The 22 Questions Most Commonly Asked the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
The Attorney General's Consumer Mediation Service receives thousands of questions per year. Here are brief answers to some of the most common ones. If you would like more information on a particular question, click on the listed section in the Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide. Upon request, we will be glad to send you individual chapters from the Consumer Law Guide. The entire Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide(2004) can also be purchased from Tower Publishing (1-800-969-8693).
While our Consumer Mediation Service is ready to help you resolve your consumer complaints, we do not provide legal advice on specific disputes.
- Do I always have three days to revoke a contract?
No. The only time Maine law gives you three days to revoke a contract is when a door-to-door seller contacts you at home. Then the seller must use a written contract and the contract must contain a notice that you have three days to revoke the contract. See Maine Attorney General Consumer Law Guide, § 13.4, You Have a Right to Cancel a Door-to-Door Sales Contract Within Three Business Days.
- Must door-to-door driveway pavers be licensed?
Yes. Driveway pavers and all other home repair sellers who do not have a permanent place of business in your municipality must be registered with the State. The seller's contract must include a state registration number. If the home repair work is a permanent addition to your house (for example, a new driveway) the work cannot even begin until your three-day right to cancel has expired. If you have any doubt about a door-to-door home repair seller, ask to see the seller's contract and license. If the seller does not have this information or refuses to give it to you, call the police. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 13.7-13.8, Home Repair Transient Sales.
- How can I get on the National Do Not Call List?
It is easy to sign up with the Federal Trade Commission. Call 1-888-382-1222 or go to www.donotcall.gov.
You can also remove yourself from mailing lists by sending the same information, and your signature,to DMA Mail Preference Service at Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014. By placing your name in the DMA Do Not Mail List you can expect within a few months to receive considerably fewer unwanted mailings. Your name remains on the list for five years. After that, you must repeat the process if you want to continue to be listed. See www.the-dma.org.
- Is the check I just received in the mail valid?
No! Fake checks are quickly becoming our top scam. You receive in the mail a very realistic looking cashier's check made out to you. You are told that you just won a lottery (usually Canadian) and that you should cash the check and send part of the money to the lottery to pay the taxes on your winnings. The check is so realistic that the bank cashes it. Then, a few days later, the check bounces and you owe the bank the entire amount of the check. And it will not do any good to argue to the bank that the "lottery" fooled you. The bank won't care. It will demand you pay back the entire amount of the check.
The "Fake Check" scam shares elements of many other scams. Beware of:
- "Free gifts" that require you to pay "shipping and handling charges", or "redemption fees", or require you to phone a 900 number in order to take advantage of the attractive offer;
- "High-profit, no-risk" investments. All high-profit investments are extremely risky. The greater the profit, the greater the risk. If you are told differently, it is a scam and do not become involved.
- High pressure sales tactics and demands for you to "act now." For example, the caller tells you an overnight delivery courier will quickly come to your door to collect the money.
- A request for your credit card number for "identification" purposes or to "verify" that you have won a prize. It is our recommendation to never give out your credit card number over the phone unless the business is well established and it is you who placed the call.
- Refusal to mail you written materials or provide you with even the most basic detail about the organization.
- Organizations that are unfamiliar to you or have only a post office box number so you will not know their exact location.
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 28.3, How to Spot Mail or Telephone Fraud. Also see Top Consumer Scams.
- Should I believe mail or telephone announcements that I have won a big prize?
No. Even though the announcement seems to say that you have actually won a prize, if you read the very small print you will discover that your actual chances of winning the prize are only one in many millions. Also, in Maine it is a crime to tell someone that the person won a prize but to then require the person to send some money to get that prize. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 28.4, How to Avoid Becoming the Victim.
- Can you ever refuse to pay for a purchase you made by credit card?
Yes, if you are convinced the seller treated you unfairly. But before you can refuse to pay your credit card company, the following requirements should be met:
- The cost of the sale you are disputing must exceed $50.00;
- You must have made a good faith effort to resolve your dispute with the seller; and
- The place where the sale took place must have been in Maine (or within 100 miles of your Maine address).
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 28.6, Credit Card Purchases.
- If you are sick or the weather turns bad and you decide to cancel your hotel reservation, are you entitled to a refund?
Not unless the hotel or motel is able to re-rent your room and has no other similar vacancies. A hotel or motel reservation is a contract. If you do not use the reservation, then you have breached the contract and the hotel has lost profits. Always ask first about the hotels or motels deposit policy. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 5.13, Hotel or Resort Reservations.
- Are pyramid schemes legal?
No. Pyramid schemes or multi-level marketing schemes can be a crime in Maine. It is illegal if you are primarily recruiting new members to the pyramid and the sale of a product or service is secondary. Why are such schemes illegal? Because the great majority of participants in pyramid schemes lose all of their money. If a pyramid requires you to find six new members and those six new members must each find six new members, then after only 12 levels of the pyramid your have exceeded the United States population. Of course, long before you reach that point, the pyramid will have collapsed and all of the people at the bottom (the great majority) will have lost their money. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 22.2, Pyramid Schemes Can Be Illegal. See also Top Consumer Scams.
- Can a landlord evict you for no reason, even in the winter?
Yes. If you do not have a written lease, a landlord can terminate your tenancy for no reason as long as the landlord gives you at least 30 days written notice, beginning with your rent payment day. Likewise, before you can leave your apartment you also must give the landlord the same 30-day written notice or else you will owe for an extra month of rent. The exception to this rule is if you have a written lease. Then, the landlord cannot evict you until the end of your lease unless you have broken one of the lease provisions.
There is one exception to this general rule. If you rent a lot in a mobile home park then the owner of the park can evict you only if you have violated your lease or one of the park rules. See Maine Attorney General Consumer Law Guide, § 15.5, Eviction From the Mobile Home Park.
Even if the landlord gives you a valid eviction notice, you can never be forced to leave your apartment or mobile home lot until the landlord goes to Court and obtains an eviction court order. You will receive notice of the Court hearing and have an opportunity to testify and tell the Court why your eviction is unfair. SeeMaine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 14.6, Right to a Hearing Before Eviction.
- Is a landlord required to pay you interest on your Security Deposit?
No. You can request that the landlord give you interest on your Security Deposit, but Maine law does not require it. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 14.3, Abuse of Your Security Deposit.
- If a landlord wants to evict you, can the landlord cut off your utilities?
No. This is an illegal eviction. The only way a landlord can forcibly evict you from your home is after a Court hearing at which you will have an opportunity to testify. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 14.7, Forcible or Retaliatory Evictions Are Illegal.
- If you buy a defective consumer good, can you immediately reject it and get your money back?
If you buy a consumer good (anything from a new coat to a television to a car that is intended for personal, family or household purposes) and you discover a serious defect, take it back and demand back the purchase price. You must discover the defect within a short time of purchasing it. You do not need to give them an opportunity to repair it. However, if you do not discover the defect until after you have used the item for a while, then you only have a right to a free repair, not a refund. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 5.3, Immediate Rejection of Defective Goods, § 5.6, When the Defect is not Immediately Discovered, and § 9.3, Immediate Rejection of a Used Car.
- If you buy a consumer good and the express warranty expires, are you out of luck if it proves defective?
No. Maine is one of ten jurisdictions in this country that has an automatic Implied Warranty of Merchantability, which can last as long as 4 years. This means that if your consumer item proves to be seriously defective, even after the express warranty has expired, then the store (or the manufacturer) must still repair it free of charge if the defect is so serious as to breach the Maine Implied Warranty of Merchantability. Sometimes stores will tell you the manufacturer is responsible if the item you purchased is seriously defective. But the store is just as responsible as the manufacturer.
See Maine Attorney General Consumer Law Guide, § 4.3, Implied Warranty of Merchantability. A used car is the only consumer good sold in Maine for which the dealer can refuse to give you implied warranty protection. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 9.12, Summary of Your Used Car Rights.
- Does a store have to give a cash refund?
No. A store is required to give cash refunds only when you immediately find a serious defect and bring the item right back. If your item is not defective, then whether or not you can return it depends on the store's return policy. If their policy is "no returns unless defective", then you must keep the item unless it was somehow significantly misrepresented to you. However, if a store has adopted a cash refund policy for returned goods, then it must honor its policy. SeeMaine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 5.2, When Can You Return Goods?
- Does a Used Car dealer have to give you any warranty?
Yes. All used cars, except ones labeled as "Unsafe Motor Vehicles" must be warranted to pass State inspection. If you buy a used car and then discover that it could not have passed State inspection, then you can take it back to the dealer and have the dealer repair the car free of charge. But remember, the State inspection law does not cover engines. Therefore, if your engine breaks down after a few weeks and the dealer did not promise you it was in good condition, then you may be out of luck.
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 9.4, Your Warranty That Your Car Can Pass State Inspection.
- Can you place a stop-payment order on a check if you received a poor repair job?
You can; but we do not advise it. Remember, if you intentionally give a bad check (e.g., pay with a check that you intend to stop-payment on) you could be committing a criminal offense.
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 26.7, Check Cashing Consumer Protection.
- What is the Maine Lemon Law?
The Maine Lemon Law protects consumers who have serious defects in their new car. If your car is substantially defective and the dealer cannot fix it; you can apply for a free State Lemon Law Arbitration Hearing and receive a decision within 45 days. You can only apply for State Lemon Law Arbitration within two years from the date your car was originally sold to a consumer and within the first 18,000 miles.
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 7.2, Consumers Guide to State Lemon Law.
- Can you refuse to make a car payment if your car is not working well?
We do not advise it. Your lender has a security interest in your car and if you fail to pay, the lender can sue you or repossess your car. It's a harsh fact but your lender often does not care whether your car is working correctly; it only cares if you make your loan payments.
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 6.5, Immediate Rejection of Defective Cars.
- What is identity theft and how can I avoid it?
Identity theft is when a crook gets a hold of some piece of your personal information (credit card number, checking account number, social security number, etc.) and uses it to steal money from you. How can they use this information to steal? They open a new credit card account in your name and then don't pay the bills. The delinquent account is reported on your Credit Report. They establish phone or wireless services in your name. They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account. They counterfeit checks with debit cards, and drain your bank account. They call your credit card company and, pretending to be you, ask to change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there is a problem.
How can you minimize your risk of identity theft? Never give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal your social security number and other financial account information. Review carefully your monthly credit card bill and challenge any charge you do not remember making. Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information: can you choose to have it kept confidential? If someone asks you for your Social Security Number, ask the following questions: Why do you need my SSN? What law requires me to give you my SSN? What will happen if I don't give you my SSN? See Maine Attorney General's Guide to Identity Theft.
- If your financial identity information is stolen, what should you do about it?
First, contact the Fraud Departments of each of the three major Credit Bureaus (see belowfor their addresses and phone numbers). Tell them you are an identity theft victim. Request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file, as well as a victim's statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. At the same time, order copies of your Credit Reports from the Credit Bureaus. Credit Bureaus must give you a free copy of your Report if your Report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you request it in writing. Review your Reports carefully and make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. Also, check the section of your Report that lists "inquiries." Where "inquiries" appear from the company(ies) that open the fraudulent account(s), request that these "inquiries" be removed from your Report. In a few months, order new copies of your Reports to verify your corrections and changes and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Second, contact your creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Creditors can include credit card companies, phone companies or other utilities, and banks and other lenders. Ask to speak with someone in the Security or Fraud Department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter. It is particularly important to notify credit card companies in writing because that's the procedure the law spells out for resolving errors on credit card billing statements. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new PIN numbers and passwords.
Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime. Even if the police can't catch the identity thief in your case, having a copy of the police report can help you in dealing with creditors.
Here are the addresses of the credit bureaus:
To request a report: 1-800-685-1111
P O Box 740241 To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285
Atlanta, Georgia 30374-0241
Web site: www.equifax.com
To request a report: 1-888-397-3742
P O Box 949 To report fraud: 1-888-397-3742
Allen, Texas 75013-0949
Web site: www.experian.com
C. TransUnion P O Box 1000 To report fraud: 1-800-680-7289
Chester, Pennsylvania 19022
- If I find a charge on my credit card bill for something I never agreed to buy, what can I do?
If you pay for your goods and services with your credit card and you then have a dispute with the merchant because you think the merchant has violated the contract (e.g., did not deliver the goods you ordered, misled you as to what goods or services would actually be provided, etc.) then any contact claims or defenses you might have against the merchant can also be raised against the issuer of your credit card. However, before you can refuse to pay the issuer of your credit card, the following requirements must be met:
- You must have made a good faith effort to resolve your dispute with the merchant. this can be accomplished by writing a letter to the merchant and keeping a copy of your letter as proof that you attempted to resolve your dispute);
- The amount of the initial transaction with the merchant must exceed $50; and
- The place where the initial transaction occurred has to have been in Maine (or within 100 miles of your Maine address).
- Are free vacation offers really free?
No. Oftentimes free vacation offers can end up costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars in additional changes, such as air fares or inflated prices for hotel accommodations, which must be paid in order to take advantage of the "free" offer. The Better Business Bureau reports that the American Society of Travel Agents has estimated that of all vacation vouchers sold, only 10% of recipients actually take the vacation.
See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, § 29.10, Free Vacation Offers.
In general, we believe that when a merchant (whether instate or out-of-state) contacts a consumer in the home, either in person, by telephone or by mail, then the transaction is taking place in the state of Maine and therefore any claims or defenses the consumer might have against the merchant can also be raised against the credit card issuer. Nevertheless, do not wait more then two billing cycles to dispute the charges, in writing, to your credit card issuer. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide § 12.6 and § 26.3 (D and F) (Credit Card Billing Errors).
You can also dispute "billing errors" made by the issuer of your credit card. You must send a letter to the listed credit card "billing error" address within 60 days of when you received your credit card bill. See Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide, §26.3 (D and F).