Consumer Protection: Advice from The Bucks County Consumer
Q. I have not had a job in seven months. I no longer have any savings in the bank and I’m starting to worry that I will never find a job. I keep seeing posters about a job that you work from home and make really good money. Do you ever hear anything about the work from home opportunities? H.N., Bensalem
A. Not all work-at-home opportunities deliver on their promises. Some classic work-at-home schemes are medical billing, envelope stuffing and assembly or craftwork. Ads for these businesses say, “Be part of one of America’s fastest growing industries, earn thousands of dollars a month from your home!” Legitimate work-at-home program sponsors should tell you in writing what’s involved in the program they are selling.
Here are some questions you want to ask a promoter:
1) What tasks will I have to perform? Make sure they list every step of the job.
2) Will I be paid a salary or will my pay be based on commission?
3) Who will pay me?
4) When will I get my first paycheck?
5) What is the total cost of the work-at-home program including supplies, equipment and membership fees? Find out what you will get for you money.
The most important thing to remember is that if making money at home was easy and profitable everyone would work from home. Work from home companies make their money by selling you their product or materials, so you have to question why they do not sell directly to the public, skip the middleman and make a larger profit. The reality is most of these businesses are not profitable and usually have an initial upfront cost that most folks never recover.
Q. My husband and I are getting ready to renovate our kitchen. When we were looking at kitchens the supplier told us that he could refer several installers to do the work. He mentioned that all of them were registered under the new Pennsylvania law. We smiled and said great but to be honest we are not sure what he was talking about. Can you enlighten us? C.M., Warwick
A. I believe he was referring to the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA). It was placed into law after the governor signed it in 2008 and is effective on July 1, 2009. Senator Robert Tomlinson sponsored the legislation and was instrumental in its passage. Basically the new registration requires all businesses that perform home improvements to register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office. The law also establishes minimum insurance requirements for contractors as well a specific registration number for the individual businesses that must appear on contracts and in ads. The law also creates a specific contract for all home improvements that includes a start date and completion date, description of work and the consumer’s rights under the law. The law also creates criminal penalties for contractors who commit home improvement fraud. There is also a toll free number being established for consumers to call and verify a contractor’s registration. These are just some of the highlights of this new legislation. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website has a complete copy of the law that can be viewed by consumers and has a question and answer section that is extremely helpful. Contractors can and should go online to register and to get answers to any questions they may have. The website is www.attorneygeneral.gov and all the details for consumers and contractors are easily accessible and spelled out clearly. Our office believes this legislation was long overdue.
Q. I have been hunting for an apartment in a certain area for some time. I finally found an apartment that is in my price range and in the right location. I was assured that the apartment met all my requirements and that there were no problems with the apartment. The manager and I spoke on several occasions and each time I asked to see the actual apartment that I would be moving into because so far I only saw a model apartment. At first I was denied because someone still lived in the apartment. The second time I was denied because the manager said it was having renovations done to it. Well, I signed my lease anyway, now I wish I had not. The apartment was nothing like the model I had seen. The model apartment was clean and cheery and the appliances looked new. My apartment has cracked paint, leaking pipes and really old appliances. When I went to the manager to complain I was told that I am bound to the lease for a year. I feel the manager lied to me and I should be allowed to terminate my lease. What can I do? S.P., Warrington
A. Consumers should be leery if the landlord does not allow you to view the apartment that you would be renting. You should never sign a lease without seeing the actual apartment first. The manager is right that you are bound by that lease. If you have serious problems with your apartment you need to put it in writing to the manager asking for the repairs to be done in a timely manner. Make sure you keep a copy for your records. If the manager refuses to work with you contact Bucks County Consumer Protection at 1-800-942-2669 to see what your next step can be.
Q. My son is in trouble with his mortgage. He has missed a few payments and is trying to get back on track. I would like to get him some help but with all the scams and the lender not responding to his request to work out a solution I am at a loss. Can you give me a legitimate source to get the facts and some assistance? C.W., Quakertown
A. Our office will be glad to mail you out a simple one page notice from the Federal Trade Commission. It is a great resource that will direct and advise your son on what to avoid and what should be the proper course of action. Avoid companies that claim to be able to stop the foreclosure or that guarantee to save your home. Never pay any fees in advance for services that claim to be able to help. Never ever send any partial or full payment to anyone except to your lender. Our office has seen numerous companies popping up that have names that appear to be government related or that have similar names to legitimate organizations that can really help a person in a foreclosure crisis. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has set a up a toll free hotline that operates 24 hours a day. It is 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) and it is operated by the Homeownership Preservation Foundation. If anyone is having trouble paying their mortgage or they have already received a delinquency notice they should call immediately. HUD has established a network of certified counseling agencies that can assist a homeowner and the service is free. We recommend that homeowners go online and visit www.hopenow.com. For free information on the President’s plan to help homeowners, check www.makinghomeaffordable.gov. There is also a link on the HUD website. The HUD website is www.hud.gov and it has valuable information and guidance to help homeowners. If any homeowner would like a copy of this notice please call our office at 215-348-7442 and we will gladly get a copy to you.
Department of Consumer Protection /
Michael D. Bannon
50 North Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901