Staff at Monmouth County Consumer Affairs offers assistance

FREEHOLD, NJ  – Credit cards and gift certificates are the gift of choice for many people during the holiday season. If you will be purchasing a gift card or planning to redeem one, the Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs has some timely reminders to help you make the best use of your holiday dollars this season:

  • Redeem your gift card or gift certificate as soon as possible. Gift cards and gift certificates are valid for at least 5 years after purchase, but after one year a retailer may charge an inactivity fee.
  • Be sure to read the fine print before you purchase a gift card. Ask if there is an activation or shipping and handling fee. Also, some gift cards may not be used to purchase items online. It can make a big difference in how someone redeems your gift.
  • If you are purchasing a gift card online, be wary of online auction sites. The cards may have been obtained fraudulently or may be counterfeit. Check each site’s terms and conditions. If you do not like what you read, buy elsewhere.
  • If you find yourself with a gift card or gift certificate for a company or retailer that is no longer in business, remember that a new business owner is not obligated to honor the gift card you purchased from the previous owner. If you find yourself in this situation, contact the Department of Consumer Affairs for assistance.

“Many consumers call to say their favorite restaurant or nail salon is under new ownership, and they can’t use their gift certificate,” said Patricia Watson, director of the Department of Consumer Affairs. “Or, they may find that the furniture store where they recently placed an order is now empty.  The Consumer Affairs staff may be able to provide assistance. We are ready, willing and able to meet consumers and help them resolve all sorts of consumer-related issues.”

Watson offers these recommendations for large purchases:

If you place a deposit or started a layaway purchase on merchandise, make sure you know the specific terms of your deposit or layaway agreement. Be aware of any penalties if you need to cancel your order or you make a late payment.

  • When purchasing high-ticket items, be mindful of a vendor’s return policy. Ask if you will be charged a restocking fee if you return the item.

Additional information about consumer affairs programs can be found on the county Web site at www.visitmonmouth.com or by calling 732-431-7900. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Consumer Affairs department is a law enforcement agency, created and funded by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders. It protects against consumer fraud and dishonest and unscrupulous business practices by enforcing the state Consumer Fraud Act and other regulations.

“Beyond the winter holidays, the Consumer Affairs staff is available to assist consumers who believe they may have been a victim of fraud or unfair business practices,” Watson said.

“The county’s Consumer Affairs office enforces consumer laws and helps people whether violations are present or not,” said Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry, liaison to the department.  “Each year the department mediates more than 1,000 complaints and recovers more than $500,000 for consumers. This is one of the many important ways the county is able to assist residents.”

Mediation includes letters, telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and informal conferences with businesses. If a business is uncooperative and does not appear as scheduled, the department has the authority to subpoena, a function coordinated with the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

The department also maintains a “complaint history” on all reported businesses, which can be helpful to consumers who are considering an agreement or transaction with a local business. If there is an active file, the information may be very valuable, Watson said.

Additional information about fraud and other consumer affairs programs can be found on the county Web site at www.visitmonmouth.com or by calling 732-431-7900. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.