Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. The other day I was talking to a friend about your agency. She was telling me that she attended this activity group that had the director of the office do a presentation and that he talked about everything from scams, to buying a car to buying gas at the pump. I have also notice this department mentioned in news reports as well as in the newspaper. I am curious to learn about the other ways in which the Bucks County Consumer Protection Department assists the residents of Bucks County. How would I get this information? L.T.

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Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. My daughter is graduating from high school. We are in the process of looking over her finances in order for her to decide which direction she should take as far as colleges go. I am a single parent of three children and do not have the financial means to give her much support. I was discussing my concerns about this with my friend and she remembered that your office had information in your Troubleshooter article last year. She also said that you had offered consumers a helpful brochure for college bound kids. Is that brochure still available through your office? B.R., Morrisville.

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Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I recently became married and had a wonderful celebration reception that included an hour of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for our guests. During that hour, the wedding party, including myself and the groom, were at another location with the photographer.

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Choosing a home improvement contractor

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

When faced with the decision of which business to hire when you are in need of a home improvement contractor there are some very important things to consider. Do not be taken in by promises of guaranteed performances, quick jobs, and bargain prices. Don’t allow a salesperson to talk you into repairs and improvements you do not actually need or want.

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Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I recently received a Visa debit/credit/gift card as a thank you for my volunteering at a local agency. The paper sleeve that the card came in did not indicate what dollar amount was on the card so I called the 888 number to determine the balance. I was surprised to learn that it was in the amount of $50! The following day I used the card to put $20 of gas into my car, leaving a balance of $30 on the card. Later that same day I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things; intending to use the gift card again. After completing the ringing up of my purchases, I slid the card through the machine at the self-checkout. Although my purchase total was under the amount of the balance that I had left on the card, the card was “denied.” I tried a couple of more times; even enlisting the help of the store attendant but still the card did not work. I later called the number on the back of the card to inquire what the problem was. They informed me that because of my initial purchase at the gas pump, there was a hold on the card. The balance of $30 would be available in three days. I don’t understand why using the card at the pump would affect the balance on the card. Can you explain this? F.V., Doylestown.

A. The simplest way to explain what happened is that issuing banks (the bank from where the card was purchased) do this to make certain that they will get paid. They may not find out until one or two days later what the exact amount of the gas purchase was and whether there is enough on the card to pay for it.

Banks are allowed to place a hold of up to $75 for up to three days on a gas purchase using credit at the pump. This includes “credit” purchases made by swiping your “debit” card. They do this because the exact amount of your purchase is not communicated to the bank immediately by the pump after you swipe, unlike most purchases. Also, the gas station wants to make sure that it will get paid.

A “hold” on your card can be avoided when using a debit card if you enter your PIN # at the time of the purchase. We at the Bucks County Consumer Protection Department do not recommend using this method. Using your PIN can lead to a greater chance of the theft of your debit card information which can lead to fraudulent charges against your account. For additional tips and brochures on many consumers related issues, visit

http://www.buckscounty.org/government/CommunityServices/ConsumerProtection/ConsumerTips.

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Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. Now that the weather is getting warmer, I am anxious to get some work done to the outside of my home. The first thing on my list is getting the driveway paved and then some landscaping. I was asking people I know for contractor recommendations when my neighbor said that he recently heard of a contractor working in the neighborhood, knocking on doors offering a very good price for this kind of work. It sure sounds like a good deal for the price. I’m thinking of hiring them since they are already in the neighborhood. Is this a good idea?  G.T., Plumsteadville.

A. This is the time when consumers want to start fixing up their yards and this is the time when “gypsy” contractors start going door-to-door trying to drum up business. The problem is that a good majority of these contractors that go door-to-door are not legitimate. They are not registered contractors whose business has a physical address and the phone numbers they give are only cell phone numbers, not a landline. Each year we see a spike in complaints from consumers who have paid for work and either the business did not come back to finish the work or they find out the work was subpar, and that’s when they realize they have no way to reach the business. Please beware of this type of contractor. If you want to have work done please find a reputable company by doing the following; make sure they have a license to work in Pennsylvania, ask the business for their Home Improvement Contractor number or (HIC#); make sure you ask them what their physical address and phone number are for the business, ask for a written estimate; make sure the estimate or contract has a detailed description of the work to be performed, the materials to be used, and a start date and a completion date. If any warranty is offered that should also be in writing. Remember, any contract that is signed in your home gives you a three-day right to cancel notice, which should be attached to the contract. There may be a one-third deposit up front requested, but there is no reason to pay in full until the work is completed to your satisfaction. Once the bill is paid in full there is no incentive left for that business to come back and complete the work. 

If you have questions or concerns, or you would like to see if we have received any complaints against a particular contractor, call Bucks County Consumer Protection at 1-800-942-2669. Before you call, please have ready the contractor’s name and telephone number so that we may search our database. Consumers can also access our brochure on the Home Improvement Contractors Act by going to our website at www.buckscounty.org and click on Consumer Protection, and then click on consumer tips. While at our website you can also find out if a business is registered to work in Pennsylvania. Just click on Consumer Links, and then click on www.attorneygeneral.gov – PA Attorney General Website. Once there, click on “Home Improvement Consumer Information.”

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Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I recently ordered a bundled package from a provider for my telephone, cable and Internet service. When the first bill came in I noticed a charge for almost ten dollars. I had no idea what the charge was for, so I called the company. I have still not received an answer. I would appreciate any help you can provide. L. H., Levittown

A. We applaud you for taking the time and actually going through the bill. Many consumers are so rushed they just take for granted that a bill from the utility or credit card company is correct and just send the payment. The charge you found is for a credit monitoring service and apparently was not ordered by you. The company is a third party billing service provider and works for numerous companies offering an array of products and services. On the bill the name and number of the provider is clearly stated and if disputed or not paid will not terminate your phone service. 

The company apparently did respond to your call, because when our office called they stated that a credit was applied and that the service was removed permanently. They claimed it was an error and will send you a letter stating what happened and showing a zero balance. Had you not been reviewing the bill and they charged you for several months it would have made it difficult to cancel. By paying the bill you would have inadvertently approved the service. Bucks County consumer protection encourages consumers to review all their bills carefully. Any charges or statements that are questionable or not stated clearly should be addressed immediately. We would also suggest that all terms and conditions for a service be sent to you in writing before agreeing to any contract. Remember always review the fine print.

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