About the Consumer Protection Unit

The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.

Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.

The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams. To schedule a community outreach presentation for your organization, please call (401) 274-4400.

To file a consumer complaint, click here for an online complaint form (available in Spanish by clicking here).

If you have a question regarding a consumer related issue please e-mail us at consumers@riag.ri.gov or give us a call at (401) 274-4400.

+ Health Club Registration
Under Rhode Island General Law 5-50, health clubs must register with the Office of Attorney General. The non-refundable registration fee is $100 and is valid for one year and must be submitted with the completed registration form below. The registration is valid for one year from the date of registration approval and may be annually renewed by filing the registration form and paying a renewal fee of $50.

If you have questions about the registration process, please call the Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400, ext. 2391.

Health Club Registration Form
+ Telemarketers Registration
Rhode Island General Law 5-61, “The Telephone Sales Solicitation Act,” requires all telephone sales solicitation operations or telephonic sellers (i.e. telemarketer) to register with the Office of Attorney General not less than 10 days prior to doing business in Rhode Island. The non-refundable filing fee of $100 is valid for one year from its effective date and must be renewed annually.

If you have questions about the Telemarketers registration process, please call the Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400, ext. 2391.

Telemarketers Registration Form

Common Scams

"Windows Support" Scam
Known as the "Windows Support Scam" or "Tech Support Scam," consumers receive unsolicited phone calls from individuals posing as Microsoft Windows tech support letting them know their computer has "corrupt" files and needs to be fixed. The caller then walks the consumer through a series of computer commands, allegedly fixing the issue, but actually installing malware or other software that allows the scam artist to remotely control the computer.
Learn more

IRS Phone Scam
Known as the “IRS Scam,” individuals saying they represent the IRS are contacting taxpayers via telephone, telling them they owe back taxes and demanding that the victim pay the money immediately with a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. The caller often threatens the victim with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver's license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
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“Grandparent” Scam
This scam targets the elderly and usually starts with a phone call – a con artist poses as a grandchild or a person calling on behalf of a relative in trouble and in urgent need of money. In some cases, scammers have even posed as a police officer or an attorney. But in every case, the caller claims that an emergency has occurred, and requests that money be sent immediately via wire transfer. Sometimes the caller claims to be a lawyer or a close friend of the child, whose alleged problems range from being in prison in a foreign country, to being in a car accident, missing a wallet, losing an airline ticket, or having a credit card stolen while traveling. The scam can also happen by email after access to email accounts has been compromised. In some cases, scammers gather their target information from public records, telemarketer's lists and social networking sites.
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National Grid Scam
Rhode Island has been hit with several variations of this scam for over a year but in all instances individuals claiming to be from National Grid contact a business owner or a residential customer to demand immediate payment or else the company will shut off the power supply. They require the customer pay with a “Green Dot” pre-paid debit card. In some instances, the scammers have been able to provide the customers with detailed information such as last payment date and amount. It is important to remember that while National Grid may contact customers with past due balances by phone to offer payment options, BUT NEVER demands direct payment immediately over the telephone. Anyone who receives a call like this, should hang up and report it to National Grid directly at National Grid's Customer Contact Center at 1-800-322-3223.
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"Notice of Appearance in Court" Scam
In this latest scam, consumers receive emails informing them that they are ordered to appear in court. The fraudulent email with the subject line "Notice of Appearance in Court" is purportedly sent from a "court clerk" with a fictitious name instructing recipients to appear for "illegal software usage." The emails may also include the domain name of a legitimate law firm and contain an attachment, purportedly a copy of the court notice, which may link to a computer virus. The emails request the recipient bring an "identity document" on the specified court date.
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International Lottery or Sweepstakes Scams
Most foreign lottery offers are phony and designed to deceive the consumer into giving monies or personal or credit card information, which could result in credit fraud or identity theft. Playing a foreign lottery is also against federal law. They typically are sent by email notifying the consumer they have won a large sum of money and to collect it, must wire a processing fee using Western Union or Money Gram. Often times, they will ask for money more than once to process your bogus winnings.
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Bogus Check/Mystery Shopper Scams
This scam can work several ways, but typically a scam artist will send an unsolicited letter or email offering you an opportunity to earn money while acting as a “secret” or “mystery” shopper. The scammers will then send you a legitimate-looking check with instructions for you to deposit the check at your bank, then withdraw and send back a portion to them either through a pre-paid debit card or a wire transfer. The check, however, is bogus. You are left responsible for any bank fees associated with the bounced check and out the money you wired to the scam artist.
Learn more

Consumer Settlements

MoneyGram Settlement
If you believe you used MoneyGram to send money to third parties involved in schemes to defraud consumers, you may be eligible for restitution. The settlement with MoneyGram includes a nationwide consumer restitution program. The settlement provides for an independent third party settlement administrator who will review MoneyGram records and send notices regarding restitution to all consumers who are eligible to receive restitution under this settlement.
Generally, consumers who are eligible for restitution previously filed complaints with MoneyGram between July 1, 2008 and August 31, 2009 regarding fraud induced transfers sent from the U.S. to foreign countries other than Canada. More information about this settlement is available at the Settlement Administrator’s website: www.MoneyGramSettlement.com.

MoneyGram FAQ

HSBC Settlement
HSBC recently entered into a joint state-federal settlement to address mortgage origination, servicing, and foreclosure abuses. The settlement provides direct payments to Rhode Island borrowers for past foreclosure abuses, as well as other relief for borrowers in need of assistance, sets forth rigorous mortgage servicing standards, and grants oversight authority to an independent monitor.

Loan Modifications
The HSBC agreement requires the company to provide certain Rhode Island borrowers with loan modifications or other relief. The modifications, which HSBC chooses through an extensive list of options, include principal reductions and refinancing for underwater mortgages. HSBC decides how many loans and which loans to modify, but must meet certain minimum targets. Because HSBC receives only partial settlement credit for many types of loan modifications, the settlement will provide relief to borrowers that will exceed the overall minimum amount.

Payments to Borrowers
Approximately 222 Rhode Island borrowers whose loans were serviced by HSBC and who lost their homes to foreclosure from January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2012 and encountered servicing abuse will be eligible for a payment from the national $59.3 million fund for payments to borrowers. The borrower’s payment amount will depend on how many borrowers file claims. Eligible borrowers will be contacted by the Settlement Administrator about how to qualify for payments.

Mortgage Servicing Standards
The settlement requires HSBC to substantially change how it services mortgage loans, handles foreclosures, and ensures the accuracy of information provided in federal bankruptcy court.

Independent Monitor
The National Mortgage Settlement’s independent monitor, Joseph A. Smith Jr., will oversee HSBC agreement compliance for one year. Smith will oversee implementation of the servicing standards required by the agreement and issue public reports that identify whether HSBC complied or fell short of the standards imposed by the settlement. If HSBC is alleged to have violated terms of the agreement, the states and federal agencies can seek relief through the court.

Additional Terms
The agreement resolves potential violations of civil law based on HSBC’s deficient mortgage loan origination and servicing activities. The agreement does not prevent any action by individual borrowers who wish to bring their own lawsuits.

Settlement Affecting RadioShack Gift Card Holders
Deadline to submit claims is December 2, 2016
If you have a gift card purchased from the former retailer RadioShack, you can now file claims seeking to recover the unused balance on your card. Consumers who have unused RadioShack gift cards with a balance may go to the website www.oldradioshackgiftcards.com to learn about the claims process and obtain a claim form, which they can submit electronically or by mail. The deadline for filing claims is December 2, 2016 and consumers in all fifty states are eligible to file proofs of claim.

The claims process is part of a settlement agreement previously approved in the U.S. Bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware and supported by 24 states, including Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Under the Court’s order, the Trust will treat as a priority claim and pay one hundred percent of the balance on the cards to consumers holding gift cards that were purchased (by either the holder of the card or by the person who gave the card as a gift) from RadioShack, the RadioShack website, or any of its authorized sellers (Safeway, Incomm, or PointMobl). Cards acquired in any other way (for example, in exchange for a merchandise return, to resolve a customer service dispute, or as a service contract/warranty refund) will not be treated as priority claims, and those claimants may not receive full or any payment.

Chase Bank and Chase Bankcard Services Settlement
Under the terms of a settlement with Chase Bank USA N.A. and Chase Bankcard Services Inc., the company will reform its unlawful credit card debt collection practices. The settlement requires Chase to significantly reform its credit card debt collection practices in areas of declarations, collections litigation, debt sales and debt buying. Among other reforms, the agreement requires new safeguards to help ensure debt information is accurate and inaccurate data is corrected, provides additional information to consumers who owe debts, and bars Chase’s debt buyers from reselling consumer debts to other purchasers.

In addition, Chase has agreed to cease all collection efforts on more than 528,000 consumers, including an estimated 806 in Rhode Island. Chase sued the affected consumers for credit card debts and obtained judgments between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014. Chase will notify affected borrowers of the change and will request all three major credit reporting agencies to not report the judgments. The agreement also ensures that Chase will provide $50 million in consumer restitution through a separate 2013 consent order reached with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Chase estimates that so far it has provided $13,000 in restitution to 20 Rhode Island consumers.

Consumers with Debt Collection Questions or Complaints
Debt collectors are bound by state and federal laws, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from consumers. Consumers may also have the option of pursuing claims in state or federal court. Consumers may file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the RI Office of Attorney General.


Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit or bank account information or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities are stolen can spend months or even years, and their hard-earned money, cleaning up the financial mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they did not commit.

To minimize your risk of being a victim of identity theft, never give personal identifying information to someone you don’t know or trust, especially if they contact you by phone, the Internet or mail.

If you are a victim of Identity Theft:

  • Contact the fraud department of any one of the three major credit bureaus (listed below) and place a fraud alert on your credit file. A fraud alert requests that creditors contact you before opening new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. The alert will last for 90 days.
  • Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357.
  • Keep records of all phone calls, reports filed, correspondence, etc., and follow up phone conversations with certified letters to confirm your communication.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements regularly and report any unauthorized charges, no matter how small, to your bank or financial institution.
  • Check your credit report once a year to monitor any changes.

How to protect yourself from being a victim of identity theft:

  • Never give personal identifying information to anyone over the telephone or by email. Identity thieves sometimes pose as a business, bank or government agency to sound more legitimate in a scheme to get you to reveal personal information. Legitimate companies or government organizations that do business with you already have this information and will not ask for it over the phone or email.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements regularly and report any unauthorized charges, no matter how small, to your bank or financial institution.
  • Check your credit report once a year to monitor any changes.
  • Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet.
  • Shred all credit card offers, bank and credit card statements, household bills, and all other mail or paperwork that includes personal identifying information before you toss it in the trash.

Under federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. You may obtain a free copy of your credit report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.

You may contact the nationwide credit reporting agencies at:
Equifax
(800) 525-6285
www.equifax.com

Experian
(888) 397-3742
www.experian.com

TransUnion
(800) 680-7289
www.transunion.com

Lemon Law

The Rhode Island lemon law covers any “motor vehicle”, defined as an automobile, truck, motorcycle, or van with a registered gross vehicle weight of less than 10,000 pounds. The motor vehicle must be sold, leased or replaced by a dealer or manufacturer after May 11, 1984. The lemon law covers used vehicles but does not cover motorized campers. A new vehicle qualifies under this law if - within one year or 15,000 miles, whichever occurs first- the vehicle has been serviced four or more times for the same defect or the vehicle is out of service due to repair of any defect for more than thirty days, but the defect still exists. A used vehicle will qualify if it has been in for service three times for the same defect within its dealer warranty period or has been out of service for 15 days within the warranty period.

Who enforces the Lemon Law?
The Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board within the Office of the Attorney General enforces the Lemon Law for new vehicles only. The Auto Arbitration Line of the Better Business Bureau also handles new vehicle Lemon Law complaints.

What should I do if my new vehicle falls under the Lemon Law?
First, the dealership should try to repair it.

If it cannot be repaired, you may file a request for arbitration with the Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board c/o Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit. To be eligible for arbitration under the Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, you must meet the criteria above and submit a request for arbitration. If an individual qualifies for an arbitration, the Board will conduct an arbitration hearing between the individual and the manufacturer. The Board does not represent the individual requesting arbitration, they must either represent themselves or hire counsel.

You may also arbitrate the matter through the manufacturer’s dispute process or the BBB (see above). If the outcome is not to your satisfaction, you will need to consult an attorney.

What about used vehicles and leased vehicles?
Consumers should work with the dealership to repair a continuing problem with a used vehicle. Also inquire if the manufacturer has an informal dispute process. If a dealer fails to honor a warranty, consult an attorney. Leased vehicles follow the standards that are set for new cars.

Is there a Lemon Law for a car sale between private parties?
No, however, a private party cannot sell a car that does not meet the inspection standards of the state.

FAQs

+ How do I check the reference of a contractor?
A contractor doing business in Rhode Island is required to be registered with the Contractors’ Registration Board. Before signing a contract, check with the Contractors’ Registration Board to ensure the contractor is registered and licensed and if there have been claims and/or violations. The information is available by calling (401) 222-1268 or online at www.crb.state.ri.us.
+How do I file a complaint against a contractor?
If the complaint is regarding work done within one year of the signing of the contract, file your complaint with the Contractors’ Registration Board.
+ How do I stop a debt collector from calling?
While debt collectors have a right to seek payment, they must follow the guidelines set forth in both the federal and Rhode Island Fair Debt Collection Practices acts. According to the statutes, to stop a debt collector from calling, write a letter to the agency instructing them to cease and desist contacting you by telephone at home or at work and that all future communication be made to you via mail. Send the letter certified and retain a copy for your records.

If the debt collector fails to comply with your request, you may file a complaint with our Consumer Protection Unit.
+ At what times are debt collectors allowed to call?
A debt collector may contact you seven days a week between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
+ What if I am a victim of Identity Theft?
The first step is to file a complaint with your local police department. Please visit the Consumer Protection section of our website for more information on what to do if you are the victim of identity theft.
+ Does Rhode Island have a Lemon Law?
Yes. Rhode Island’s Lemon Law covers any “motor vehicle”, defined as an automobile, truck, motorcycle, or van with a registered gross vehicle weight of less than 10,000 pounds. The motor vehicle must be sold, leased or replaced by a dealer or manufacturer after May 11, 1984. For more information about Rhode Island’s Lemon Law, please click the Lemon Law tab above.
+ Is there anything I should consider before making a major purchase?
Yes. Read the entire contract before signing it. Please note that the time to ask questions is now. Remember, a contract is a binding, legal document. It is also important to read and understand the warranty protection the product manufacturer offers you.
+ How long do I have to cancel a purchase, for example a car?
The three-day right to cancel applies only to door-to-door sales, traveling shows (i.e. car or boat show) or timeshare sales. You must give a written notice of cancellation to the seller no later than midnight on the third day (fifth day for timeshares) following the signing of the agreement. YOU DO NOT HAVE THREE DAYS TO CANCEL THE PURCHASE OF A VEHICLE.
+ Is a business allowed to place an expiration date upon a gift certificate?
No. As of July 8, 2005, no gift certificate or any agreement with respect to such gift certificate sold may contain language suggesting that an expiration date may apply to the gift certificate. Any unused portion of a redeemed gift certificate shall be afforded to the consumer by reissuing the gift certificate for the unused amount or providing cash where the balance due the consumer is less than one dollar.

However, these rules do not apply to gift cards or or prepaid or store value cards that are issued by third-party issuers, usable at multiple, unaffiliated merchants or service providers.
+ Is a business required to explain its refund policy?
Yes. A retailer may have its own refund policy and it must be posted at the point of display, cash register or store entrance.
+ How long do I have to return an item if no policy is posted?
You are entitled to a refund if you have the sales slip and return the item unused within ten (10) business days from the date of purchase.
+ Are there exemptions to this refund law?
Yes. The law does not apply to the sale of books, magazines or any publications, food, perishable items, merchandise which is substantially custom-made or custom-finished, items for internal consumption and items sold “as is,” or any items presently prohibited for refund, return or exchange by a retailer by federal or state law or any rule or regulation promulgated by any state agency.
+ Is a retail store allowed to require a consumer to provide his or her social security number or credit card number as a means of identification when making a purchase by check?
No. It is illegal for a retailer of any goods or merchandise to record any credit card or social security number obtained from a purchaser as a means of identification.
+ Is there a better chance of winning a publisher sweepstakes if I make a purchase from the company?
It is illegal for sweepstakes promotions to require consumers to buy or pay anything. Anyone not making a purchase (i.e. magazines) must be given the same chance of winning as those who do make a purchase.
+ If I receive an “awards notification” does it mean I am a guaranteed winner?
Phone prize offers are common vehicles for scams. Although it is tempting to believe you have actually won something, be careful. Usually, such “deals” end up costing you money in a hidden way. It is not much of a prize when you must purchase something, make a donation or send a bogus tax or processing fee payment in advance to claim the “prize.”
+ Are there any types of telephone solicitations that should immediately send up a red flag?
Yes. Consumers should be wary of telemarketers who insist on immediate payment by pre-paid debit cards (known as "Green Dot" cards, wire or overnight delivery. Do not send money to anyone who insists on this type of payment. Legitimate businesses respect the fact that you may need time to consider a purchase.
+ Should I give out personal information over the telephone?
When being solicited by phone, do not give out any personal information over the telephone especially your credit card, bank account or social security numbers.
+ Is there anything I should consider before responding to a telephone solicitation?
If you are interested, ask the telephone salesperson who offers a product or service to contact you by mail so you can see the offer in writing.
+ What should I consider when faced with high-pressure sales tactics?
Feel free to hang up on telephone solicitors who tell you they need an immediate commitment or use other such tactics. Most legitimate businesses do not expect you to make an instant decision.
+ What do I need to know about charities that solicit contributions over the telephone?
Whether you are donating to a charity on the telephone, over the Internet or in person, it is important to do your research: don’t be afraid to ask questions about the organization’s track record and how your money will be spent. First and foremost: Verify the legitimacy of the charity. In Rhode Island, all charitable organizations must register with the Department of Business Regulation. In addition, several websites, including www.charitynavigator.org, www.give.org and www.guidestar.org provide helpful information regarding numerous charities. These websites can be a useful starting point for consumers looking to research companies prior to making a donation.
+ Where do I obtain information on tenant rights?