“Psst. Hey, you. Wanna buy some really good personal care products for next to nothing? I’ve got ’em right here, in the trunk of my car.”
If this kind of spur-of-the-moment, sidewalk-based offer would send you running for the other side of the street, we applaud you. Radar that says “buy this stuff at your own risk” is working at peak efficiency.
Our message today is to keep that radar running when you buy anything that sellers might be trying to clear out. If it’s a piece of granite or other item that could be kept anywhere, you may have found a bargain. If on the other hand it’s a perishable product that may have been stored improperly, you could be buying junk.
That message came recently from two of Maine’s top officials. Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, and Attorney General Steven Rowe, who both warned consumers to be cautious. The pair issued a joint news release about the growing problem involving the sale of outdated or improperly preserved goods.
Such sales have reached critical levels since the collapse of consumer confidence generally. Legitimate retailers are doing whatever they can to avoid having big inventories on hand (note the huge discounts offered this past weekend). Even cautious ordering months ago for the holiday shopping season won’t spare many businesses from dark days of reckoning in the new year.
With a glut of goods being sold for a song, some unscrupulous folks are storing them in less than ideal conditions and reselling them at a profit. When those products involve health care, they can be anything but a bargain.
Mills said deeply discounted items in online auctions should make people especially wary. Offers include everything from smoking cessation products to infant formulas; the effects of time and improper storage are not kind to such products.
The worldwide online market has taken the risk away from shady sellers and put it squarely on the backs of bargain hunters. Organized criminals can and do steal products by the shelf load and spirit them away to a warehouse. There, they may have equipment to alter expiration dates or delete barcodes, so the products can’t be traced.
Then there are the rat feces that may contaminate those goods. Rowe says raids nationwide have turned up rat-infested storage places, where germs abound – nowhere you and I would shop.
The attorney general has set up the Organized Retail Crime Task Force to study the situation and recommend possible changes in state law to deal with it. In the meantime, we join Mills, Rowe and the Maine Merchants Association in urging shoppers to look for real bargains.
Shop at stores you’re familiar with and buy online from well-known catalog sales firms. Avoid the temptation to save a few dollars at the possible risk of your health.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.