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Consumer Tips for Teens

It’s not easy being a consumer. It seems as if the whole world is trying to get your money. We are here to help. Below are some tips to help you be a smart consumer

Filing a Consumer Complaint

 If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, contact our Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274- 4400 or contactus@riag.ri.gov. You can also download our consumer complaint form at www.riag.ri.gov.

Internet Safety

To stay safe online:

  • Do not give out personal information.
  • Do not respond to any message or bulletin board items that make you uncomfortable. Show an adult.
  • Never agree to meet anyone in person you met online. If you do, make sure it is in a public place with your parents.
  • Never send anyone pictures of yourself.

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying is when a person uses the Internet, cell phone, or social media site to harass another

person. Rhode Island law states that any person who “transmits any communication by computer or other electronic device to any person or causes any person to be contacted for the sole purpose of harassing that person or his or her family” can be charged with cyber bullying. A first offense is up to $500 fines and one year in prison, or both. A second offense is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, $6,000 in fines, or both.

If you feel you are a victim of cyber bullying:

  • Do not respond to the bullies.
  • Do not erase the evidence. Save it.
  • Contact the State Police and your school.

Automobile Purchases

Advertisements

  • Beware of advertised minimum trade-in amounts or “free” gifts with a new car purchase. Dealers may raise the price of the car to offset a low value trade-in or the cost of the gift.
  • Be skeptical of “great deals” in car advertisements and read and understand the fine print.
  • Sometimes the advertised deal only applies to a few vehicles or is available only under certain conditions (i.e., a credit score over 790).

Research Before You Buy

  • Before you visit the dealership, know what make and models you are interested in and what they should cost. A reputable online authority such as www.edmunds.com and  www.kbb.com , will tell you the dealer’s prices.
  • Know the worth of any automobile you trade in. If its’ value is less than what you owe, the dealer will try to add that difference to your cost.
  • Try to finance with a bank or credit union rather than a dealer; coordinate financing before going car shopping. It is usually cheaper
  • Check the dealer’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau.

Negotiating the Deal

  • The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is the sticker price. It is not always a fair price.
  • The dealer invoice cost may be more than the dealer’s actual price.
  • Never fall for the “what do you want your monthly payment to be?” trick. In the end, you may end up paying more
  • Throughout your negotiations, ask for the best price up front and keep asking for it.
  • Keep track of the details.  Taking a notebook, calculator, pen and tape recorder will make it easier.
  • Before you sign anything, be sure the quote includes everything apart from sales tax, registration and title fees and figure out what all these are.
  • Be prepared to leave. Your ultimate weapon is threatening to walk away.
  • Never forget that everything can be negotiated- never mind what the salesman says.

Closing the Deal

  • Don’t take home a recently purchased car before financing is affirmed. This is called “spot delivery” and is designed to make you buy it. You could lose your down payment if financing is not approved.
  • If you finance through a dealer, always discuss the car’s cost first. Once the price is decided, then discuss the monthly payments. Or else you may end up with an acceptable monthly payment amount, but with a longer or a higher interest rate (i.e. your car will be more expensive).
  • All promises made should be in writing. Review and understand all documents and terms before signing.
  • Don’t sign a contract unless you accept the terms; especially if a contract is substantially different from what was promised.
  • Always ask if the interest rate offered on dealer financing is the lowest they can offer and if it includes a profit for the dealer.
  • If a form has blank spaces, do not sign. Draw a line through any blanks on any documents that require you to sign.
  • False information could be held against you; never allow false information on any forms.
  • Always comparison shop with an insurance agent before you buy life or disability insurance from a dealer
  • IN RHODE ISLAND, THERE IS NO THREE-DAY RIGHT TO CANCEL THE PURCHASE OF NEW OR USED CARS.

Tips on Purchasing Used Cars

  • B efore you buy a used car, get a vehicle history report. A couple of online services are available and most dealers usually know to provide this service for free. The report provides information on the used car’s title, registration, odometer, major damage and recall history.
  • Before you buy, have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle This may cost you some money but could save you money in the end.
  • Most used cars in Rhode Island are sold “As Is.” This means that the dealer does not have to repair the car if it breaks. Unless your contract includes this promise; or if the problem falls within Rhode Island’s Used Car Lemon Law (See below) only then do they have to fix it. This is true, no matter what a salesperson may tell you.

Rhode Island’s Lemon Law

  • There are a number of specific protections under the Rhode Island Lemon Law (R.I.G.L. §31-5.2-1 et seq.) If their new car does not operate in a reasonable way, consumers should consult the law or contact an attorney.

Here are the basics for the Lemon Law:

  • New Car:  A new car is protected by the Rhode Island Lemon Law if the vehicle has been serviced four times for the same defect within 1 year or 15,000 miles, and the defect still exists.
  • Used Car: A used car is covered by the Rhode Island Used Car Lemon Law if the used vehicle 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.
  • There is no lemon law for private car sales. However, if the car does not meet the inspection standards of the state, a private party cannot sell that car.
  • The Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board c/o Rhode Island Office of Attorney General and the Automobile Arbitration Line c/o Better Business Bureau handle complaints involving the lemon law.

Automobile Repairs-How to Protect Yourself

  • Ask people you trust for car repair recommendations.
  • S ee if there are any complaints against the repair shop by c hecking with the Better Business Bureau.
  • M ake sure that the repair shop is authorized to provide service for your car’s make and model if your car is under warranty. It could void the warranty or force you to pay for it if work is done by an unauthorized repair shop.
  • Before a major repair is done, acquire written estimates from more than one shop. The estimates should identify the problem, the parts required and the anticipated labor charge.
  • A  “standard warranty” on repairs does not exist. Know what is covered under your warranty and be sure to get it in writing.
  • If t he repair shop recommends additional repairs, and you are unsure whether the work needs to be done, get a second opinion.

Cars

  • Know what make/models you may be interested in , the price range, and the dealers reputation before you go to the dealership.
  • Be prepared to walk away.
  • Ask for the best price upfront and keep asking.
  • Keep track of details.(You may want a notebook, calculator and tape recorder)
  • Don’t fall for the ‘What do you want your monthly payment to be?’ trap. It may end up costing more.
  • Take someone with you.
  • Do not think salespeople are your friends.
  • Everything is negotiable.
  • Get everything in writing. Closely examine everything before signing.
  • Do not put false information on any forms, or allow anyone else to.
  • Do not sign any forms that have blanks. Draw a line through any blank spaces.

Tips To Avoid Employment Scams

  • Always use the tools that hide your contact information and exercise caution when posting your resume online.  
  • Do not put your social security number, driver’s license or birth date when filling out an online resume.
  • Your computer operating software, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs should be up to date.
  • Check out potential employers and confirm the employer’s identity ahead of time. Don’t do business with anybody you don’t know or trust. 
  • If an employer uses a common e-mail account like Gmail, Hotmail, MSN, or Yahoo instead of a corporate one; be suspicious.
  • If the only phone number provided by the employer always goes to voicemail or if the only available contact is a P.O. Box, you have good reason to be wary.
  • Never take a job that requires a payment up front. You are not likely to get it back if you send the company money. 
  • Never take money from an unknown source.    
  • Always protect your social security number.  It might be required to provide this later, however, legitimate employers should be concerned with your job skills, not your social security number.   

Scholarship Scam Tips

  • Beware of organizations that request application fees or other up-front payments, even if they are small.
  • Don’t believe organizations that promise you will be awarded a scholarship. 
  • A second opinion is recommended.  Ask your college financial aid office if they have had past dealings with the scholarship service.
  • Make sure all offers; guarantees, cancellation policies and refund policies are in writing. 
  • Your college financial aid office or any library will provide scholarship information.
  • Watch for lines like these:
    • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
    • “You’ve been selected by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship.”
    • “You are a finalist!” In a contest you did not enter.

Cell Phones

  • Find a plan that covers the area you are making calls in.
  • Exceeding minutes will be expensive.
  • Some plans give you ‘peak and off-peak’ minutes. There are usually more ‘off-peak’.
  • Examine all texting, Internet, and media packages carefully.
  • If you misplace your phone, or if it has been stolen, notify your company ASAP and ask to have the phone deactivated.

Contact Us

(401) 274-4400
contactus@riag.ri.gov

Download a consumer complaint form