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Posted: March 9, 2010 5:40 p.m.

National Consumer Protection Week will run from March 7th until 13th

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, March 7 – 13, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs encourages all Georgians to become savvy consumers. This year’s theme — Dollars & Sense: Rated "A" for All Ages — highlights the importance of using good consumer sense at every stage of life, from grade school to retirement.

In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs offers the following advice to Georgians on being better informed consumers and avoiding fraud:

1. Used Car Purchases — A lot of consumers shopping for used cars end up with vehicles that don’t perform as promised or whose contracts contain fees or terms that the buyer was not aware of. Remember to follow these tips when shopping for a used car:

• View advertising with a cautious eye and do not make assumptions. Look for fine print, asterisks, limitations or conditions to the offer. Remember: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

• Run a vehicle history report to find out accident and repair history, the number of previous owners, recalls, whether the vehicle was salvaged or in a flood, and to verify the accuracy of the odometer reading.

• Have the automobile inspected by a qualified mechanic that you trust.

• Be sure before you sign your contract. There is no "cooling off" period when it comes to car purchases. What’s more, all vehicles are sold AS IS unless otherwise specified in writing. So unless you have a specific written promise or purchase a service contract, the seller may not be liable for any problems the vehicle has.

2. Debt Collectors — If you are being hassled by debt collectors, you do have rights and recourse. While you cannot erase debt you actually owe, if you write a letter to a debt collector requesting that they stop contacting you, they must refrain from doing so except to acknowledge that there will be no further contact or to notify you that they intend to take some specific action. If you do not owe the debt in question, you should advise the collector of that in writing and pull a copy of your credit reports to make sure that an identity thief has not opened up an account in your name. If a debt collector continues to contact you after you have requested that he stop, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling (877) FTC-HELP or visiting www.ftc.gov.

3. Credit Repair & Debt Management Companies — Companies that promise to erase bad credit, remove bankruptcies and bad loans from your credit report, and legally create a new credit identity cannot live up to their promises. Consumers who fall prey to these false testimonies may lose hundreds or thousands of dollars without any improvement to their credit. Remember: no one can legally remove correct information from your credit report, even if it negatively reflects on you.

If you need professional help managing or getting out of debt, there are legitimate companies who can assist you. Georgia consumers should know their rights by being aware of the laws that regulate the activities of these companies:

• A debt adjuster may not charge you a fee of more than 7.5 percent of the amount you pay monthly for distribution to your creditors.

• All funds received from you, minus authorized fees, must be disbursed to creditors within 30 days of receiving them.

• A separate trust account must be maintained for your funds, and it must be audited annually.

• Copies of these audits and proof of insurance coverage must be filed annually with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs.

• For a list of reputable debt adjustment companies, you can contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at www.nfcc.org or by calling (800) 388-2227.

• Ask for references and check them out.

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