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#325 Illegal sales practices

mp3 #325 Illegal Sales Gimmicks (mp3 file)

Sales gimmicks are simply ways stores or retailers use to get customers. Some are honest and some are not. In order to protect yourself and to be a wise consumer, you need to know about some of the dishonest and illegal ways retailers and salesmen often trap unsuspecting customers. Two methods are called "referral selling" and "bait and switch."

The bait and switch scheme is one of the hardest sales gimmicks to prove dishonest. The idea behind the gimmick is to advertise a product at a low and attractive price to get the customer into the store. The salesman can then say the product advertised is not very good --- you would be better off spending more money and getting a better model. Or, he can say that so many people have come in the store that the supply of the special product has run out--and then he will try to interest you in the more expensive model. The salesman will try very hard to sell you the expensive model instead of the advertised product. The law requires that a store have enough items they have advertised on sale to meet an expected demand, and if the store is a reputable firm and honestly has run out of the advertised special, they will usually give you a due bill entitling you to get the item at a later time but at the special sale price. Remember, bait and switch is a common trick --- and it is a hard one to prove fraudulent -- that is, to prove that the store has intended to trick the customer.

Referral selling is illegal in many states, but there are still some dishonest salesmen who will try to use it. Often people who know referral selling is illegal will find themselves tricked into agreeing to it. Listen carefully to any sales scheme and make sure you don't fall for anything. The idea in referral selling is that the salesman asks you for names of your friends who might also be interested in his product. The salesman tells you he'll give you a discount on your own purchase for every friend who buys one of the items, too. The salesman may make you these promises, but you won't find them in writing in your sales contract. And usually, the price you pay for a product in a referral scheme is even more than you would pay for the product in a normal sale.

The "free offer" gimmick may be another attempt to take advantage of you as a customer. This time they tell you you've won a free TV set, a free sewing machine, or a free course of dance lessons. The only little catch is that you have to buy a service policy or a cabinet for the sewing machine or some other service that goes along with the prize. The cost of the cabinet or the service policy will often equal or even be greater than the normal price of the "free" product. Remember, a company that gives its products away won't remain in business very long. And remember, too, if you win a prize, you don't have to pay anything for it ---except to Uncle Sam at income tax time.

Another area to watch out for is mail order. Before you deal with any mail order firm, check the background of the company with your local better business bureau. Be prepared to wait for quite a while before your product arrives. And remember, too, that products advertised by mail are often less attractive or well-made than they looked in an illustrated advertisement. If the item arrives and it is completely different from the advertised product and you feel that it has been lied about and you have been cheated, then you may have a case against the company which sold it to you. You will have to call your Better Business Bureau or your consumer affairs bureau for some information about how to file a complaint and get your money back.

Some really fraudulent mail order firms will even send merchandise you didn't order and then try to nag and harass you for payment. Remember you never have to pay for anything you haven't ordered. Contact your consumer affairs bureau if you've been tricked in this way and ask for advice.

One last gimmick to be aware of is fear-sell. A man pretending to be a state inspector or offering a free inspection may come to your house and tell you your furnace or chimney is a hazard to your health. He will say you have to get it fixed right away. Don't be scared and don't be rushed. Check the inspector's credentials first. Get another estimate on the work from a reputable firm before you decide what to do.

Most retailers want to please their customers, but if you think you have been taken advantage of by sales gimmicks, you can go to your better business bureau, your local consumer protection agency, or even, in some cases, a consumer ombudsman on your local radio or TV station.

Remember to avoid trouble whenever you can. Deal with responsible firms. Don't be rushed into signing or buying anything ever. Never sign any contract unless you understand it thoroughly. Make sure you understand the guarantee and service policy on any item you buy. Find out about the company's credit policy and their policies concerning exchanges and returns. And check more than one place before you buy. Learn how to protect yourself by shopping wisely.

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