Web research a consumer’s resource

Posted Feb. 15, 2009, at 8:20 p.m.

Many consumers are putting some time into research before making major purchases, investing or shopping around for various services. We’d like to make a few suggestions to help people who would like to get more information with less effort.

A great place to start is the Web site of the Maine Attorney General. You’ll find a variety of topics under the Consumer Protection heading. You may want to look first at the Consumer Law Guide, an overview of all Maine laws dealing with consumer issues.

Whether your concern is a complaint about a product you’ve bought or finding the latest enforcement action of a state antitrust law, you’ll find information here at www.maine.gov/ag.

On the matter of housing, the site covers legal aspects of renting, home repairs and heating your home. Laws relating to lead paint, mobile homes and the hiring of contractors are also covered.

Under the section on motor vehicles are major points of law on defective vehicles, car repairs, warranties and Maine’s Lemon Law. There’s a handy checklist of points to keep in mind when your vehicle goes into the shop for repairs.

There’s good advice about giving to charities, including links for people wishing to check out the worthiness of a cause they’re considering. We applaud reminders not to give in to pressure to donate or to allow “runners” to pick up your gift in cash; a bona fide charity will appreciate your check in the mail just as much.

Visitors to the Attorney-General’s site will also want to read about the provisions of state law on recourse they have when purchases are not as expected. You may be surprised to learn that Maine is one of just 10 states with an implied warranty law.

Essentially, the law says a product should work as intended. A violation of the implied warranty law may occur if the item is seriously defective, the consumer did not damage it, and the item is still within its useful life and is not just worn out. To enforce this law, the Attorney General usually looks for a “pattern of abuse” on the part of a seller, so a single faulty product likely will not trigger a state-launched lawsuit on your behalf.

The Attorney General’s site also alerts readers to recent scams. One making the rounds is a phishing scheme; it aims to get your personal financial information by asking you to download a “Stimulus Payment Form.” It’s a scam, and if you get such an e-mail, simply delete it.

Your research may also take you to Maine’s Office of Consumer Credit Protection for advice on establishing and maintaining good credit. The Office of Licensing and Registration can tell you if a door-to-door salesperson or solicitor is registered in Maine. Back at the Attorney General’s page is a model home construction contract, which can be customized to meet the requirement of a written pact for any job larger than $3,000.

The State of Maine Web pages have won awards for their ease of use and information. Consumers who don’t have a computer or need help should visit their local public library; staff there are always happy to help.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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