Dealer won't refund my deposit

March 15, 2016 15:21 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I paid a car dealer $300 as a deposit to confirm that I was interested in buying a particular car. He assured me that the car had a clean title and had not been in any accidents. He also assured me that he would return my deposit if I found any problems with the car. I got the VIN number from him and found out from CARFAX that the car had been in an accident.  I showed the CARFAX report to the dealer and asked him for my deposit back, but he refused to return it. What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:  

While many consumers are under the impression that there is a law which entitles them to a refund for a car deposit if they choose not to buy the car, this is not the case.  Usually, whether a deposit is refundable or non-refundable depends on what's written in a contract, on a receipt, or posted at the dealership.  But if there’s nothing that states otherwise, or if you agreed with the dealer that the funds would be returned in the event that the car had previously been in an accident, then the dealer should be required to refund the money.

In this case, if you believe that the dealer has no right to keep your deposit, you have several options.  The first thing you should do is write a letter to the dealer requesting that your money be returned. Send the letter via “Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested,” and pay the small additional fee to obtain proof of delivery. You should also submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and ask their mediation department to contact the dealer to attempt to get your deposit back.  You can also submit a complaint to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at www.consumer.ga.gov, or by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123 (outside metro Atlanta).  If you used a credit card to pay the deposit, you should also consider disputing the charge with your credit card company.  Even if you take this route, the assistance of the Better Business Bureau and the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit described above may still be helpful.  

If none of the above options result in the return of your deposit, you may want to consult with an attorney who can help you explore other legal options you may have. 

To avoid such issues in the future, and to help you avoid doing business with companies that use deceptive tactics, make sure you select a reputable auto dealer before you begin shopping for a car. You can research dealerships through the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).  In addition, make sure that before you give a deposit to a dealer, you require that he or she create a written document stating the purpose of the payment, and under what circumstances, if any, you are entitled to a partial or full refund.  Finally, make certain that you read that document carefully and in its entirety before you sign it or hand over any money for a deposit. 


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I'm getting past due notices for a product I never ordered

January 27, 2016 16:15 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I keep on getting past due letters for a product I never ordered.  I've tried to explain the error to the company, but I never get responses; I only get past due notices with additional fees. What should I do?

Consumer Ed says:  

Above all, don't be pressured into paying for goods or services you never ordered. Many of these so-called “invoices” appear at first glance to be legitimate bills, and may include threatening or confusing legal jargon to create a false sense of urgency to pressure recipients into making quick payments. Scammers are hoping that you’ll simply pay the bogus bills without checking them out.  

Another variation on the phony invoice is a solicitation that is designed to look like a bill.  It may contain a required legal disclaimer that says in large boldface type:  “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION.”  Unfortunately, this disclaimer is often absent or obscure.  If you’re deceived into paying for the solicitation, you may never receive the goods and services advertised, and will probably have little to no luck in contacting the company, let alone getting them to refund your money.  If you don’t see the above disclaimer, don’t assume it’s a legitimate invoice.  

The following are steps you should take to avoid falling into this trap:

Verify. Search the name of the company sending you an invoice to see if others are reporting similar issues or other problems.  Check a company out with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and also try doing an online search using the company name and words like “complaint” or “scam.”

Carefully read all invoices and solicitations that are sent to you.  Check account numbers and the name of the company sending you an invoice.  If you do receive a bill that appears to be legitimate, or from a legitimate company, look it over carefully for the name and location of the company sending the bill.  If there is any difference (no matter how small) between the name of the business entity which sent the “invoice” and the name of a legitimate business, this is likely an indication that the invoice is phony.

Contact the company.  If you ever question an invoice that you have received, call the number on the invoice.  Legitimate businesses will have direct contact information, and will welcome questions.  Ask for a purchase order or other supporting documents.  An inability to contact the sender at the number provided is also an indication that the bill is a fake. 

File a complaint. If you’re getting bogus bills, file a complaint with the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint, as well as with the Better Business Bureau.  If the scheme involved and/or was sent to you via the U.S. mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You also should alert the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit online at www.consumer.ga.gov, or by calling 404-651-8600.


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Can a company charge a restocking fee on returned merchandise?

December 16, 2015 18:09 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I bought a smartphone online.  It didn’t have the functionality I wanted, so I returned it the following week.  The company issued me a refund less a $25 restocking fee.  Can they do that?

Consumer Ed says:  

Short answer:  yes, usually.  In Georgia, retailers may set their own policies regarding refunds and exchanges, including those related to “restocking fees”.  Restocking fees have become increasingly common in today’s market, particularly when a return involves an electronics purchase because the item, once opened, can no longer be sold as new.  However, while the collection of these fees is permissible, there may be circumstances where a retailer should not enforce such a fee, or circumstances where charging it would be unfair or even deceptive.   The fees can only be charged as a cost of business, and to help offset the cost of restocking a returned item.

Generally, the customer must be notified of the store's return policies, and any restocking fees must be disclosed before the purchase is made.  In states that have laws addressing restocking fees, it’s illegal to charge them in the following situations:  in connection with the return of defective merchandise; the retailer delivered the wrong merchandise; the retailer failed to deliver the merchandise within the promised time period; the fees exceed 50% of the purchase price of the merchandise; or, the fees aren’t sufficiently disclosed prior to the customer’s purchase of the merchandise.  Some online merchants charge a percentage of the purchase price to accept a return. Certain electronics retailers charge a 15% restocking fee on items such as opened notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS/navigation and in-car video systems, and a 25% restocking fee on special order products, including appliances, unless the item is defective.

The best way to protect yourself in the future is to ensure you understand the store’s policies prior to purchasing a product.  Make sure to ask questions related to the store’s refund and exchange policy.  Always thoroughly read any posted policies prior to purchasing an item and review the receipt as soon as you complete your purchase.  

If you believe the store failed to adequately disclose restocking fees, you can contest the charge by negotiating with the business. If that does not resolve things to your satisfaction, you can always consult with an attorney.  Additionally, you may submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) and to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit by visiting www.consumer.ga.gov or calling 404-651-8600.


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