Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Urges Shoppers to ‘Review the Fine Print’ and Protect Their Credit This Shopping Season

GARDINER — With consumers turning their attention to holiday gift purchases, the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation is encouraging shoppers to protect their credit this season and review the fine print when making bank or gift card purchases.

“The holiday shopping season is a prime time for credit and debit card problems—from unauthorized charges to overcharges and identity theft,” Commissioner Anne L. Head commented. “Additionally, some consumers are unaware of fees and limitations associated with many bank and gift cards.”

Commissioner Head emphasized that state and federal laws provide many protections for consumers, but only if they learn to protect themselves and act quickly. “Save your receipts, and check your monthly statements carefully,” she stated. “Generally, banks and credit unions must refund you for overcharges, unauthorized purchases or unauthorized debit withdrawals, but only if you notify the financial institution promptly and dispute the validity of the charge.

The Department encourages consumers to call their credit card company or financial institution as soon as possible after noticing an unauthorized charge and then follow up in writing. Many consumers contact the store or business where the unauthorized charge occurred, which doesn’t satisfy the requirements of the law. “Contact your credit card issuer directly, and then write to the dispute address listed on each statement, which is generally different from the billing address,” Superintendent Will Lund from the Department’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection added. “The institution will provisionally credit your account, and then ask the merchant to demonstrate that the charge was valid.”

Regarding bank and gift cards, the Department’s advice is to read the fine print.. According to Lloyd P. LaFountain III, Superintendent of the Department’s Bureau of Financial Institutions, “many consumers are often unaware that some gift cards have fees and other terms that can significantly reduce their value over time.”

“People purchasing or receiving gift cards should read the terms and conditions. Although they’re a popular and convenient way to give, some cards have drawbacks, such as limitations on where they can be used and few options if cards are lost or stolen,” LaFountain explained.

Whether you buy or receive gift cards, you should read the disclosures to understand important terms and conditions, including:

  • Any fees that apply during or after the sale that reduce the value of the card;
  • Expiration date;
  • What to do if the card is lost or stolen;
  • What to do if there are problems with the card;
  • Where the card can be used; and
  • How to claim any unused portion of the card.

If these disclosures are not stated on the gift card or its packaging, check for a toll-free number or website.

Federal law limits expiration dates for gift cards and prepaid cards to five years. For entities subject to Maine law, expiration dates may not be imposed on the customer’s right to redeem pre-funded bank cards or stored-value gift cards. Maine law also requires disclosure of permissible fees and provides that if a stored-value card is redeemed in person and a balance of less than $5 remains following redemption, the merchant redeeming the stored-value card must refund the balance in cash if requested by the consumer.

Maine consumers who believe they are the victims of unauthorized charges or identity theft can contact the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 1-800-332-8529 (1-800-DEBT-LAW), or can file a complaint electronically on the Bureau’s website, http://www.Credit.Maine.gov. Consumers with questions about gift cards issued by financial institutions can contact the Bureau of Financial Institutions by calling 1-800-965-5235 or visiting http://www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions.

The Bureau of Financial Institutions and Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection are part of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which encourages sound business practices through impartial regulation of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous professions for the purpose of protecting the citizens of Maine.

 


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