Massachusetts tax was collected by the New Hampshire Best Buy, a sales tax was due then. For more information on sales tax you should contact the Department of Revenue at (800) 392-6089.
- I received a gift certificate to Kmart recently, but heard that they just filed for bankruptcy. I was really hoping to use the gift certificate to buy something from the Martha Stewart line there. Will I still be able to?
A: Yes, you will. Kmart Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection January 22, 2002, ending weeks of speculation about the company's financial health. When a company files for Chapter 11, it will be protected from creditors while it reorganizes and tries to work out a plan to pay its debts.
Kmart has said that all of its 2,114 stores are open for business and that all credit cards, gift certificates and store credits will be honored as usual. Kmart employees should know that pension and savings plans are independent of the company and will be administered as usual. If you do have consumer complaints about Kmart, please contact our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 .
- Why do some stores let you return merchandise for a refund within 30 days, but others say "All Sales Final." What is the law on return policies?
A: This is a good question. In Massachusetts, a store can have any return policy it wishes as long as the store clearly and conspicuously discloses its policy to the buyer prior to the transaction. Usually this is done by posting a sign at the point of purchase. Printing the policy only on the sales receipt does not comply, since this is after the point of purchase.
- A store charged me a $1.50 surcharge for paying with a credit card. They said it was their policy. Can they do that?
A: The law is a little confusing in this area. Massachusetts law prohibits sellers from adding a surcharge for using a credit card. However, a seller is permitted to offer a discount for payment by cash. So in your case, if the store is specifically adding a $1.50 surcharge to their regular price, that would not be permitted.
- I was thinking of purchasing items through an online auction site. The price seems to be right, but is there anything I can do to protect myself?
A: Michelle, this is a good question and, yes, there are some things you can do to protect yourself while shopping online. Our advice on auction sites is to realize that usually you will be paying a private person, so there is some risk involved when you send the money before getting the item. First, I would check the auction site's customer protection policies so you know your rights if you are not satisfied with your purchase. Some sites provide insurance protection which offers refunds for some purchases if you can show that you paid money and did not receive your item. Second, most sites now offer an escrow service that allows you to place your purchase money in escrow until you receive the item that you bid on from the seller. There will be a fee for this service but it may be a good investment, especially for a substantial purchase. Any retail web site should have clear policies on security, privacy, refunds, and returns. The web is a great place to shop, but be careful.
- I tried to put on my custom made slip covers but they were too small. What are my rights and can I get a refund.
A: A seller can have any type of return policy it wants... "all sales final," "merchandise credit only," etc. If the product is defective at purchase, or becomes defective during the period of the implied warranty, both the seller and the manufacturer are responsible for making it right. Therefore you will be able to choose a repair, replacement or refund.
- If I return an item that I paid cash for, can the store require my address and phone number before they issue a refund?
A: There is no state law that specifically prohibits this practice of recording personal information for refunds.
Our Office's position, however, is that such a requirement should be part of the store's posted return policy. If you are entitled to return an item for a refund, and the posted policy does not require that you provide any additional information, then you should be able to make your return without providing any other information.
If a store has refused to issue you a refund without this personal information, you may wish to contact our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 to file a complaint.
- What is the best method of payment when shopping on the Internet?
A: Because federal law protects consumers from fraudulent use of credit cards, using a credit card is the safest method of payment. You are only responsible for up to $50 if your credit card has been used for purchases you did not authorize, but there are some limitations, including when you use your credit cards with companies that are outside of the United States.
As with all credit card purchases, it is important to regularly review your monthly statements, and immediately report any unauthorized charges to the merchant and your credit card company.
- Do I have to pay the scanner price of a product in the grocery store if it was marked for less on the shelf?
A: If the item is marked with the wrong price, that is the price you pay (although there are exceptions for gross errors). Keep in mind that electronic scanning is not foolproof, so you should always watch the display screen for prices. If you think you're being overcharged, speak up. If you notice a pattern of electronic scanning errors in a particular store, talk to the customer service department or the store manager. You also may want to write a letter to the company's headquarters. The retailer may not realize a problem exists until it's pointed out. Last, you also may report recurring problems to the Attorney General's Office Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 , or your state or local Office of Weights and Measures.
- If I didn't use the full value printed on a gift certificate, can the retail store refuse to give me cash for the unused portion?
A: The retail store should honor the full value of the gift certificate. If you don't use the full amount, they should provide you with the unused portion.
There is no law, however, mandating how that unused portion should be provided to the consumer. Generally, policies vary by store as to whether to issue a merchandise credit or give cash back for the unused portion.
- For how long is a merchandise credit from a company in the state of Massachusetts valid?
A: A merchandise credit from a company in the state of Massachusetts is good for no less than five years from the date issued. If you are not receiving the proper merchandise credit, you can contact our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 to file a complaint.
- Can a grocery store require customers to sign up for discount cards in order to get sale prices?
A: Yes. Grocery stores may have legitimate business reasons for using this type of promotion and a store can set those conditions as long as they are not arbitrary and do not exclude a particular population. A store, therefore, does not have to offer its discount card sale prices to consumers who do not sign up for that store's card.
- I bought cereal at my local supermarket. When I opened it, there were bugs in it. Who can I contact about this?
A: You should contact the Division of Food and Drugs within the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This division protects consumers from unsafe, fraudulent, or deceptive practices in the food, drug, medical device, cosmetic, pesticide, and other consumer product industries. You may contact them at (617) 522-3700.
- When I was in the grocery store they placed a tax on the pumpkin I purchased. Can they do that?
A: This is a complaint we often hear during the fall season. Generally speaking, if you can eat it, then it is tax exempt, and that includes pumpkins, gourds or corn. On the other hand, you will have to pay tax if the pumpkin, for example, has been shellacked and is considered an ornament or decoration. For more questions on sales tax you can call the Department of Revenue at (800) 392-6089.
- Can a store ask to see another form of identification when you make a purchase with a credit card?
A: Although a store cannot record or ask you to write down personal information, such as your address, telephone number, or social security number, the store may ask you for identification for the sole purpose of demonstrating that you are the real owner of the credit card. For that reason, stores may want a picture form of identification in order to compare it to the person using the credit card. This is for your protection as well as the store's.
- How long does a company have to deliver a product that I ordered over the phone?
A: A company must ship your order within the time period promised in its advertisements. If the company does not promise a specific time, then under the federal mail order rule, a company must ship your product within 30 days of receiving your order. If the seller is unable to ship in time, they must notify you, and offer you the opportunity to cancel and get a prompt refund, or to consent to a delay in shipping. Generally, this rule applies to any orders you place over the telephone, with a computer, or by fax machine.
However, there is an exception to this 30 day rule. If you are opening up a line of credit with the company to pay for your purchase, then the company has 50 days to ship your order.
- For how long should a rain check be valid?
A: Under Massachusetts law, rain checks issued in the state should be good for at least 60 days. In addition, the law requires that stores issuing rain checks for a product advertised for $25 or more make reasonable efforts to notify consumers when the item becomes available.
- I tried to buy a radio that was marked $50, but the store wanted to charge me $150 saying the sticker price was wrong. Can it do that?
A: It depends. Although the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act prohibits businesses from using unfair or deceptive business practices, the law does allow for human error. The store does not have to sell the item to you at the marked price, if it is a gross, obvious error by an employee. If it is not a gross or obvious error, then you get the lower price. You should try to negotiate a fair price with the store manager. If it's a scanner accuracy issue, you can also contact the division of standards, which is responsible for scanner accuracy.
- Can a store ask for my address if it is not printed on my checks?
A: Yes, a store can write down your address if it is not already printed on your checks. A store can also record your name, driver's license, or Massachusetts ID number, and your choice of a home or daytime phone number when you pay for your purchase with a check. You may also be asked to show a credit card for identification purpose, but your account number may not be recorded. However, the store cannot require you to give them your social security number.
- Can cough drops be taxed in the state of Massachusetts?
A: In the state of Massachusetts, food and candy are exempt from being taxed. However, if the candy is medicated, for example cough drops, then a sales tax can be added. For more information on sales tax you can contact the Department of Revenue at (800) 392-6089.