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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues Consumer Alert Warning of Retailer Fraud and Scams Targeting Immigrant and Limited English Proficient Consumers

Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued a consumer alert to warn Californians of retailer fraud and scams that are targeting immigrant and limited English proficient (“LEP”) consumers. Numerous complaints filed with the California Department of Justice describe predatory actions of some retailers on consumers who lack credit and/or fluency in English.  In light of this reported consumer threat, the Attorney General reminds immigrant and LEP consumers to be careful in accepting retail contracts or credit card agreements, and encourages individuals to ask for help from appropriate consumer protection agencies when retailers engage in unfair or deceptive practices.

LOOK OUT FOR THIS COMMON SCAM

Common scams that affect communities with limited English proficiency include “store credit” and false warranties scams.  Californians eager to build their credit may be targeted by retailers who offer to sell them products with a small down payment and with the rest of the amount financed through “store credit.”  This type of agreement often traps consumers into contracts with high interest rates and other unfavorable terms.  Dishonest retailers may also sell defective products that they later refuse to exchange or repair, even if the customer has purchased a retailer warranty.  These types of scams can result in customers being forced to continue making payments on defective items or risk ruining their credit and being sued by the retailer.     

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Immigrant and LEP consumers should be aware that the California Translation Law[1] protects their rights. This law requires retailers who negotiate in Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean, either orally or in writing, to provide a contract translated in the language used for negotiation to customers.  The translation must be accurate and must include every term and condition in the contract or agreement.  If a retailer negotiates in these languages and does not provide a translated copy of a contract before it is signed, a customer may rescind the contract.  This law was passed to protect the rights of millions of California consumers who do not speak or read English as a first language and who are entitled to be fully informed regarding the terms of their contracts.  This consumer alert offers tips for safeguarding immigrant and LEP consumers who may be targeted by unscrupulous retailers.    

What to look out for

The Attorney General offers California consumers the following tips in order to protect themselves from retailers who may be engaging in improper practices:

  • Before making a purchase, research a retailer’s reputation by searching online for reviews and any potential consumer complaints regarding prior fraud or scams. 
  • Do not allow a salesperson to pressure you into purchasing an expensive item, an add-on item, or any warranty that you do not want.  Be wary of offers in which retailers agree to sell you an item at a discounted price only if you also purchase an expensive warranty or insurance.         
  • Request and read a paper copy of your contract before you sign any documents, even if the retailer intends for you to sign the contract electronically.  Do not allow a salesperson to pressure you into signing anything before you see and understand the terms of your contract.
  • If there is something you do not understand about your contract, ask the sales representative for clarification.  Be sure that you are aware of all the goods and services listed on your contract, the total amount due, the number and dollar amount of your monthly payments, and the interest rate you will be charged. 
  • If you negotiate with a sales representative in Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean, the retailer must provide you with a copy of your contract in the language in which you communicated before you sign the agreement. 
  • Before purchasing a retailer’s warranty for an electronic device or an appliance, ask to see the full warranty terms in writing.  Consider whether you need a retailer’s warranty, and confirm the coverage and length of the manufacturer’s warranty on the product (the manufacturer’s warranty is usually included in an item’s price).  Ask about the coverage provided by the retailer’s warranty, any fees associated with use of the warranty, exclusions, and how repairs are handled.    
  • Ask about the return and exchange policy prior to making your purchase.  Make sure to read a written version of the return and exchange policy, which specifies how long you have to return or exchange an item.
  • Retain copies of all documents associated with your purchase, including the contract, receipt, warranty information, return policy, manuals, monthly statements, and any other documentation you receive from the retailer.
  • Promptly examine the merchandise you purchased to make sure it is new (unless you intentionally bought a used item), functional, and in good condition.  Notify the retailer immediately if problems arise with an item.  Document your interactions with the retailer in writing so that a record exists regarding your attempts to resolve the problem.
  • Customers who are trying to build their credit should request a copy of their credit report from https://www.annualcreditreport.com to make certain that their payments are being properly reported to the credit bureaus.      

HELPFUL RESOURCES

The California Department of Consumer Affairs provides helpful information on how to build and maintain good credit at http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/knowyourscore.shtml.  It also offers guidelines on how to avoid scams and fraud at http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/guide/ref_guide.pdf, and provides resources to consumers who have complaints at http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/consumer-selfhelp.shtml.

The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs also offers information to consumers at http://dcba.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/dca, and provides the opportunity to ask questions regarding consumer purchases at https://iddweb.isd.lacounty.gov/dca_ecomplaint/Question/.

The Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation regulates industry standards, and provides information and resources for consumers at http://www.bhfti.ca.gov/consumer/index.shtml.

What to do if you are the victim of a RETAILER scam

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers resources for those who have been the victim of a retailer scam.  If you have been the victim of a retailer scam, immediately file a complaint with the BBB at https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started.  

The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs provides support for those who have been the target of a retailer scam.  If you have been a victim, you may file a complaint with LADCBA at https://iddweb.isd.lacounty.gov/dca_ecomplaint/.

The California Department of Justice protects the rights of consumers and collects complaints on retailer fraud and scams in order to identify patterns of wrongful activity.  To submit a complaint to the California Department of Justice regarding a retailer’s wrongful behavior, please use one of the following complaint forms:

English: https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.  

En Español: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_sp.pdf?

中文: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_chin.pdf

Tiếng Việt: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_viet.pdf?

Translated releases:

Chinese: https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/consumers/limited-english-...  

Korean: https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/consumers/limited-english-...

Spanish: https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/consumers/limited-english-...

Tagalog:  https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/consumers/limited-english-...

Vietnamese: https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/consumers/limited-english-...

[1] Cal. Civ. Code §1632.

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