As the winter holidays approach, stories abound about Holiday scams to avoid. You’re likely to hear about puppy scams, pickpockets, and e-mail hoaxes. However, what about the scams by real companies; stores and online vendors who look you in the eye (or flash your sale is “confirmed”) and sell you an illegal product or advertise in an illegal fashion? Often, these scams are most harmful during the holiday season because consumers are just plain too busy shopping and filled with holiday spirit. Who is going to cheat me at Christmas time, particularly a well known brand store? Well, beware holiday shopper. Drink that egg nog after you’re done on the computer for the night. Keep your wits about you. Millions of trusting and in fact careful consumers can be affected.
Please take a moment to learn about your rights this holiday season and contact us if you’re aware of, or have been a victim of these practices.
1. Disappearing … Expiring gift cards
In general, Federal Law mandates that gift cards should not expire. However, if the gift card does have an expiration date, it must be clearly stated and the card cannot expire within five years. This also applies to popular online coupons, like those purchased through Groupon or Living Social. However, this rule only applies to the “paid” value of a coupon or gift certificate. Thus, if you pay $10 for a $20 coupon, your $10 payment should not expire for five years, but the additional $10 you receive as part of the promotion may expire. Read them carefully, consider when the recipient of the card will use the gift and purchase accordingly.
Living Social recently settled a class action for just this type of conduct. Click here to view the settlement website.
2. Text and Voice Advertising to a Mobile Device
Did you think the days of telemarketing had passed? Did you think you would avoid these annoying calls because you use a cell phone? Think again. The Telecommunications Privacy Act prohibits automated, unsolicited advertising via calls and texts to cell phones. Still, these calls persist. What’s more, it’s not just fly by night operations and obscure sources violating this rule. Just this past month, a settlement was announced in a lawsuit against Steve Madden, the high-end shoe company, regarding violations of the act. Consumers who received the unsolicited messages alleged in the suit will be eligible to receive up to $150 in compensation.
Of course, certain exceptions apply for cases where a customer has volunteered to be contacted or a prior business relationship already exists between the advertiser and the recipient of the call or text message. However, these cases are exceptions.
If you’ve received an automated, unsolicited text message or phone call to your cell phone, please contact us.
3. False Advertising / Misleading Coupon Offers
This one is a classic but it appears every year and thousands of consumers are defrauded by seemingly reputable corporations. Many stores will advertise “buy-one-get-one” sales or coupons associated with purchases. However, their policies may be confusing or misleading – especially when post-holiday returns are involved. Consider this class action against Toys R Us where consumers who received a coupon along with their holiday purchase were denied the right to the full value of their purchase upon returning the items, despite the lack of any warning of this policy. Similar events happen every day and will surely occur with increasing frequency during the holiday season.
Please contact us if you are affected by a misleading advertisement, return/exchange policy, or coupon offer this holiday season.