CONSUMER LAW


        There are state and federal laws which give important rights to you as a consumer.  The topics discussed below are particularly important because they cover situations in which older people have often been victimized.

Equal Credit Opportunity

         Under the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), it is against the law for a creditor to deny you credit or terminate existing credit simply because of your age, sex, marital status, race, color, religion or national origin.  The creditor’s concern should be your willingness and ability to repay your debts.

          The law applies to any creditor who regularly extends credit, including banks, small loan and finance companies, retail and department stores, credit card companies, credit unions, and real estate brokers who arrange financing.

          When you apply for credit or a loan, one major indicator of your ability to repay is your current income.  Creditors who consider income must consider types of income likely to be received by older Americans such as Social Security, pensions, and other retirement benefits.  The creditor will also evaluate your debts, assets, credit history and reliability.

          You have the right to know whether your application was accepted or rejected within 30 days of filing a completed application and, if rejected, why your application was rejected if you ask within 60 days after your application was rejected. Indefinite and vague reasons are illegal, so ask the creditor to be specific.

         If you believe you have been discriminated against in applying for credit, you should discuss your belief with the creditor and try to convince him/her that you are credit worthy.  If this fails and you still believe you have been discriminated against, check with the Delaware Attorney General’s office to see if the creditor violated any equal credit opportunity laws.  You may also be able to sue for damages.  Finally, file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. If you’re denied credit, the creditor must give you the name and address of the agency to contact. In addition, complaints against all kinds of creditors can be referred to the U. S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, DC, 20530, at 877-382-4357 or online at www.ftc.gov.


Home Solicitations and Door-to-Door Sales

           Home solicitation and door-to-door sales are regulated by both Delaware and federal laws and apply to the sale, lease or rental of consumer goods or services costing $25 or more. Because high pressure tactics are typically used in door-to-door sales, the law requires the seller to provide the buyer with a fully completed receipt or copy of any contract pertaining to such sale at the time of its execution.  The contract must include the date of the transaction, the name and address of the seller, and a “Notice of Cancellation,” which informs the buyer of his/her right to cancel the transaction within three business days and provides the buyer with specific information about how to cancel the contract. In addition, at the time the buyer signs the contract or purchases the goods or services, the seller must inform each buyer, orally, of the right to cancel. 

           Under state law, if the contract is for home repairs or improvements, the work generally cannot be started until the end of the cancellation period.  This provision gives you additional time to consider the price and other details of the contract, in case you want to change your mind.  However, you may sign a written statement which says you waive your cancellation rights because of an emergency which requires the work to be done immediately. 

          The Delaware and federal laws also apply to sales made at a location which is not the seller’s usual place of business.  This means you may cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it at a special exhibit at a mall or a fair, for example.  To get further information, discuss a problem, or make a complaint, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit from anywhere in Delaware at 800-220-5424. Consumer information and complaint forms are also on-line at www.state.de.us/attgen

          Under a different federal law, you have the right to cancel a contract in writing within three business days (including Saturdays), if a mortgage against your home will be provided as security for a personal loan.


Unordered Merchandise

         If a merchant mails or delivers unordered merchandise to you which is intended for you, you may refuse to accept delivery of the merchandise.  Alternatively, you may consider it to be a gift and use it or dispose of it in any manner you choose without obligation.


Debt Collection

          You are responsible for paying your debts.  If you fall behind in paying your creditors or an error is made on your account, you may be contacted by a “debt collector.”  A debt collector is someone other than the creditor who regularly collects debts owed to others.  Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have the following rights:

         If you are having problems paying your bills, you should contact your creditors and try to work out an agreeable payment plan.

Telemarketing

        The Federal Trade Commission has a Telemarketing Sales Rule requiring certain disclosures and prohibiting misrepresentations.  It covers most types of telemarketing calls to consumers as well as calls consumers make in response to materials received in the mail.  You should be aware that you have all of the following rights:

         If you have any doubt about a telephone offer, you should request information in writing before making a decision.

          If you want to stop telemarketing calls, you can register on the National Do Not Call registry online at donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone number you want to register.  Registration is free.


Warranties

          Most major purchases come with a written warranty, but it is not legally required.  Warranties can vary greatly, so you should compare available warranties before making a purchase.  It is important to note expenses that are excluded, how long the warranty lasts, and whether there are any conditions on the warranty.  Warranties are included in the contract price while service contracts, sometimes called “extended warranties,” are separate and cost extra.

          Under Delaware law, there is generally an “implied warranty” that the goods are suitable for their proposed use.  However, this implied warranty may be excluded or modified by specific language to that effect in a written warranty.

         The Federal Trade Commission publishes free brochures on consumer-related issues.  For a complete list of publications, write to Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, H-130, Washington, DC 20508, or download online at www.ftc.gov.


Home Repair

          Before you hire anyone to do repairs on your home, make sure that the person is licensed or registered with the State and with the county or city where your home is located and provides proof of liability and workers compensation insurance.  If a contractor contacts you first by phone or by door-to-door solicitation, never agree to have work done immediately.  Ask for a written estimate, and check the contractor’s references.

          Make sure that the contractor provides you with a written and signed contract that includes the contractor’s full name, address and telephone number; the total cost of the work; the start date and estimated completion date; a detailed description of the work to be performed; the schedule and method of payment including the first payment, intermediate payments, and the final payment; provisions for canceling the contract by either party; a list of the materials to be used; provisions for obtaining any local permits; and any warranty of workmanship or materials. 

          Never give full payment at the beginning of the job or your final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction.
If you believe that you’ve been the victim of contractor fraud, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at 800-220-5424 or file a complaint in person at 820 N. French Street, Fifth Floor, Wilmington, DE, 19801 or 114 E. Market Street, Georgetown, DE 19947; or by email to consumer.protection@state.de.us. The complaint form is on-line at www.state.de.us/attgen

Consumer Pitfalls to Avoid


DON’T wait to address a legal problem; it may get worse. 

DON’T co-sign loans for others, including your children, grandchildren or friends, unless you can afford to pay back the entire loan on your own.

DON’T accept credit card offers that you do not need and cannot afford.

DON’T sign anything until you have read it and understand it.  Ask to take the proposed contract with you so you can read it thoroughly without time constraints.  If that is not permitted, do not sign the contract.  Do not trust anyone who offers you a discount for signing quickly.

DON’T assume that anyone is offering you the best available financing, even if they claim to be doing so.

DON’T add another person’s name to your bank account or the deed to your house without legal advice.

DON’T give out any personal information over the telephone about you or your family -- especially your Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers, or date of birth.

DON’T buy over the phone or the internet unless you initiated the contact and you’re convinced that you’re dealing with a reputable company.

DON’T call a 900 telephone number or similar service number or click a computer pop-up to respond to a notice that you have won a prize, have received an award, or have been selected or are eligible to receive something of value.

DON’T send money to anyone who insists on immediate payment for an item or service.

DON’T give your bank account information or credit card number to anyone who calls soliciting a donation to a charity or for a religious or social cause.  Ask that written information about the group be sent to you.