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Consumer Protection Unit: Frequently Asked Questions

Contractors

How do I check the reference of a contractor?

A contractor doing business in Rhode Island is required to be registered with the Contractors’ Registration Board. Before signing a contract, check with the Contractors’ Registration Board to ensure the contractor is registered and licensed and if there have been claims and/or violations. The information is available by calling 222-1270 or online at www.crb.state.ri.us.

How do I file a complaint against a contractor?

If the complaint is regarding work done within one year of the signing of the contract, file your complaint with the Contractors’ Registration Board.

Debt Collection

How do I stop a debt collector from calling?

While debt collectors have a right to seek payment, they must follow the guidelines set forth in both the federal and Rhode Island Fair Debt Collection Practices acts. According to the statutes, to stop a debt collector from calling, write a letter to the agency instructing them to cease and desist contacting you by telephone at home or at work and that all future communication be made to you via mail. Send the letter certified and retain a copy for your records.

At what times are debt collectors allowed to call?

A debt collector may contact you seven days a week between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

Identity Theft

What if I am a victim of Identity Theft?

The first step is to file a complaint with your local police department. This report will be a valuable tool when disputing fraudulently charges. Next, call the fraud unit at each of the three credit bureaus (refer to Contact Information). They will send your credit report for you to review. Check carefully and dispute all inaccuracies directly with the credit bureau. For more information, call the ID Theft Hotline at 877-382-4357.

Lemon Law

Does Rhode Island have a Lemon Law?

Yes. To summarize the lemon law, a used vehicle will qualify if it has been in for service three times for the same defect within its dealer warranty period or has been out of service for 15 days within the warranty period.

A new vehicle qualifies under this law if - within one year or 15,000 miles - the vehicle has been serviced four times for the same defect and the defect still exists.

Is there an agency that enforces the Lemon Law?

Yes, the Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board enforces the Lemon Law for new vehicles only. The Auto Arbitration Line of the Better Business Bureau also handles new vehicle Lemon Law complaints.

What should I do if my new vehicle falls under the Lemon Law?

First, the dealership should try to repair it. If it cannot be repaired, you may file a complaint with the Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board c/o Rhode Island Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit, or you may arbitrate the matter through the manufacturer’s dispute process or the BBB (see above). If the outcome is not to your satisfaction, you will need to consult an attorney.

What about used vehicles and leased vehicles?

Consumers should work with the dealership to repair a continuing problem. Also inquire if the manufacturer has an informal dispute process. If a dealer fails to honor a warranty consult an attorney. Leased vehicles follow the standards that are set for new cars.

Is there a Lemon Law for a car sale between private parties?

No, however, a private party cannot sell a car that does not meet the inspection standards of the state.

Purchases

Is there anything I should consider before making a major purchase?
Yes. Read the entire contract before signing it. Please note that the time to ask questions is now. Remember, a contract is a binding, legal document. It is also important to read and understand the warranty protection the product manufacturer offers you.

How long do I have to cancel a purchase, for example a car?

The three-day right to cancel applies only to door-to-door sales, traveling shows (i.e. car or boat show) or timeshare sales. You must give a written notice of cancellation to the seller no later than midnight on the third day (fifth day for timeshares) following the signing of the agreement. YOU DO NOT HAVE THREE DAYS TO CANCEL THE PURCHASE OF A VEHICLE.

Retail Stores and Gift Certificates

Is a business allowed to place an expiration date upon a gift certificate?

No. As of July 8, 2005, no gift certificate or any agreement with respect to such gift certificate sold may contain language suggesting that an expiration date may apply to the gift certificate. Any unused portion of a redeemed gift certificate shall be afforded to the consumer by reissuing the gift certificate for the unused amount or providing cash where the balance due the consumer is less than one dollar.

Is a business required to explain its refund policy?

Yes. A retailer may have its own refund policy and it must be posted at the point of display, cash register or store entrance.

How long do I have to return an item if no policy is posted?

You are entitled to a refund if you have the sales slip and return the item unused within ten (10) business days from the date of purchase.

Are there exemptions to this refund law?

Yes. The law does not apply to the sale of books, magazines or any publications, food, perishable items, merchandise which is substantially custom-made or custom-finished, items for internal consumption and items sold “as is,” or any items presently prohibited for refund, return or exchange by a retailer by federal or state law or any rule or regulation promulgated by any state agency.

Is a retail store allowed to require a consumer to provide his or her social security number or credit card number as a means of identification when making a purchase by check?

No. It is illegal for a retailer of any goods or merchandise to record any credit card or social security number obtained from a purchaser as a means of identification.

Sweepstakes

Is there a better chance of winning a publisher sweepstakes if I make a purchase from the company?

It is illegal for sweepstakes promotions to require consumers to buy or pay anything. Anyone not making a purchase (i.e. magazines) must be given the same chance of winning as those who do make a purchase.

If I receive an “awards notification” does it mean I am a guaranteed winner?

Phone prize offers are common vehicles for scams. Although it is tempting to believe you have actually won something, be careful. Usually, such “deals” end up costing you money in a hidden way. It is not much of a prize when you must purchase something, make a donation or send a bogus tax or processing fee payment in advance to claim the “prize.”

Telephone Solicitations

Are there any types of telephone solicitations that should immediately send up a red flag?

Yes. Consumers should be wary of telemarketers who insist on immediate payment by courier, wire or overnight delivery. Do not send money to anyone who insists on this type of payment. Legitimate businesses respect the fact that you may need time to consider a purchase.

Should I give out personal information over the telephone?

When being solicited by phone, do not give out any personal information over the telephone especially your credit card, bank account or social security numbers.

Is there anything I should consider before responding to a telephone solicitation?

If you are interested, ask the telephone salesperson who offers a product or service to contact you by mail so you can see the offer in writing.

What should I consider when faced with high-pressure sales tactics?Feel free to hang up on telephone solicitors who tell you they need an immediate commitment or use other such tactics. Most legitimate businesses do not expect you to make an instant decision.

What do I need to know about charities that solicit contributions over the telephone?

If you receive a call asking for a donation, ask the caller to identify themselves and the charitable organization for which the solicitation is being made. Next, ask if a professional fundraising company employs the caller and what the amount of the contribution the charity will receive as opposed to the solicitor.

Tenants' Rights

Where do I obtain information on tenant rights?

The Rhode Island Landlord-Tenant Handbook