Will my debit card be rejected if there are insufficient funds in my account?

April 30, 2015 20:20 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

Are banks obliged to reject attempts to use a debit card when there are insufficient funds in the account?

Consumer Ed says: 

When you use your debit card to make a purchase or other electronic payment for an amount greater than the balance in your checking account (thus creating an overdraft), the bank can choose to make the payment, or not.  In 2010, the Federal Reserve issued new rules regarding fees banks charge for overdrafting debit card and ATM transactions.  Under the old rules, banks were permitted to automatically enroll their customers in their standard overdraft practices.  These overdraft practices typically involved charging customers a fee to provide the additional funds.  However, under the new rules, the bank must obtain the customer’s permission to apply its overdraft practices to the account before charging a fee, which the customer typically provides by agreeing to a notice sent by the bank. 

If you don’t opt in to overdraft procedures and you attempt to make a purchase or withdrawal which would overdraft your account, the transaction will typically be declined, but you won’t be charged an overdraft fee.  However, if you’ve opted in to overdraft protection, your account can be overdrafted, and the bank can then charge you the fees set under the terms in your opt-in agreement.  Be aware that these fees can mount up quickly, so make sure you know what you’re agreeing to.

When setting up new accounts, pay careful attention to the documents you sign.  If you prefer your card to be declined and your account not to be overdrafted, don’t sign the opt-in form that will enroll you in the bank’s overdraft protection plan.  If you’d like the overdraft protection, then sign the form.  If you’ve previously enrolled in the overdraft program but no longer wish to be, you can contact your bank and opt-out of their overdraft policy.

Again, these rules apply to debit card and everyday transactions; they don’t cover checks and automatic bill payments.  Banks can still automatically enroll their customers in standard overdraft procedures for payments made using those methods.

In sum, to avoid overdraft charges, remember:

  1. Do not sign an agreement with the bank authorizing overdraft charges.
  2. Keep track of the money in your account by keeping your check register up to date.
  3. Make sure to record your electronic transactions as well.
  4. Make sure to take into account automatic bill payments.
  5. Review your account statements each month.
  6. If you do overdraft your account, deposit money into the account to cover the overdraft and any fees in order to avoid any additional charges.
  7. You can link your account to a savings account. You may be charged a transfer fee when overdrafting your checking.
  8. You can link your account to a credit card you have with the bank.  You may be charged a cash advance fee when overdrafting your checking.

 
If you have a complaint about the fees charged by your bank, you can try to resolve the problem directly with your bank.  If you make no headway on your own, you may want to file a complaint with a federal or state agency that enforces consumer banking law.  If your complaint involves a Georgia state-chartered bank or credit union, you can file a complaint with the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (http://dbf.georgia.gov); otherwise, you can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to file your complaint (http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint).

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Are stores allowed to sell expired food products?

January 26, 2015 14:25 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

In Georgia are there laws that prohibit service stations and convenience stores from selling out-of-date food products?

Consumer Ed says: 

For the answer to this question, we consulted the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The Georgia Food Act gives the Georgia Department of Agriculture the authority to put in place rules and regulations that businesses must follow regarding the sale of certain food products with expiration dates. According to the rules, “Expiration Date” means the same thing as “Pull Date”, “Best-By Date”, “Best Before Date”, “Use-By Date”, and “Sell-By Date” and they all refer to the last date on which certain products can be sold at retail or wholesale. In Georgia, it is considered unlawful to sell the following perishable food items past the expiration date stated on the label:

 

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Pre-packed sandwiches and other ready-to-eat products
  • Infant formula
  • Fresh shellfish (including oysters, clams and mussels)
  • Any potentially hazardous foods (meaning foods with time and/or temperature controls for the safety of the product) that are labeled “Keep Refrigerated”


For food products outside the list above – especially dry, shelf-stable products like potato chips or rice –the rules do not preclude the sale of products that are past the expiration date indicated on the label. Rather, the date is considered a “guideline” for freshness and quality.  If a food product has reached its expiration date, it will most likely be an issue of food quality, not food safety, and does not necessarily need to be disposed of immediately.  If the product has been stored properly and appears to be visually wholesome and fit for consumption, it can still be consumed after the expiration date with little to no threat of food safety concerns.

Keep in mind that a principle of American food law is that foods sold in the U.S. must be wholesome and fit for consumption.  An expiration date does not free a company who produces food or health products from such a responsibility.  A product that is dangerous to consumers would be subject to potential action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove it from sale regardless of any date printed on a label.

To better protect yourself, always confirm the expiration dates on foods and beverages before you buy them. Nearly all food products on retail shelves include an expiration date on the product packaging these days.  If the item you're holding has an expiration or "best if used by" date that's already passed, pick another item. If you see expired items on a store shelf, there are several things you can do, such as:

  • Tell the store manager and follow it up with a letter. Send a copy to corporate headquarters as well.
  • Contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture Consumer Complaint line at 404-656-3621.
  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau (bbb.org)
  • Contact the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit (consumer.ga.gov)
  • File a complaint with the Attorney General (law.ga.gov)
  • File a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (fda.gov).

 

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How to tell if an online product review is real or fake

December 3, 2014 15:16 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

How can I tell if an online review of a product is real or fake?

Consumer Ed says: 

Considering how easy it is for anyone to post an online review for potential customers to see, you’re right to be skeptical about the reliability of online product reviews.  Businesses understand that consumers’ purchase decisions are often swayed by user-generated online reviews.  Unfortunately, this has led some businesses to post positive reviews of their own products or services, and negative reviews of competitors’, while pretending to be real customers.  Other businesses have even incentivized consumers to write fake reviews in return for payment or discounts.  The Federal Trade Commission has tried to minimize fake reviews by imposing fines on those who post and/or pay for fake reviews.  The incentive to fabricate phony critiques remains high because the likelihood of getting caught is still unfortunately low.

This Office has also pursued such parties for this kind of false advertising. However, it is often very difficult to distinguish between a legitimate review and a fraudulent review.  Many sites, like Amazon and Yelp, use multiple methods of analysis to detect fake reviews.  This helps to a degree, but is not foolproof.  However, there are other things you can do to filter through the fake reviews on your own:

Compare reviews not only within a site, but across different websites.  Read a lot of reviews to form an opinion about the site and decide whether it's trustworthy.  Then, compare reviews of the same product on other sites to determine an overall trend of reviews for a product.  You can't necessarily trust a handful of bad reviews or glowing reviews, but trends are much harder to fake.

Compare reviews by the same reviewer. Look at other reviews by the same reviewer to help you decide how much trust to put in the opinions of that person.  Be wary of "one-time" or "first time" reviewers. Reviews by people who are verified by the site are more trustworthy than reviews by anonymous reviewers.  Anonymous reviews are far more suspect than a review that tells you who wrote it with brief biographical information.  Try to verify if the reviewer has actually purchased a product (e.g., an Amazon reviewer’s “Verified Purchaser” status indicates that the review was posted by someone who has actually purchased the product being reviewed through the site).

Be watchful for similar wording on reviews.  Legitimate reviewers usually speak specifically about their individual experience with the product, and discuss things like performance, reliability, and overall value.  So, if the reviews mainly list off product features, or if there are a number of reviews that use similar wording to describe the product, the reviews could be fake.

Be skeptical about "extreme" reviews. 
If a reviewer makes over-the-top, extremely positive or negative comments, that should raise your suspicions.  Generally, most people will list one or two things they liked, along with something they may have been surprised by (whether positively or negatively).  But when the reviewer uses terms like "absolute worst" and "best ever," it’s worth checking out the reviewer before taking what he/she says as the gospel. In general, read reviews less for whether they give a product five stars or one star, and more for the specific information they give about the reviewer’s experience with the product. 

Check the business reputations of all merchants. Organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) maintain information about at least some reviewers and reviewed products.

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