What type of information does my credit report contain and how important is it that I check it?

A consumer’s credit report contains a variety of financial and personal information that is often sold to creditors, insurers, and employers. Credit reports may be used to evaluate applications for everything from credit cards and insurance benefits to jobs and home rentals. In order to curb inaccuracies and fraud, Congress passed an amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requiring each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies to provide consumers who request it one free credit report every 12 months. The reports can be especially beneficial for seniors who are often victimized by fraud. 

Because each of the three nationwide credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, are required to supply one free report every 12 months, some financial planners suggest that consumers stagger their requests so they are able to view a report every four months. Experts also remind consumers that reports from each bureau may vary due to different information sources. 

Consumers may obtain their free credit report by dialing 1 (877) 322-8228 or visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com. There are some misleading sites that also claim to provide a free credit report, but do not. These sites provide you a free report only after you sign up to buy other services. Some of these misleading sites have names that are similar to the free sites or are slight misspellings of the free site. To help you ensure you use the correct site, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that you use the link on the agency’s website http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports to order your free credit report.  

You may also mail a request to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Reports requested online are available immediately, while phone and mail requests take about 15 days to be processed. 

For more information see: Federal Trade Commission, The Federal Trade Commission’s Information on Free Annual Credit Reports, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports (last visited June 9, 2015).

What is identity theft and how can I protect my identity from being stolen?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as name, address, Social Security Number, or credit card account number, without your knowledge and with the intent to commit a crime, usually fraud. Identity thieves use different methods to obtain access to your personal information. For example, identity thieves may get your personal information from businesses by stealing records or hacking into computer systems. Identity thieves can also gain access to your private information by rummaging through trash, stealing wallets, stealing mail, or posing as legitimate government and business officials. 

It is important for seniors to protect themselves from this growing crime, because identity thieves can wreak havoc on a victim’s financial status. Once identity thieves gain access to private information, they can go on spending sprees with credit cards, take out loans, and drain bank accounts. To protect yourself from identity theft never give out personal information over the telephone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact. Furthermore, be especially careful if you carry your Social Security card with you. Secure your personal information even inside your home, especially if you have roommates or employ outside help. Guard your mail and trash from theft by shredding papers that contain identifying information and account numbers before discarding them. 

In the event that your identity is stolen, act quickly. If your bank or credit accounts have been compromised, consider closing the accounts immediately to prevent further loss. If your Social Security number has been stolen, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies. (See also the question on Credit Reports, p. 132) If any other item has been stolen, such as your drivers license, contact the issuing agency immediately. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you need not file an identity theft report with the police until your information is actually misused. However, if another crime was committed to gain access to your personal information contact local police both for investigation and to establish a record you may need later. 

For more information see: Federal Trade Commission, Deter, Detect, Defend, Avoid ID Theft, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft (last visited June 9, 2015); 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7) (2015).

I received something in the mail that I did not order. Do I have to pay for it or send it back?

No, neither. It is illegal to send unsolicited goods through the mail and then bill for them. If you receive something in the mail that you did not order, you may keep it. An exception is that a charitable organization may send a gift requesting a donation without violating this law. However, you are still not obligated to donate nor to send the item back if you choose not to donate.  

For more information, see: 39 U.S.C. § 3009 (2015).

Do I need a lawyer to represent me in the sale or purchase of land?

You are not legally required to be represented by a lawyer in a transaction for the sale of land. However, there are many legal issues to deal with in the sale or purchase of land. The more valuable the land or your investment in it the more important it is to protect your investment by having legal representation to be sure your title is good and potential liabilities are accounted for. 

For instance, when you buy land, you typically first sign an agreement to buy the land. This is often called a purchase and sale contract. What you may not realize is that once you sign this contract, you have a legal right to the property and perhaps a legal obligation to complete the sale. Unless certain conditions arise, you are entitled to the property and the seller is entitled to your money. This also means that if the house burns down, or other changes occur between the time you sign the contract and the purchase is complete you may still have to pay for it, depending on the terms of the contract. If the contract for the sale of land does not deal with this issue, you could suffer a great loss. 

Assuring that the title to your new property is free and clear of liens or other encumbrances is also a critical function of the attorney who represents you as a buyer. Even if you could win a lawsuit against your seller for hiding an encumbrance against the property, it is cheaper to find out about those kinds of problems before you buy than to litigate them later. 

Issues associated with the closing are also possible concerns. At the closing, the buyer produces the money and the seller produces the deed. However, there are a variety of other items dealt with at this stage of the transaction. Such issues may include who pays taxes, who pays recording fees, and who pays outstanding liens on the property. Again, legal representation is not a legal requirement, but when you pay an attorney to represent you as a buyer you are paying for more than merely drafting the deed. 

Real estate brokers may have expertise in this area. However, it is important to realize what the agent’s obligations are. The real estate agent usually works for the seller, not the buyer. This is not always clear to a buyer, who may be under the mistaken impression that the seller’s agent, especially one who has been friendly and helpful, is actually her agent. An agent by law can only represent one party in a transaction unless he or she fully discloses dual agency to both parties and gets consent of both parties. Dual agency creates the likelihood of a conflict of interest on the part of the agent, and is therefore best avoided. Lawyers who work for the lending bank may be able to advise you on some issues, although, again, you should be aware of any conflicts of interest. The bank lawyer represents the bank, not you. If you are buying property, your interests and the bank’s interests may be similar, but there may also be subtle conflicts. The bank lawyer’s loyalty is to the bank, not to you. 

If you are involved in a transaction for the sale of property, an attorney’s assistance is not legally required, but may be quite a bargain if a problem is identified and avoided. Unless you are experienced and knowledgeable in this area, there are too many things that can go wrong when trying to save money by not hiring a lawyer.  

For more information, see: Maudru v. Humphreys, 83 W. Va. 307, 98 S.E. 259 (1919); Timberlake v. Heflin, 180 W. Va. 644, 379 S.E.2d 149 (1989); 7A Michie’s Jurisprudence Vendor and Purchaser § 24 (2009); Messer v. Runion, 210 W. Va. 102, 556 S.E.2d 69 (2001); 19 Michie’s Jurisprudence Equitable Conversion §§ 2, 5 (2009).

I am dissatisfied with the work performed by a home improvement contractor. What are my rights?

Though you have legal rights and remedies discussed below, as a practical matter prevention is often the best cure regarding bad contractors. Carefully hiring a reputable, licensed, insured contractor who has adequate assets you can reach in the event you have to sue gives you the best chance of ultimately getting quality home improvement work completed. 

West Virginia has adopted consumer protection laws that are designed to protect consumers from defective workmanship and fraud. The law follows the Federal Trade Commission Act and is called the West Virginia Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices Act (UDAP). This law allows you to sue the contractor in court. Suits may be brought for misleading or fraudulent practices as well as for failure to honor a warranty. 

Three types of warranties exist: written, oral, and implied. The UDAP statute will enforce written warranties; however the UDAP statute does not enforce oral warranties. If a contractor orally gives you a special warranty, you must get it in writing to be able to exercise your rights later. 

The UDAP statute will enforce implied warranties. A warranty may be implied by the nature of the transaction, regardless of whether anything is said by the contractor in words or in writing. For instance, when you buy something, the law provides a warranty that it will work for its intended purpose. A contractor cannot waive or say that he or she is not subject to any implied warranties provided under the law. 

If you are dissatisfied with the work performed by a contractor, your first step is to discuss the matter with the contractor or the contracting company to try to resolve the conflict reasonably quickly. If the contractor’s work is defective or fraudulent, you should inform the contractor of the defects and request that he or she fix them. If you are making payments to the contractor, you may choose to stop payments. However, you could later be held responsible for back payments if the work is not found to be defective.  

If you stop making payments to the contractor, deposit the payments into a special account set up specifically for that purpose. If the contractor refuses to make the repairs, you may then find someone else to fix them. You may have to pay for the same work twice if the first contractor’s work is found not to be defective.  

If you decide to get another contractor to fix the defects, get the second contractor to estimate the cost of the work first, then send the estimate to the original contractor. If he or she refuses to pay it, you can sue in court. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office. The office will send you a complaint form and assign a mediator to work with you to help solve the problem. The phone number for the Consumer Protection Division is 1 (800) 368-8808.  

Furthermore, if the Attorney General brings a lawsuit against the contractor and wins, you can use this as conclusive proof in your own suit. Consequently, a successful action by the Attorney General makes your case very strong. 

If you file a lawsuit, you can either get a second contractor to perform the work or wait until the dispute is resolved. If at all possible, you may want to wait until the dispute is resolved to protect yourself before you spend any additional money. That way, you can be sure that you will not have to pay both contractors. If you are successful in court, you can recover at least $200, even if your actual damages were less than that. In addition, if the acts of the contractor violate the UDAP statute, you can also collect attorney fees. 

If you go to court and there is a judgment in your favor, you may also choose to register a complaint against the contractor with the West Virginia Contractors Licensing Board. In order to register a complaint send them a copy of the judgment. The Licensing Board may fine the contractor or suspend the contractor’s license, depending upon the circumstances of your case. Your complaint must be in writing, and it must be made to the Board only after a judgment has been issued in your favor. To register a complaint, write to the following address: 

WV Division of Labor   

West Virginia Contractors Licensing Board 

State Capitol Complex 

Building 6, Room B749 

Charleston, WV 25305 

For more information, see: Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 41- 58 (2015); 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312 (2015); W. Va. Code §§ 46A-6-101 to -110 (2015)

My home was recently damaged in a flood, and now I have to hire a contractor to work on my house. How do I pick one? Is there anything I should watch for?

After a disaster occurs, such as a flood, the most common consumer complaints are about home repair contractors. Disaster areas seem to attract unscrupulous and unqualified contractors.  

This can happen for two different reasons. First, when a large number of homes sustain sudden damage, there are often too few reputable contractors to handle all of the work. Second, the homeowners may be receiving large sums of money from insurance settlements and government emergency aid, and both the contractors and the scam artists are often aware of this money. 

There are several tips on choosing a contractor. Among them are: 

•Make sure the contractor has a valid, current, local license. To check and see if the license is valid, you can contact the West Virginia Contractors Licensing Board at 1 (304) 558-7890 or 877-558-5134.  
•Ask for three references from any potential contractor. Check the references, and, whenever possible, inspect the work. 
•Verify the contractor’s credentials, which includes both training and experience. 
•Avoid door-to-door crews, who often pose as contractors from another job with leftover materials, like roofing supplies or windows. 
•Call the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at 1 (800) 368-8808 to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.  

Before you sign a contract with anyone, there are some precautionary steps you will want to take:  

•Get several different estimates for the work, including a description of the work, materials, and cost.  
•Make sure you get a written contract and that you read and understand everything in it. Under West Virginia law, a contractor is required to put your agreement in writing. If the contractor has promised you any warranties, make sure that they are included in the contract itself.  
•If the contractor requires a deposit up front, make sure that you know what it will be spent on and if you can get a refund. The Office of Consumer Protection recommends that you never pay the full price up front, and that you absolutely never sign over an insurance check to the contractor. It is important that you check the progress of the work and not make the final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work.  
•Finally, be sure that the contractor agrees to do all necessary cleanup when the job is completed.  

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact the Office of Consumer Protection at 1 (800) 368-8808.

I recently bought a hearing aid. I got a really good deal on it, but now it is not working properly. Is there anything I can do?

The West Virginia Legislature passed several laws that regulate hearing aid dealers. These laws impose several duties upon hearing aid dealers. First, all hearing aid dealers must have a license to sell hearing aids in West Virginia. This license must be clearly displayed in any office that sells hearing aids. Second, a dealer cannot sell a hearing aid unless she has a note from a physician stating that the hearing aid is needed. You are allowed to waive this right if you are over 18 years old. However, it is highly recommended that you do not waive this protection. If you think you need a hearing aid, first check with a physician. 

Third, when you buy a hearing aid, the dealer must give you a receipt. The receipt must state that you can return the hearing aid in 30 days if you have any problems. All hearing aid purchases must have this 30-day return policy. If you have a problem with the hearing aid, and then the dealer adjusts it, you have 30 more days from the time of the adjustment. 

Hearing aid dealers are not allowed to engage in false or deceptive advertising. In addition, they cannot advertise for mail-order hearing aids or make it seem like they are doctors if they aren’t. If you feel that the hearing aid dealer committed a violation you may contact the West Virginia Board of Hearing Aid Dealers at: 

WV Board of Hearing Aid Dealers Phone: 1 (304) 558-3527 

703 Peoples Building Email: wvear@aol.com

179 Summers Street   

Charleston, WV 25301   

For more information, see: W. Va. Code §§ 30-26-1 to -20 (2015).

I had dentures made by a dentist, and they do not fit properly. I have gone back several times and have had to pay for additional work, and they still do not fit properly. What can I do?

You may submit a complaint to the West Virginia Dental Association. The Dental Association has a peer advisory panel that receives complaints from patients. Complaints can be submitted in writing to the following address: 

West Virginia Dental Association Phone: 1 (304) 344-5246 

2016 1/2 Kanawha Blvd., East  Email: WVRDS@aol.com

Charleston, WV 25311 http://www.wvdental.org

You may also send a complaint to the state Dental Licensing Board at:  

West Virginia Board of Dental Examiners Phone: 1 (877) 914-8266  

PO Box 1447 Email: wvbde@suddenlinkmail.com

Crab Orchard, WV 25827 http://www.wvdentalboard.org

If neither the Dental Association nor the Dental Licensing Board is able to resolve the problem, you may file a lawsuit. At trial, expert testimony is required to establish that the dentist’s work was below a reasonable standard. Expert testimony is usually quite expensive and may be difficult to obtain for a number of reasons. If the damages you suffer are not significant, it may not be in your best interest to sue. However, if you have suffered serious and/or permanent injury consulting an attorney is the first step to protecting your rights.  

For more information, see: W. Va. Code §§ 30-4-1 to -30 (2015); Fitzgerald v. Manning, 679 F.2d 341 (4th Cir. 1982).

I purchased a defective wheelchair two months ago, and the company I bought the wheelchair from refuses to fix it or return my money. Do I have any recourse?

Yes. On June 12, 1998, West Virginia enacted a Lemon Law statute relating to assistive devices. Some examples of assistive devices are wheelchairs, motorized scooters, hearing aids, communication devices for the deaf, optical scanners, talking software, and braille printers. 

This statute, West Virginia Code §§ 46A-6E-1 et seq., provides consumer protection regarding devices purchased to aid disabled persons with communicating, seeing, hearing, or maneuvering. The law creates a one-year implied express warranty on all assistive devices purchased, leased, or delivered in West Virginia. If you, or someone you know, possess an assistive device that is defective, contact the Consumer Division of the West Virginia State Attorney General’s Office at 1 (800) 368-8808 or 1 (304) 558-8986. 

Occasionally a company that makes assistive devices will recall the device because the company learns that the product is defective, a health risk, or otherwise violates standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If the assistive device you have is recalled, the company will either notify you directly or will take the necessary steps to notify the public. The FDA oversees the recall to ensure that adequate steps are taken to protect users of the recalled product. 

Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies have programs and information available to seniors who feel they have not received what they bargained for. Below is a list of resources available to senior citizens who are experiencing consumer problems: 

Problems Related To: CONTACT: 
Hearing Aids The Federal Trade Commission, 1 (877) 382-4357, http://www.ftc.gov

The Food & Drug Administration, 1 (888) 463-6332, http://www.fda.gov

American Speech-Language-Hearing Assoc., 1 (800) 638-8255, http://www.asha.org
Nursing Facilities Regional Long-term Care Ombudsman, 1 (800) 834-0598 


WV Department of Health & Human Resources,  

1 (800) 642-8589, http://www.dhhr.wv.gov

US Administration on Aging,  

1 (800) 677-1116, http://www.aoa.gov

Eldercare Locator, http://www.eldercare.gov

LeadingAge (formerly AAHSA) 

1 (202) 783-2242, http://www.leadingage.org

Email: info@leadingage.org,  

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (formerly NCCNHR) 

1 (202) 332-2275, http://www.theconsumervoice.org
Trying Alternative Medicines,  The Federal Trade Commission, 1 (877) 382-4357, http://www.ftc.gov

The Food & Drug Administration, (888) INFO-FDA; 

Switching Medicines to Save Money, or 1 (888) 463-6332, http://www.fda.gov

National Institute on Aging, 1 (800) 222-2225 http://www.nia.nih.gov

Buying Medicine Online Your county health department, http://www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph

American Pharmacists Association, 1 (800) 237-2742 http://www.pharmacist.com

U.S. Pharmacopeia, 1 (800) 227-8772, http://www.usp.org

AARP, 1 (888) 687-2277, http://www.aarp.org

National Cancer Institute, 1 (800) 422-6237, http://www.cancer.gov

American Cancer Society, 1 (800) 227-2345, http://www.cancer.org
Direct Mail Schemes WV State Attorney General’s Office, 1 (800) 368-8808, http://www.ago.wv.gov

U.S. Chief Postal Inspector, 1 (877) 876-2455 or contact your local postal inspectors office, http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov

The Federal Trade Commission, 1 (877) 382-4357, http://www.ftc.gov

National Institute on Aging, 1 (800) 222-2225, http://www.nih.gov/nia

For more information, see: W. Va. Code §§ 46A-6E-1 to -7 (2015); U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Learn About Medical Device Recalls, http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/ListsofRecalls/ (last visited June 9, 2015).

When can I cancel a contract that I have already signed?

A person may cancel a contract to buy goods in West Virginia under two circumstances: 

•the contract was made with a salesperson in the home; or 
•the contract is for future delivery of a correspondence course, multiple magazine subscriptions, or a contract for an occupational or business course with a privately owned school. 

Home Solicitation: You may cancel a home solicitation sale contract anytime within three days after the sale. Written notice of the cancellation must be mailed, but not necessarily received, within the three-day period. You cannot cancel if the contract was for goods needed immediately for an emergency or if you cannot return the goods to the seller in substantially as good a condition as when you received them. A home solicitation contract is not valid unless you have signed a statement entitled “BUYER’S RIGHT TO CANCEL,” which informs you of your right to cancel within three days. After you properly cancel, the seller must refund any down payment you made within 10 days. If you have received any goods, the seller must request them within 20 days. After that, you may keep them without charge. 

Magazine Subscriptions/Correspondence Course/Occupational or Business Courses: You may cancel multiple magazine subscriptions. This refers to subscriptions not directly purchased from the publisher for two or more different magazines. You may also cancel a contract for a correspondence course or an occupational or business course. All of these cancellations may be made at any time. 

You must send written notice of your intentions to cancel the contract. You do not have to pay for anything that is delivered to you after you mail the cancellation. In the case of correspondence courses, you cannot be charged an excessive amount for the goods you have already received. 

For more information, see: W. Va. Code §§ 46A-2-132 to -135, -138 (2015).

I recently received an offer from an oil and gas company about leasing my land to them. What should I do next?

Don’t immediately sign the document. Take the time to know what you are signing. Read the document and recognize what the company is trying to accomplish. Be patient with yourself because the document will likely be complicated, and take the time to consider your options. It is not uncommon for one person to own the land while another entity owns the mineral rights; therefore, educate yourself about your status as a mineral rights owner. Educate yourself as much as possible about your holdings in the land as well as about the company who is trying to contract with you. If there are other family members who have ownership rights, find out if they have received the paperwork as well. Try to keep everyone who might be affected by it involved in the conversation relating to the potential contract. 

If you have interest in pursuing a contract or multiple contracts with an oil and gas company, prepare yourself for negotiations. Oftentimes, it is wise to contact a lawyer with knowledge in this industry who can consult with you about negotiation techniques and about the contract. Be wary of a single contract for multiple tracts of land because those tend to cause more problems in the future.

I have basic cable television service. The cable company notified me that it is adding new stations and charging an increased fee. Do I have to pay the extra charge if I do not want the new stations?

Yes. The cable company charges a set rate for a package of stations–the rate is not divisible by the number of stations you receive. The bill you pay is for services for the following month. Your only choice is to either accept the service as the cable company has packaged it, or cancel the service. 

In 1996, Congress repealed certain federal regulations concerning cable television in the Telecommunications Act. However, there are regulations in effect for some cable companies. 

The Public Service Commission (PSC) in West Virginia is the state agency that has authority over all public utilities. Large cable companies that have no competition must submit their rate increases to this board for approval. You may contact the PSC at 1 (800) 344-5113 with complaints or questions, or you may obtain a complaint form online at http://www.psc.state.wv.us/complaints/default.htm. You may also contact the commission by mail: 

Public Service Commission of WV   

201 Brooks Street 

P.O. Box 812 

Charleston, WV 25323 

For complaint filing assistance you can call 1-800-642-8544. 

Right now, the main check on cable rates is this commission. 

For more information, see: The Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, § 301, 110 Stat. 110, 114-118 (1996) (amending 47 U.S.C. §§ 521 et seq. (1992)); W. Va. Code §§ 24-2-3, 24-2-3a, 24-2-4a, 24D-1-1 to -27 (2015); Public Service Commission of West Virginia, http://www.psc.state.wv.us/complaints/default.htm (last visited June 8, 2015).

I received a bill from a credit card company which I believe has a mistake in it. How do I get it straightened out?

Federal law allows you to dispute charges that appear on your credit card bills. The law is titled the Fair Credit Billing Act, or the billing error provisions of the Truth in Lending Act. 

You must notify the credit card company of the error within 60 days of receiving the bill, in writing and via the provided address for billing inquiries. The notice must be on a separate sheet of paper from your bill and contain all of the following information: 

•your name, 
•your account number, 
•the nature and amount of the error, 
•the date of the error, and 
•the reasons why you believe it is wrong. 

After the credit card company receives the notice, the company has 30 days to either acknowledge the notice you sent, or resolve the dispute. If the company simply acknowledges the notice, it has 90 days to resolve the dispute. 

The phrase “resolve the dispute” does not necessarily mean that the credit card company is going to agree with you. The company might agree with you, reject your claim, or agree in part and reject the claim in part. If the credit card company agrees, then it must make the corrections to your bill. If it rejects your claim, then it must send you a written explanation or clarification. During the time that the transaction is in dispute, the credit card company cannot charge you interest on the disputed amount, report you to a credit agency, file an adverse credit report, or charge you late fees. When the dispute is resolved, the credit card company must tell you how much you owe and when it is due. 

Good record keeping is critical to being able to use the law to exercise your rights. Keep all documents that support your position, as well as all correspondence with the company. These documents will be useful if the company is in violation of the Truth in Lending Act or the Fair Credit Billing Act. 

It is important to note that this section refers to disputes between you and the credit card company. It does not cover situations where there is a dispute between you and a merchant when you paid by credit card.  

For more information, see: Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601-1616 (2015); Fair Credit Billing Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1666 (2015).

…And do I need one?

Maybe. If you are purchasing a home with a mortgage, most lenders will require that you have an escrow account set up to pay for property taxes and insurance. If the lender does not require an escrow account, whether you need one will depend on how well you save money. It can be difficult to plan for paying a large sum at once, like property taxes and insurance, and it can be easier to make the smaller, monthly payments into the escrow account. If you are looking to set up an escrow account for any other reason, you may want to consult with a financial advisor and see if it is worth the cost of paying a broker.  

For more information see: 24 C.F.R. 3500.17; What is an escrow or impound account? http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/140/what-is-an-escrow-or-impound-account.html (Last visited June 8, 2015)

What is an escrow account…

An escrow account is an account held by a third party for you, but the funds do not belong to the third party, and are usually used to pay future bills. The most common form of an escrow account is one created by your mortgage lender that is used to pay your property taxes and insurance for your home. For example, if your property taxes are $300 per year, and your insurance is $600 per year, your monthly mortgage payment will include $75 over what you are paying on the actual loan, and that $75 will be deposited into an escrow account that will be used to pay your property tax and insurance every year.  

An escrow account may also be set up with a broker to hold and disburse payments at a later date based on the completion or fulfillment of contractually agreed upon conditions. For example, if you bought a used car off of a private individual and had a one month trial period with the car, you could set up an escrow account to pay off the car at the end of that month.

I paid for auto repairs, and my car still isn’t working properly. What rights do I have?

Consumers have the right to have repairs made in a professional manner. You should first call the problems to the attention of the garage where the repairs were made. If the garage maintains that the problems are unrelated consider getting another opinion before allowing the garage to proceed with additional repairs. 

If the second opinion reveals that the problems are associated with the original repairs, then you can demand that the original garage repair the problem at no additional cost. If they refuse, you can use a written estimate of the cost of the repair as a basis for a lawsuit. 

West Virginia has adopted consumer protection laws that are designed to protect consumers from defective workmanship and fraud. The laws follow the Federal Trade Commission Act and are called the West Virginia Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices (UDAP) statutes. 

In court, if your mechanic violated a UDAP statute, you can recover at least $200, no matter how much the repairs were. In addition, the garage may be forced to pay your attorney fees if you win. 

The West Virginia Division of Consumer Protection is under the authority of the State Attorney General. If the Attorney General brings a suit against the garage and wins, you can use this as conclusive proof in your own suit. Consequently, a successful action by the Attorney General makes your case very strong. 

Consumers are advised to report any problems to the Division of Consumer Protection in the Attorney General’s office before proceeding with a lawsuit. The Division of Consumer Protection has a toll free hotline:  

1 (800) 368-8808. (See also Appendix A for a copy of the Consumer Protection Division’s Consumer Motor Vehicle Complaint Form and instructions for filing.) 

For more information, see: 15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58 (2015); Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312 (2015); W. Va. Code §§ 46A-6-101 to -109 (2015); W. Va. Code § 46A-7-101 (2015); Horan v. Turnpike Ford, Inc., 189 W. Va. 621, 433 S.E.2d 559 (1993); Orlando v. Finance One, 179 W. Va. 447, 369 S.E.2d 882 (1988).

I bought a new car, and it has continuously given me trouble. Can I return it and get a new car?

Maybe. West Virginia has a law referred to as the Lemon Law. This law protects consumers by requiring sellers to comply with the automobile warranties they issue. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law that addresses this issue as well. These laws apply to new vehicles only. They do not apply to used, or previously owned, vehicles. 

If you discover that your new car has a substantial defect soon after you buy it, you must notify the dealer. You are given a reasonable amount of time after you buy the car to realize that the defect is there. If the dealer does not fix that defect within a reasonable period, you are entitled to return the automobile and get a full refund. 

If you do not discover defects until later, you will have to rely on the protection of your warranty. The warranty must be in writing to be protected by the Lemon Law. In addition, the automobile dealer must provide you with written notice that you are protected by the Lemon Law when you buy the car. If the dealer refuses to honor a warranty, then the dealer may also be in violation of the West Virginia Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices Statute (UDAP). 

The Lemon Law extends warranties for at least one year after the car was delivered, regardless of the length of the warranty stated in the sales contract. When you discover a defect in your vehicle, you must notify the dealer of any defects and give the dealer the opportunity to repair them in order to benefit from the Lemon Law. The dealer has one chance to fix a defect that may result in substantial bodily injury or death. For any other defect, the dealer has three chances to repair it. Note, however, that this refers to the same defect. Several different, unrelated problems do not come under the “three repairs” rule. If the defect is not fixed after three attempts, you are entitled to a new car. In addition, if the car is under repair for a total of 30 days during the first year after purchase, then you may also request a new car. In either of these two instances, to get the new car you must provide written notice to the manufacturer that the car is defective and cannot be fixed. 

If the manufacturer does not replace or repair the car, then you may sue the manufacturer. You cannot sue the dealer. All costs associated with your inconvenience, as well as attorney fees, may be recovered. However, you must sue within one year of the date the warranty expired. 

In 2005, new legislation was enacted that permits cure offers to be made by merchants or sellers to consumers. A cure offer is a written offer of one or more things, such as money payments, made by a merchant and delivered by certified mail to a consumer claiming to have suffered a loss. In addition to creating a right to cure, the new legislation also requires the consumer to give notice of a violation prior to initiating a lawsuit. 

For more information, see: Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312 (2014); 15 U.S.C. §§ 45-58 (2014); W. Va. Code § 46-2-606 (2014); W. Va. Code §§ 46A-6-101 to -109 (2014); W. Va. Code §§ 46A-6A-1 to -9 (2014); Adams v. Nissan Motor Corp., 182 W. Va. 234, 387 S.E.2d 288 (1989); Chrysler Credit Corp. v. Copley, 189 W.Va. 90, 428 S.E.2d 313 (1993); Bostic v. Mallard Coach Co., 185 W. Va. 294, 406 S.E.2d 725 (1991); West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division: The Lemon Law, http://www.ago.wv.gov (last visited June 8, 2015).

My income is limited. Are there programs that can help me afford my medications?

Yes. Many of the pharmaceutical companies participate in Medication Assistance Programs. Usually, the requirements are that the applicant be suffering from financial hardship, not be eligible for government assistance programs like Medicaid, and not have insurance reimbursement for medication.  

The majority of programs require that you apply through your physician. After the physician contacts the pharmaceutical company, the pharmaceutical company will send the doctor an application on your behalf. Once the physician signs and returns the application, and upon approval of the application, the drugs will be shipped to the doctor’s office. If your doctor has a fax machine, the correspondence between the doctor and the manufacturer can be completed in one day. Many of the manufacturers use Federal Express or one of the other one-day carriers. In the best case scenario, you can have your medicine within a few days. The average amount of medicine shipped for an individual is a three- to six-month supply. 

Contact your local senior center’s State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) counselor for help in applying for low-income pharmaceutical programs. West Virginia SHIP has a statewide toll free hotline (1-877-987-4463) that anyone can call to receive expert advice from a SHIP counselor. 

West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, http://www.wvseniorservices.gov/GettingAnswers/FrequentlyAskedQuestions/tabid/62/Default.aspx (last accessed June 8, 2015).