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At long last summer is here, bringing with it the potential for Consumer Affairs issues. The Middlesex County Consumer Affairs Office offers the following alerts for Consumer protection during the summer months:

1. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing financial crimes. There are several things that consumers can do to prevent themselves from being a victim of this type of crime while traveling and vacationing this summer:

  • Keep a list of all your account numbers, credit card numbers, their expiration dates and phone numbers of all creditors in a secure location. In the event your wallet or purse is stolen, you can notify all of your account holders and cancel the accounts.

  • Always check credit card bills and bank statements to be sure all charges and transactions are accurate.

  • NEVER give personal information or account numbers over the phone unless you initiate the call, and are familiar with the company you called.

  • When traveling, try to keep credit cards and debit cards in your view. Pay at registers or counters. Do not allow the card to be taken out of your view.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft:

  • File a police report with your local police or the police in the town where the identity theft occurred.
  • Contact your county Consumer Affairs Office.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit report by calling the 3 credit reporting agencies below:

1. Equifax 1-800-525-6285
2. Experian 1-888-397-3742
3. Trans Union 1-800-680-7289

2. Summertime means pools, patios, additions and other major construction projects. Following are several tips to protect you from unscrupulous contractors who may take your hard earned money and do a shoddy job, or fail to start or complete the job in a timely manner:

  • As of December 31, 2005 all home improvement contractors must be registered with the State Office of Consumer Affairs, unless specifically exempt. Contact the State Office of Consumer Affairs to see if the contractor is registered. The phone number is 973-504-6200.

  • Have at least 3 contractors give you an estimate.

  • Ask what types of insurance they have, how long they have been in business, and whether they are sub-contracting any of the jobs out to other contractors.

  • Do not pay-in-full up front for the job. Most contractors require 1/3 down at signing, 1/3 halfway through the job, and 1/3 at satisfactory completion.

  • All contracts over $500.00 must be in writing, and must have the legal name and address of the company. (P.O. Boxes are not legal addresses)

  • They must also have a start and completion date, a full description of the work to be done, and the total price.

  • Be sure all construction permits are obtained from the municipal building office. Final inspections must be done before final payment is made.

  • Contracts signed after December 31, 2005 may be cancelled by a consumer for any reason before midnight of the third business day after the consumer receives a copy of the contract

If you are unable to resolve a complaint with the contractor, you should contact your local Consumer Affairs Office to file a complaint.