By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Computers have become part of our everyday lives. We use them at work, at school and many of us use them at home. However, while computer prices have gone down over the years, the price tag of computers still puts them out of reach for many families.
Programs advertised on television that let you buy a computer by making weekly payments might seem like the solution to finding a computer your family can afford, but think twice before you sign up. You may wind up paying much more for the same computer than you would at a store.
Tempting television or radio ads for these layaway/financing programs promise quick delivery of a computer with no credit check and a low weekly payment, even for customers with poor credit or no credit. Infomercials ask you to call a toll-free number and make a quick decision over the telephone to buy through their program.
If you sign up, you’ll find that the costs add up quickly. These programs require you to make a down payment and multiple layaway payments before your computer is shipped to you. On top of that, you’ll be required to make more payments under a finance contract, which can cost you four times more than a retail store charges for the same low-end model computer.
These weekly payments are drafted from your checking account, and if you decide to cancel you may have trouble getting the bank drafts stopped or getting your money back, since the company may have a no refund policy.
A total of 85 North Carolina consumers have complained to my Consumer Protection Division
about these computer “layaway” companies. Some people tell us they’ve paid more than $2,200 for a computer they never received. When they called the company’s customer service number, they hit a roadblock and couldn’t get any help.
If you’re considering buying a computer through a layaway/finance program, remember:
- Avoid buying a computer during a telephone sales pitch. Instead, consider going to a reputable computer company or local retail store. This way if you have problems with your new computer, you’re more likely to be able to get help or be able to return it.
- Use caution when giving out your bank account number. Once you sign up for automatic bank drafts, it can be very difficult to stop them if there is a problem.
- Don’t agree to buy a computer without having written paperwork in hand. Read the contract carefully before you agree to purchase anything. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions and ask questions. Never sign a contract with blank spaces.
- Be sure to check the company out with my Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
There are other options available if you need a home computer. Considers these options before you sign up for a computer layaway program:
- Check with your local credit union to see if you qualify for a low-interest computer loan. These loans have more reasonable terms and allow you to pick out the computer of your choice.
- Consider buying a less-expensive refurbished computer from a reputable retailer instead of purchasing a brand new unit.
- Take advantage of public computers at your church, local library, school or civic clubs until you can save up enough money to afford to buy your own.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are working to educate consumers and protect them from scams. We are here to be of service when you need us but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.