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.”

Share

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.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I will be hosting a holiday dinner at my house this year. I have a long list and variety of items on my food shopping list, but I do need to stay within a budget.

The lists of items I need to get include fresh fruits and vegetables as well as items from the deli and bakery. How can I be sure that I get the correct amount/weight of the items and that they are accurately priced? B.H. Churchville

A. When you choose the items that you will need at the grocery store in the deli, bakery and fruit and vegetable isles, the first thing to be certain of is that the scales have been certified accurate and type approved for the current year by the local or state Weights and Measures Department.

The display on the scale should be visible to you. It is the store’s responsibility that the scale is so positioned that its indications may be read accurately and the weighing operation observed from a reasonable “customer” and “operator” position. 

Accurate reading of the scale is also the employee’s responsibility: the scale should always begin at zero and they should make an accurate weight determination by reading to the lowest last full graduation. Rounding off to an ounce or ¼ pound is not permitted.

When computing the price, they must compute accurately to the nearest cent. Most scales that are used in the grocery stores are computing scales are programmed to do this automatically once the employee enters the items code.

The scale used should also allow the employee to compensate and deduct from the weight the paper, cardboard and plastic wrapping that may be used to package your item. This is referred to as “tare.”

Next, pay attention to shelf and/or sale prices. When checking out, be certain that your items ring up at the advertised price.

The “Consolidated Weights and Measures Act” requires annual inspection of Universal Product Code (“UPC”) scanning systems and Price Look-Up (“PLU”) devices. These systems and devices are the “bar code scanner” technology familiar to most consumers. Inspections of UPC scanning systems and PLU devices in Bucks County are conducted by the Bucks County Department of Weights and Measures. You should see an official Bucks County Seal at the register for the current year indicating the system passed.

If you have additional questions or concerns about scales and scanning systems, feel free to check out our informational brochures at http://www.buckscounty.org/government/CommunityServices/ConsumerProtection/WeightsandMeasures or by calling the office at 215-348-7442, following the prompt for the Weights and Measures Department.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. My home computer seems to be working just fine. My husband and I don’t use it often though; just for email and occasionally online shopping. That is why I was surprised to receive numerous telephone calls last night informing us that our “computer has a critical issue.”

The caller actually asked for my husband by name, which caused me even more concern. My husband answered the first call that came up “private” on our caller ID thinking it was probably our daughter who has an unlisted number. Instead it was a man informing us of the danger of not fixing our computer problem.

My husband believes it was a scam because they called repeatedly and from different numbers. Do you think that this could have been a legitimate call about our computer? J.M. Doylestown

A. The call that you received is not a new one but is increasing in numbers with computer users. The person on the other end of the line may sound professional when he warns you that your computer has been seriously infected with a virus. They will go on to tell you that they can help rid your computer of this virus so that you do not lose any data and to prevent the risk of damaging your device.

The only thing they need from you is your credit card information. They may even ask you to sign in to your computer, giving them access to fix the “problem.” Once the scammer has been given access to the victims system, the victim may see frightening looking error messages requiring immediate payment to clean up your infected computer and to install software so that your computer is “protected.”

In reality, what they are installing is malware (malicious software) in order to gain access to your online shopping and/or banking information. Remember that reputable computer repair companies would not contact you unless they were already working with you on a support issue. They certainly would not ask for remote access without the owner’s approval.

If you have become a victim of this scam you must; contact the Fraud Prevention Department of your credit card company or bank, change your computer password and update your computer’s security software. If you are unsure as to how security software works or which is best, contact a reputable computer company for advice.

If you ever receive an unsolicited computer support call, hang up. Rest assured that it is a cybercriminal scam call.

If you believe you may have been scammed in any way, feel free to call the Bucks County Consumer Protection Office at 1-800-942-2669 and ask to speak with a Consumer Investigator.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. What do I need to know about purchasing firewood for my home this season? D.A., Upper Black Eddy.

A. This is the time of year when lots of folks call The Bucks County Weights and Measures Office about firewood. If consumers intend to use the wood to burn this season, make sure the purchase is seasoned firewood. If you plan on using the wood for the following winter you can buy green wood and cut and split it and allow it dry out.

In addition, there are some basic requirements the firewood seller must adhere to. An invoice, with the following information, must accompany all firewood sales; the name, address and phone number of the business, amount and type of wood purchased, and the price.

All firewood sales in Pennsylvania must be sold by the cord or fraction of a cord. A cord is the legal description of amount of wood purchased.

A cord is measured by stacking the wood four feet high by four feet wide by eight feet in length or a total of 128 cubic feet.

If you get a delivery that is not stacked, stack the delivery within 48 hours of delivery, and if there is a discrepancy with the amount call the business immediately. If they do not address the problem call The Bucks County Weights and Measures Department at 215-348-7442.

For a free brochure on Weights and Measures please visit our web page at http://www.buckscounty.org/government/departments/CommunityServices/ConsumerProtection/WeightsandMeasures.aspx and click on “Tips and Hints.”

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I recently graduated from college, have a good job, and was able to finally buy myself a new car. I want to make sure that I follow the maintenance schedule that was recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. The salesman at the dealership highly recommends that I use their service center for routine maintenance and repairs.

Some of my friends and co-workers are recommending their mechanics, telling me that some dealership services are overpriced and even that some mechanics tend to take advantage of women, assuming that they are not as knowledgeable about cars. What do I need to know to make sure I take proper care of my new car without getting ripped off? B.G. Plumsteadville.

A. While female motorists are making more automotive service and repair decisions, they need to take certain steps to ensure that their repair/vehicle maintenance experience is a positive one. The following are some suggestions that we, at Bucks County Consumer Protection, offer our female drivers.

Do your homework before taking your vehicle for service. Begin shopping for a repair shop before you need one. Better decisions are made when you are not rushed.

Ask friends and associates for their recommendations. Old-fashioned word-of-mouth is still valuable information.

Look for a neat, well-organized facility, with vehicles equal in value to your own in the parking lot, and modern equipment in the service bays.

Look for evidence of qualified technicians, such as trade school diplomas, advanced training certificates, and ASE certification which, is a measure of professionalism.

If/when repairs are needed, ask as many questions as you need.  Request an explanation in simple terms and definitions.

Don’t rush the service writer or technician to make an on-the-spot diagnosis. Ask to be called and informed of the problem, course of action, and costs before the work begins.

Keep good records of any maintenance and repairs performed; keep all paperwork.

Reward good service with repeat business. It is mutually beneficial to you and the shop owner to establish a relationship. If the service is not all you had expected, don’t rush to another shop. Discuss the problem with the service manager or owner. Give the business a chance to resolve the problem. Reputable shops value customer feedback and will make a sincere effort to keep your business.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. My oldest child recently graduated from High School and, up until about a week ago, my son wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for the future. He is just now talking about going to college so I haven’t really put much thought into the college process before now.

Now I am panicking and he is so laid back he is of absolutely no help. I could use some guidance with everything from financial aid to making his living arrangements so that I can help him get prepared for continuing his education.

I’m not sure if this falls under your area of expertise, but I read your column every week and thought you may have an idea where I would go to get the information that I need.  Can you help? 

L.M., Bristol

A. While getting ready for college is exciting it can also be overwhelming. There are definitely things you want to be careful of when seeking help through the process.

There are many things that you need to keep in mind including protecting your personal information, watching out for scholarship scams when setting up financial aid and building good credit.  Bucks County Consumer Protection was able to find information on what every college student should know and we would be happy to send this out to consumers who are interested in these tips.

If you would like us to mail you a copy call 1-800-942-2669 and ask for a copy of “40 Money Management Tips Every College Student Should Know” and leave your name and address and we will send one out to you.

For other useful consumer information and brochures, you can visit http://www.buckscounty.org/government/departments/CommunityServices/ConsumerProtection/index.aspx.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I have heard on many occasions of people being scammed through the Internet and through their email. I can never imagine being scammed. I am fairly Internet savvy and my computer and email account have settings to weed out the potentially harmful messages which then go into a folder that I never even check. How do people fall for these scams? Why don’t they protect themselves better?   Y.D. Quakertown

A. So you’re completely safe then right? Think again. Scammers are getting smarter too. I’d like to share with you a list of 10 scam indicators that you should be alert for when going through your email inbox. Keeping your guard up will prevent you from worrying later.

1) Disembodied links refer to email that contain a link as the only content in the body of an email, bit.ly or shortened links that don’t display the actual address and hyperlinked text which give you no indication of what you would be clicking. When in doubt, don’t click.

2) Inordinate number of other recipients – If you get an email with hundreds of other addresses in the recipient field yet the message seems directed to only one person your scam sense should be on high alert.

3) Questionable Subject Line - If you receive an email from an address you do not recognize and it contains “no subject,” be careful. If you have no idea what you may be opening than it’s best to leave it alone.

4) Intense Enthusiasm - All caps is not only annoying it can also indicate spam when it comes to emails (E.g. I JUST LOST 45 POUNDS WITH THE XX2 PROGRAM!). Overly enthusiastic emails are a sure fire sign that the information is not what it seems.

5) Grammar and spelling – You don’t have to be an English major to notice odd mistakes in scam emails. Look out for major typos and scammers that purposely misspell things to avoid your spam filter.

6) Strange Requests – This one is easy. If someone is emailing you for medical assistance it’s just not legit.

7) Urgency - Typically people don’t use email to notify others in the case of an emergency, when they need “money wired now.” If you get an email claiming the situation is a matter of life or death, rest assured that the sender would not be targeting you, a stranger in the first place.

8) Sensitive Information – More often than you may expect, people send personal, secure information to scammers. Scammers operate by asking for personal information (credit card numbers, passwords, etc.) and can disguise emails to look official. Companies, schools, banks and other institutions will not ask you to submit sensitive information in an email.

9) Name-Sender Disagreement - Scam email addresses often have different names to dupe the recipient. Check the address before assuming that something is legitimate. For instance an email from Match.com would not have the address of contact @yourbestfriend.com.

10) Guarantees - Please remember that nothing on the Internet is guaranteed. Follow your instincts and pay attention to the sender address, the subject line, and promises made that are too good to be true.

If you believe you may have been scammed, contact the Bucks County Crimes Against Older Adults Task Force at 1-800-490-8505.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. I recently graduated from college, have a good job, and was able to finally buy myself a new car. I want to make sure that I follow the maintenance schedule that was recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

The salesman at the dealership highly recommends that I use their service center for routine maintenance and repairs. Some of my friends and co-workers are recommending their mechanics, telling me that some dealership services are overpriced and even that some mechanics tend to take advantage of women, assuming that they are not as knowledgeable about cars.

What do I need to know to make sure I take proper care of my new car without getting ripped off? B.G. Plumsteadville

A. While female motorists are making more automotive service and repair decisions, they need to take certain steps to ensure that their repair/vehicle maintenance experience is a positive one. The following are some suggestions that we, at Bucks County Consumer Protection, offer our female drivers; do your homework before taking your vehicle for service.

Begin shopping for a repair shop before you need one. Better decisions are made when you are not rushed. Ask friends and associates for their recommendations. Old-fashioned word-of-mouth is still valuable information.

Look for a neat, well-organized facility, with vehicles equal in value to your own in the parking lot, and modern equipment in the service bays.

Look for evidence of qualified technicians, such as trade school diplomas, advanced training certificates, and ASE certification, which is a measure of professionalism.  If/when repairs are needed, ask as many questions as you need.  Request an explanation in simple terms and definitions.

Don’t rush the service writer or technician to make an on-the-spot diagnosis. Ask to be called and informed of the problem, course of action, and costs before the work begins.

Keep good records of any maintenance and repairs performed; keep all paperwork. Reward good service with repeat business.

It is mutually beneficial to you and the shop owner to establish a relationship. If the service is not all you had expected, don’t rush to another shop. Discuss the problem with the service manager or owner. Give the business a chance to resolve the problem.

Reputable shops value customer feedback and will make a sincere effort to keep your business.

Share

Consumer Troubleshooter

submitted by Bucks County Consumer Protection Agency

Q. Prior to moving to this area, my husband and I had our prescriptions filled at a pharmacy that offered a program for the purchase of generic drugs. The cost for us was $5 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply.

We now live in a 55-years-and-over community and the management here recommended a pharmacy that is just around the corner. I took his recommendation and gave them a call.

I was relieved when the employee at the new pharmacy assured me that they would honor the generic cost program we had at our previous pharmacy, so we transferred all of our medications to be filled to them.

The first month I was billed $49.63. The second month I was billed $257.00.

I called because of the big difference in the amount and when they checked my account, realized that an error was made and adjusted the bill so I was only charged $105.22. Now this month I received a bill for $251.23.

I called again and they are claiming they never received my check for the last month of $105.22. I told him that I have the cancelled check so he finally checked with his bank and realized that I did pay last month.

I’m concerned that other people, who may not be questioning their bill, are being overcharged by this pharmacy. It does not seem like they have very accurate accounting practices. My husband and I live in a senior citizen apartment complex that is operated by HUD and a lot of the people that live here use this same pharmacy because it is so close.

None of us can afford nor want to be ripped off. 

What can we do?  C.R., Levittown.

A. First of all, Bucks County Consumer Protection wishes to remind consumers how important it is to always go over their statements, before they pay, to make sure they aren’t being charged incorrectly.

Secondly, consumers should also “shop around” to make sure they are getting the best price on their prescriptions because, just like anything else you purchase, prescription prices can vary from place to place.

Finally, we recommend doing exactly what you have done; pay attention and ask questions.

Share