Can a merchant require my address when I'm making an in-store purchase or exchange?

January 21, 2014 17:56 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I am tired of being asked for personal information when I am simply trying to buy something. What does Georgia Law say concerning merchants "requiring" an address when you are making a purchase or trying to return or exchange merchandise?  I am asking this with regards to actually being at a place of business and NOT shopping online.  Today I tried to exchange an article of clothing and was told by the sales person that I had to provide my address in order to conduct the exchange.  Is this legal?

Consumer Ed says: 

Georgia law generally doesn’t prohibit merchants from asking that consumers provide personal information in order to complete a transaction, with some very limited exceptions.  When a customer pays for a purchase by personal check, the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act specifies the information a business may collect for identification purposes. It states that a merchant may not imprint or copy the customer’s credit or debit card number as a condition of purchase by check. However, the merchant may still:

  • Request a driver’s license number.
  • Ask to see a credit or debit card as a form of identification.
  • Record on the check the type of credit card and expiration date.
  • Record a credit card number and expiration date, if the credit card company has agreed to guarantee checks as a special service to its cardholders.
  • Record an address and telephone number.


Ultimately, a merchant may require that you provide your address in order to make a purchase or to process a return or exchange of goods at their business.  Businesses often ask customers for their personal information for a variety of reasons, including:  to keep track of the customer’s purchases under the merchant’s loyalty rewards program; to build customer purchasing profiles to help them better market their products and services to you; or to create “return profiles” that catalog and analyze returns in their store to detect fraud and organized retail crime. 

Merchants are free to request information as a requirement of transacting business with them, but ultimately the decision to do business with a particular merchant  is up you, the customer.  So the decision whether to share your personal information with a merchant or to withhold your personal information is in your hands.  A business may decide not to provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide your information.  However, you should discuss any concerns you have with the merchant – they may be willing to waive the requirement that you give them your personal information or that may be able to allay your concerns by explaining how they use your personal information and how they ensure your information is kept private.

A few tips

  • Ask questions. If a merchant asks for personal information that you feel uncomfortable disclosing, don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as:
  • Why do you need it?
  • What will you do with it?
  • What authority do you have to require that I provide it?
  • What are the consequences if I don’t provide it?
  • How will you protect my personal information?
  • How will you dispose of my personal information once you’re finished using it?
  • Look for disclosure notices.  Often merchants will have a notice at the cash register or on your sales receipt indicating the merchant’s terms of purchase and terms for returning merchandise, including what information you may be asked to give them in order to complete a transaction or make a return.  Review these notices carefully before you make a purchase so that you are not caught unaware later.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. If you do not feel secure sharing your personal information with a particular merchant, or have concerns that your information will not be kept confidential, don’t risk it.  Take your business elsewhere.

 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Automatic billing following free trial

November 18, 2013 17:24 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I signed up for a free trial of an online sports subscription, and a month later I was billed for it and had to call to cancel. The same thing happened to me with a credit monitoring service.  Fortunately, I caught it on my bank statement right away, but what if I hadn’t? Are businesses allowed to automatically bill you every month after the free trial period is up?

Consumer Ed says: 

The two situations you have described are examples of so-called “negative option” plans.  In a negative option plan, goods or services are provided to the buyer automatically unless, like you did, the buyer tells the seller that they don’t want them.  More specifically, your examples are of negative option plans in the form of a free trial offer, which are very common. 

The legality of this practice depends on the terms and conditions of the particular plan, and on how the seller discloses these terms and conditions to the buyer.  Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Negative Option Rule, which the State of Georgia has adopted, the seller must disclose the following terms to you in a clear and conspicuous manner:

•    The fact that the offer is a negative option plan
•    Minimum purchase requirements, if any
•    Cancellation Rights
•    Refusal Rights
•    Postage charges, if any
 
If a business doesn’t comply with the Negative Option Rule, the consumer isn’t obligated to pay for the products or services associated with the contract. 

If you were enrolled in a negative option plan without your knowledge, and the terms and conditions of the plan were not described in a clear and conspicuous manner, you may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting ftc.gov or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); or the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection by visiting our website at www.consumer.ga.gov or calling 404-651-8600.

Consumers who believe that they weren’t appropriately notified of the negative option billing should also consider consulting a private attorney to discuss their situation.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Doggy daycare refuses to issue refund

August 22, 2013 20:28 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

We purchased a block of 30 visits to a doggy daycare.  Tragically, our puppy had to be put down shortly after.  The owner of the doggy daycare refused to refund the balance (several hundred dollars) citing a no refunds policy. I have no other pets, am I just out the money?  

Consumer Ed says: 

Georgia law doesn’t require businesses to provide a refund or accept returns or exchanges, which means they can set their own return/refund policies.  These policies may offer consumers a cash refund, store credit, or exchange, or they may prohibit returns of any kind.  Except in very limited circumstances, the law generally does not guarantee you the right to a refund or a three-day cancellation.
 
Even so, there are a few circumstances under which you might be entitled to a refund.  Stores must honor the terms of their return policies.  So if a business has a return policy that provides for refunds, and if you abided by the terms of that policy, then the store is obligated to issue you a refund.

Alternatively, if the doggie daycare received the benefit of your money without having to provide the services for which you paid, you may have a claim for unjust enrichment (which is another way of saying that the daycare unfairly profited at your expense).  You should seek legal advice about your individual situation; if you can’t afford your own lawyer, contact your local legal aid office or consider using your local magistrate court.

If you believe that the daycare didn’t adequately disclose the terms and conditions of its refund policies, or that those policies were otherwise unfair or deceptive, you can file a complaint with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection at www.consumer.georgia.gov or by calling 1-800-869-1123.  You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting ftc.gov or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

The best way to protect yourself in future transactions of this kind is to inquire into a company’s refund policies prior to making a purchase, and to ask for those policies in writing.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Credit/Debt
nav_cap