Bars Sending Checks to Consumers That Once Cashed Enroll Them in Costly Programs

(TRENTON) — Legislation Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty, Nelson Albano, Ruben J. Ramos Jr and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to make it illegal to mail unsolicited checks that once cashed enroll consumers in costly programs was approved 75-0 Thursday by the Assembly.

Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden) drafted the bill after a constituent showed him an unsolicited $8.25 check they received from a company. Cashing the check would enroll the consumer in an automotive roadside assistance program that costs $15.99 per month.

“These so-called free money offers are at their best deceptive and, at their worst, downright dishonest,” Moriarty said. “Right now, consumers are at their most vulnerable to fall for a scheme that appears to offer them instant cash but would end up costing them much more in the long-run.”

“Instead of relying on tricks, companies looking to sell their services in New Jersey should go back to the old-fashioned way — earning consumers’ trust,” said Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland).

“Checks related to legitimate services would be exempt, as they should, but trying to take advantage of people in these difficult economic times is just flat out wrong,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “We can do better and this bill will make sure of that.”

“It’s unfortunate, but true, that people try to take advantage of others in this tough economy by throwing what appears to be free money their way, but nothing in life is free,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This bill, quite simply, does the right thing by ending these scams.”

he legislation (A-658) would make it unlawful to send an unsolicited check to an individual which, upon being cashed or redeemed, obligates the recipient to pay fees or enrolls them in any club, service, plan or continuing agreement.

Checks related to legitimate banking services or stemming from a pre-existing and direct business-to-consumer relationship would be exempt from the measure’s provision. An unlawful practice under the Consumer Fraud Act is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 for a first offense and not more than $20,000 for any subsequent offense.

Violations can also result in cease and desist orders by the Attorney General, the assessment of punitive damages and the awarding of treble damages and costs to the injured party.

The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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