Consumer myths

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

Consumers lose thousands of dollars each year due to common misperceptions. The Better Business Bureau wants you to know the facts.

Here are some popular assumptions:

MYTH: You have the right to a store refund if you request one.

FACT: Unless the product is defective or was misrepresented, a refund or exchange is a privilege and not a right that you can demand. Ask about the merchant's policy before you purchase the product. In some states, refunds and exchanges are voluntarily provided by retail stores.

MYTH: You are guaranteed to win a fabulous prize when you receive an "Awards Notification" in the mail.

FACT: Phony prize or sweepstakes promotions cost consumers millions of dollars each year. If the prize promoter demands that you pay up-front to cover entry or judging fees, as a donation, to pre-pay taxes, or via a call to a 900 number, do not respond! Call your Better Business Bureau.

MYTH: Almost all of the money contributed to charity must go to the intended purpose.

FACT: Charitable organizations are not obligated to spend a minimum percentage of what they raise on their stated charitable purposes. Donors should ask if the caller is a paid solicitor or a volunteer for the charity, and request written materials stating what percentage of the donation would actually go to the organization's program.

MYTH: It is OK to give out your credit card number over the phone even when you are not making a purchase.

FACT: Never use your credit card for identification purposes in response to a phone solicitor. Con artists with access to your credit card number and expiration date may make unauthorized charges against your card. Do use your credit card to purchase merchandise from an established business, as it offers protection you if you have difficulty receiving your product or service.

MYTH: Purchasing magazines will improve your chances of winning a publisher sweepstakes.

FACT: Entrants who do not purchase magazines must be given the same chance of winning as those who do make purchases. It is illegal in most states for any type of sweepstakes promotion to require any kind of purchase or payment to enter.

MYTH: No one can take money directly from your bank accounts without your written authorization.

FACT: Giving someone your checking account number may provide them with the means to make withdrawals from your account. Unscrupulous individuals can sometimes contact your bank with your account number, claim that you authorized a withdrawal, and convince the bank to make the payment even though it lacks your signature.

Al Tobin is CEO of Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Inc.

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