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 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:
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:
 Cal. Civ. Code §1632.