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Avoiding a rip off, use consumer protection oversight

The North Dakota Attorney General's Office provides consumer protection oversight in North Dakota. They can be contacted by telephone or mail at: Consumer Protection and Antitrust, Gateway Professional Center, 1050 E. Interstate Avenue Suite 200, Bismarck N.D. 58503-5574, 701 328-3404/ 1-800 472-2600. The following information is available at the Attorney General's frequently asked questions link:

Three-Day Cancellation Right

The North Dakota Home Solicitation Sales Law gives consumers a powerful right to cancel sales transactions of more than $25 which are made away from a permanent place of business. You have three days to cancel any sales contract made under such conditions. It applies to purchases made at a trade show, purchases from a door-to-door salesperson, or merchandise and services bought from a salesperson operating temporarily out of a motel room. This law also applies to sales made by telephone, in which you purchase merchandise using your credit card, when the business contacts you. The seller must tell you orally and in writing about your three-day right to cancel. If the seller does not do this, the deal is voidable, even after three days.

You must give written notice to the seller that you are canceling the transaction. Send your notice by certified mail to document that it was made within the cancellation period. People 65 years or older have even more protection. Seniors who are sold a product away from a permanent place of business have 15 days to cancel any purchase more than $50.

The three-day right to cancel applies only to sales transactions made away from a permanent place of business. For instance, if you go to the local auto dealer's permanent place of business and buy a car, you cannot use the three-day right to cancel to terminate the deal. North Dakota does not have a law that specifically regulates return or refund policies for businesses. Businesses set their own refund or return policies and may give cash, credit, exchanges, or no adjustments at all. Ask and know about the store's policy before you purchase the merchandise.

Sweepstakes -- Don't Pay to Win

"Congratulations, you have just won a free vacation to the Bahamas. All we need is a credit card verification number, a small handling fee, and the vacation is yours!" Does this type of phone call sound familiar? Or maybe you've gotten a notice similar to this in the mail. North Dakota residents have been continually bombarded with similar unsolicited prize offers over the past years. In fact, complaints about sweepstakes have been the number one consumer complaint on the North Dakota Attorney General's Top 10 Consumer Complaint List two years in a row. With these types of prize notifications, the consumer ends up paying several hundred dollars for a prize that is either nonexistent or of little value.

Prize offers and sweepstakes that come in the mail or by phone trick you into thinking they are legitimate.

Attention-getting gimmicks and rehearsed telemarketing scripts are often used. Look-alike contests and company names also fool consumers. No matter how they are packaged, the offers end up costing you money. Many times, unfortunately, it will cost you a lot of money. Some promotions use 900 numbers which result in an automatic charge on your phone bill. Others use 800 numbers, but after making the "free" call, consumers find they must pay claim fees, shipping costs, or buy merchandise in order to be eligible for the so-called "prize."

Under North Dakota law, solicitors may not request or accept any payment for prize promotions before they provide you with a written prize notice. And you must sign and return the document before you are obligated to pay any money.

The written notice must contain: the company name, address, and telephone number; a detailed description of each prize; the retail value of each prize; the odds of winning each prize; the price you must pay -- including shipping and handling; any restrictions, limitations, conditions, or eligibility requirements that may apply.

Review the written notice carefully. Does it cost more to get the prize than it's actually worth? This usually will be the case. Pay close attention to the odds. Often, everyone who enters the promotion will receive one prize -- usually something of very little value.

Everyone wants to be a winner. But remember, if you have to pay to win a prize, it isn't much of a prize. The best defense against any phony sweepstakes scam is your common sense. If that dream prize seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you have questions feel free to contact the Attorney General's Office or the West Fargo Police Department at 433-5500.