National Consumer Protection Week Live Chat Transcript (Friday, March 08, 2013)
Paul from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
My wife and I are buying a house and I need to check my credit score before I am approved for a loan and I already downloaded one from Equifax. How can I get one from one of the other agencies?
Eric S. Friedman: Paul, thank you for contacting us. It is great that you are making the effort to check your credit report before you try to get a loan. You can get copies of your credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies for free at annualcreditreport.com. Once you have the reports, make sure to check them very carefully for any errors. If you contact our office, we can send you a few brochures that can help you navigate and understand your credit report. Congratulations on your new home!
Jonathan from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I visited a local oil change facility and was told that I needed over $1,000 in work. I took my car to my regular mechanic who noticed that they had done shoddy work that they went ahead and fixed. I certainly did not need the work they told me I needed. Can I get my money back for their bad workmanship and can you do something about them trying to rip me off?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Jonathan, thank you for participating. It certainly would be a problem if a shop is recommending unnecessary work and let's not overlook that repairs should also be performed to industry standards. However, it may be difficult to address these issues now, since the work has already been redone. If possible, you should try to get something in writing from your mechanic as to what he saw when he inspected the vehicle. You are welcome to contact our office to discuss this matter further. Did you know that one of our investigators is an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified automotive expert? We'll ask him to take a look at your case.
Antonio from Silver Spring
Can anything be done about these companies that promise everything and deliver nothing? I contracted a duct cleaning company because they said they would clean my ducts and improve air quality but they really did not. They didn't do what they said they would and are now making me pay. Can you help?
Eric S. Friedman: Good Afternoon Antonio, If you have contracted with a company to perform specific services, they are obligated to do what the contract says. You are welcome to file a complaint with our office and we can review the contract and discuss the matter further with both you and the company. We are here to help!
Rhett from Silver Spring
Why does Montgomery County ban the trade-in of electronic equipment? Seems to me trade-ins make sense -- some equipment is refurbished and resold and the rest is disposed of in ways that don't hurt the environment.
Eric S. Friedman: Rhett, you have stumped the host. Can you tell us what ban you are referring to? Much electronic equipment is able to be recycled. For example, non-profit organizations exist which will recondition discarded computers and update them for schools or other non-profit organizations. The main concern would be improper disposal of obsolete computers and electronics. If you need additional information, please contact our office. My expert staff will help you. Thank you for your question.
Crystal from Silver Spring
I was wondering about student loans. My boys will be going off to college soon and alls me and my husband can see are dollar signs. We have received a number of brochures from different lenders but it is so hard to tell which lender/loan would be the best for our family. Do you have any advice on how to choose the right lender/loan?
Eric S. Friedman: Crystal, I think education is the best investment. But, let me give you some information so that you make wise consumer decisions. There are two kinds of student loans - federal student loans, and private student loans. Federal student loans are generally the best kind that you can get. The first step to determining whether you qualify for one of these loans is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)form. If you get this form from the government and fill it out yourself, it's free. There are consultants and private businesses who you can choose to try to get help from, but of course you will have to pay them a fee.
Eric S. Friedman: Hello everyone. First, thank you for your participation so far. Currently, we are having technical difficulties with our remarks. We will continue to use the remarks and they ALL are being sent to you by me, Eric Friedman, not Mr. Leggett.
Eric S. Friedman: I am very happy that Councilman Phil Andrews can participate in our discussion. Do we have any questions for Councilman Andrews?
JT from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I recently had my car repaired and received an estimate for $1200. The repair work is completed and the bill is $2500 and I never authorized additional work. Do I have to pay for the additional work?
Eric S. Friedman: Wow, that's a big difference, JT. Auto repair shops should be aware that County law requires, in the event a determination is made that the actual charges for auto repairs or maintenance will exceed the total written or oral estimate by more than ten (10) percent of the total estimate, the consumer must be immediately notified of the new estimated charges. The new estimate must be authorized by the consumer before the additional work is done. If the shop does not comply with this law, it may not be able to collect payment for any unauthorized repairs. This sounds like another one for our our auto expert, Investigator Jim Parks.
Josephine from Up County
I am selling my house. My real estate agent wants me to print out fliers advertising that my home is for sale. I was told that I have to put my property tax information on the flier, but why? Shouldn’t the buyer already know this?
Eric S. Friedman: Councilmember Andrews, would you like to handle this one on my behalf? In Montgomery County, the seller of a home is responsible for providing a potential homebuyer with an estimate of what the actual property tax bill will be in the first full year after purchase of the home. This amount must be included on any written or electronically transmitted material that is produced or distributed in connection with the advertisement for sale of a specific residential real property, and may not be the same as the property tax that the seller is currently paying. Office of Consumer Protection provides a calculator on its webpage (www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer)for use by sellers to help in determining the amount they must disclose.
Seth from Rockville
Hi Councilmember Andrews, my grandparents keep getting calls from people saying that they have won money, but need to pay a fee before the money can be sent to them. I know this is a scam, but everytime I try to get information from the company (if they are even real) they hang up on me. Is there anything I can do to stop these calls?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Seth, these calls can be quite frustrating. If possible, you should make note of the date, time and phone number of each call. If the same phone number keeps coming up, you should contact your phone company and see if you can have them put a block on that number. The most important thing is to realize that these are scams, and to not provide the callers with any information.
Eric S. Friedman: Councilman Andrews, I know that you have a very full schedule this afternoon. Thank you so much for participating in our Live Discussion and your continued support of our office, consumers, and merchants in Montgomery County.
Randy from Up County
I got a phone call last month from a woman that was selling timeshares in Myrtle Beach. I would have to give her my credit card number for a $2,000 deposit. I talked it over with my wife and she said that I should do it. I gave the woman my credit card number. I told my grandson what happened and he called the woman back and she said I could cancel, but only if I paid a $500 cancellation fee. Is there anything I can do to get my money back?
Eric S. Friedman: Randy, $500 and you didn't even get to walk on the beach! The first thing that you should do is to dispute the charge with your credit card company. You will receive a temporary charge back of the amount, and the credit card company will begin an investigation. You do not have to pay this disputed amount while the transaction is under investigation. It looks like one of the issues here will be whether any paperwork was given or contract signed that disclosed this cancellation fee. Call our office and we will help you look into this further.
Eric S. Friedman: Did you know... BEFORE making a big purchase you can contact the OFFICE OF CONSUMER PROTECTION for advice. We are here to help!
Patrick from Silver Spring
Are cellular phone companies under the purview of Office of Consumer Protection and can redress be sought from their machinations and failed services?
Eric S. Friedman: Patrick, our office does handle complaints regarding cell phone service and billing issues. The Public Service Commission handles complaints involving landlines. We know how difficult it is to try to find the best service plan for you. We are here to help, Investigator Joe Rosado handles our cell phone complaints and is very knowledgeable about communication companies. Thank you for your question Patrick.
Zende' from Rockville
Can consignment or secondhand shops legally sell merchandise that has been recalled by the manufacturer?
Eric S. Friedman: Excellent question, Zende. This could be a real safety concern. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) makes it illegal for consignment shops to sell recalled baby products. Selling recalled products could expose the shop to other types of liability, as well, particularly if it knew about the recall before the sale. If you think that you have purchased recalled merchandise from a consignment shop, please call our office so that we can review the transaction. Please do not use the merchandise. Safety first, Zende.
Eric S. Friedman: Did you know... You should always READ before you sign.
Tanya from Silver Spring
I am a Group Coordinator at Leisure World and many of the residents are concerned about the Grandparents Scam. I have told them that there is nothing to worry about, but my words are falling on deaf ears. Is there anyway someone from your department could come and speak with them? I am willing to pay at any cost.
Eric S. Friedman: You just missed Phil Andrews, but he and I will be speaking at Leisure World, next Wednesday at 7pm. I will be sure to speak about grandparent scams. That is only one type of wirefraud scam. We just posted an article about a kidnapping scam on our Facebook page. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on this and other scams. We have received complaints from consumers who have lost several thousands of dollars. Tanya, I hope to see you on Wednesday night; no charge.
Eric S. Friedman: I would like to welcome Councilwoman Valerie Ervin to our discussion. To kickoff National Consumer Protections Week, Councilwoman Ervin sponsored a Proclamation by Council recognizing our office for over 40 years of consumer advocacy and service to Montgomery County’s market place. I think she likes us and we appreciate her continued support.
Do we have any questions for Councilwoman Ervin?
Terrance from Rockville
My dad passed away a few months ago. The funeral director said I could make payments ($50 every two weeks) since I didn't have the money up front. I made the first payment and now he is charging me interest. Who should I contact to help me?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Terrance, I'm sorry to hear about the passing of your Dad. Let me see how we can help. It sounds like you thought you had an agreement with the funeral director. Did you get this agreement in writing? If so, the terms of the written agreement are usually what will govern. The state of Maryland does have an Office of Cemetery Oversight which handles complaints involving the entities that they license. Please, contact OCP to discuss this matter further. Take care.
Eric S. Friedman: Councilwoman Ervin, I know that your time is limited. Maybe you can take the next couple of questions.
Katherine from Silver Spring
Councilmember Ervin, is there any law or regulation that would prohibit my neighbors that operate home-based businesses, from converting their front yards into multiple parking spaces for their customers? My neighborhood is beginning to look more commercial than residential.
Eric S. Friedman: Thank you for your question. Any paving of front yards is subject to the Zoning Ordinances of Montgomery County, and would have to be approved. These ordinances are enforced by the Department of Permitting Services. You should contact them (http://bit.ly/165XpYj) to determine whether any converted front yards are in compliance.
Chauncey from Silver Spring
I went over to my cousin's apartment over on Blair Mill and my car was towed. He said it was okay to park there and I was in a visitor space. Was he right to tow me?
Eric S. Friedman: Thank you for your question. Towing vehicles from private property without the owner's permission is allowed as long as the tow is in compliance with the County and State tow laws. Some of the requirements include proper notice and authorization. In order to determine whether the tow was legal the Office Consumer Protection would need to know more information about the tow and the lot that you were towed from. Please give them a call at 240-777-3636 to discuss your specific situation or check out their website (http://bit.ly/165XyLf) for some more information.
Eric S. Friedman: Councilwoman Ervin has to dash off to another appointment but I want to thank her so much for her recognition of our office and her participation in this discussion.
David from Rockville
I frequently receive requests for charitable donations. How can i find out if the charity is a legitimate non-profit?
Eric S. Friedman: That’s a great question, David, and unfortunately, something that we now have to worry about. It is important to do research before you select a merchant and it is also important to do that type of research when you make a charitable donation. Charities need to be registered with the Secretary of State in Maryland and they should be able to tell you what percentage of the donation goes to the actual charitable cause and what percentage goes to the organization’s administrative expenses. The BBB also has useful information on charities. Following every natural disaster, there seem to be phony charities to watch out for. It is still good to give when you can.
Eric S. Friedman: Did you know... NEVER give out personal information to someone contacting you on the telephone or via e-mail.
Adam C. from Up County
I got my car fixed at a local dealer. My car drove fine for about 5 days then it just stopped. I took the car back to the dealer said there was nothing he could do. Is there anything I can do to get my money back or have my car fixed properly?
Eric S. Friedman: Well Adam, luckily we have many experts on staff including a certified Master Automotive Technician, Investigator Jim Parks. If you file a complaint and provide a copy of the repair receipt from the local dealer, Investigator Parks may be able to drive your problems away. Seriously, he can offer an expert opinion whether or not the repair is related to the current problem. If the local dealer is responsible, Investigator Parks can usually resolve the complaint. Sometimes, dealers themselves contact Investigator Parks for his expert advice. Our complaint form is online at our website, www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer.
Monica from Up County
My furniture was damaged from a water leak at a storage company. The company admits that it had a water leak but says they are not liable for the damges and that I should havehad insurance. How canget them to pay for the damage to my furniture?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Monica, this is a somewhat difficult one. The answer to your question will probably depend on the cause of the water leak. Unfortunately, if it was an accidental event, you may be out of luck. However if you can show that the company was negligent in any way, you may have an argument that they are responsible. Our investigator, Doug Numbers, is our moving and storage company expert. Give us a call and we will try to assist you.
Michelle from Mid County
I am familiar with the Better Business Bureau, but just recently found out that there was a consumer protection office in Montgomery County. What exactly does consumer protection do?
Eric S. Friedman: Michelle, it is my pleasure to introduce our office to you. OCP is the Montgomery County agency responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws that prohibit unfair and deceptive business acts to ensure a fair marketplace for consumers and businesses. Our investigators have expertise in many types of consumer transactions. We investigate and resolve consumer complaints, engage in consumer education and outreach, license certain businesses, and administer several programs. We encourage you to consult our webpage or contact our office before you have a problem and anytime you are in need of assistance. Welcome to the Montgomery County family.
Eric S. Friedman: We have time for a few more questions. It's always helpful for me to hear directly from consumers.
Marie from Eastern Montgomery
I've been hearing alot recently about the credit card fees. When I asked about a surcharge at a local big store, they did not know what I was talking about. Is this something that will be coming soon?
Eric S. Friedman: Marie, this is one of the big new consumer topics. Up until recently, Visa and MasterCard did not allow stores to pass along the cost of processing credit card charges. However, as part of a recent lawsuit settlement, Visa and MasterCard no longer prohibit merchants from passing along these “swipe fees” to consumers. So, you may see a 3-4% charge on your credit card receipt if the store decides to charge consumers. However, the store must disclose this fee and some states have already passed laws prohibiting these fees. There is currently a bill pending in Annapolis that may add Maryland to that list. Our office has submitted written testimony in support of banning surcharges and I will continue to strongly advocate for Montgomery County residents. Please let us know if you see any merchants charging this fee. Thank you, Marie.
Eric S. Friedman: Did you know... BEFORE purchasing a product you should always do your homework! Check Consumer Reports and other sources for product reviews and pricing.
John from Rockville
Are you involved with the PEPCO Smart Meters debacle? If so, please discuss why PEPCO was even allowed to attempt this without first gaining a majority vote from the residents. If you are not, WE NEED HELP! PEPCO is screwing us. We don't want Smart Meters. ERT meters already let them get a remote reading. Smart Meters will cost us money, privacy and possible negative health. If a resident WANTS a Smart Meter, they should pay for it. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND! PLEASE look into PEPCO's practice of sending estimated bills and telling residents they ‘must’ have the meter installed. For people who already had an ERT meter, this is extortion. I didn’t fall for it, but I’m sure many others have. PEPCO is NOT being ethical here, and allowing them to continue installing Smart Meters while this is under review is wrong. Unfortunately, you’ve probably let them go too far to stop it now. Like I said, we are being screwed. HELP!!!!!
Eric S. Friedman: Well John, I can certainly hear your anger and frustration. Keep in mind that only the Public Service Commission (PSC) regulates utilities such as Pepco. Montgomery County does not regulate public utilities. The issue regarding Smart Meters generates passionate discussion on both sides. There is a pending case before the PSC regarding Smart Meters. This is an ongoing process and Montgomery County has intervened in several cases before the PSC. I encourage you to contact the PSC at http://webapp.psc.state.md.us/Intranet/home.cfm. You may want to follow PSC Case No. 9207 on PSC’s website. Thank you for your question.
vickie from Mid County
My parents had a toxic waste flood in their apartment and the manager told them they had to leave. Who is responsible for the cost of the hotel room and extra expences for food while they are displaced
Eric S. Friedman: Vickie I am so sorry to hear what happened to your parents' apartment. I am sure the Office of Landlord/Tenant Affairs can assist you as they are the County agency responsible for these matters. They are located in the Department of Housing Community Affairs and you can contact them at MC311, they will get it done.
Eric S. Friedman: Did you know... When buying online, you should be sure to check out the company. Look for a street address, return policy, warranty information and use a credit card, not a debit card, to make online purchases.
Nancy from Mid County
I have called your office many times to check for complaints against companies and am very thankful for this service. However to find out more information about the complaint I am told that I have to come into the office to look at the file. Are there any plans to make this information more readily available whether its on the internet or someone could give a brief description of the complaint?
Eric S. Friedman: You make a good point, Nancy. We do provide a three year complaint history online but it is limited to the number of complaints and whether or not they were resolved. Someday, we hope to be able to provide a brief description regarding the nature of each complaint. Currently, the entire complaint is available, just not online.
Eric S. Friedman: Thank you for joining us today and a special thank you to Councilmembers Phil Andrews and Valerie Ervin. We received good questions and look forward to another Live Discussion soon. Until then, please visit our website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer to file a complaint or get additional information about our services. For consumer questions or to speak to an investigator, please contact us by telephone at 240.777.3636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.