Class gives students knowledge to combat consumer fraud

Greg Kane

Students about to enter the world of easy-to-acquire credit cards, expensive car insurance policies and other far-too-good-to-be-true situations can learn to read between the lines in a class being offered by the Family & Consumer Sciences Department this semester.

Consumer Issues (FACS 142) prepares students so they can protect themselves from the misleading advertising and other unfair services they encounter as consumers every day, said professor Dong Shen, who teaches the course.

Topics will range from misadventures in mall shopping to what students may not know about their car or house insurance policies.

“One thing I really want [students] to know is, in different situations, how they can protect themselves,” Shen said. “Where they should go to complain, [and] where they should go to find information.”

There are many ways students can be taken because they aren?t fully informed, Shen said. One of the largest examples of this is found in car insurance policies, which young people pay big money for but often aren?t aware of why.

“If you don?t ask [for] all the information and details, the agent probably won?t tell you,” Shen said. “They need to be aware of what is fair and what is unfair. As college students, we have a right to be aware of what?s going on.”

Misleading advertisements are another obstacle students should be aware of, Shen said. Consumers may think they?re getting a great deal when they go to a “one-half off” sale at the mall, but it often times turns sour when they discover other products must be purchased at regular price first.

“The ?one-half off? will be really big [on the sign], but the ?buy two? part is really small,” Shen said. “I think that?s kind of a strategy for businesses.”

FACS major Linda Adorjan, knows all too well what can happen when you don?t read the fine print on an advertisement. She once went on what was promised to be a free trip to Lake Tahoe, where she?d simply have to look at a time-share condominium. After deciding not go in on the property, however, she said she was treated so rudely that she eventually left.

Taking a course that foreshadows these types of situations could benefit all students, Adorjan said.

“It would be nice if more people other than just FACS students would take classes like this to avoid some of the pitfalls that it took me years and years to learn,” Adorjan said.

Students from other departments are also finding the class useful.

Nutrition major Kristina Coffer said there are many diet and weight gain supplements on the market today, and knowing what these things do could save someone from improper use.

“A lot of people are hurt by things like those diet supplements,” Coffer said.

Learning how to protect themselves in these situations can also help students stay away from the pit of credit card debt, Shen said. Credit card companies often set up shop on college campuses in order to sign up young students, many of whom don?t understand the risks involved.

“They just want to grab you and put you on the form and get your information, and then the company can get more customers,” Shen said. “But later on they don?t really care whether each customer is satisfied.

“They just set up a trap and wait for you to jump in,” Shen said.

Shen said that although she wants her students to understand their rights as consumers, she also wants to teach them not to go to the other extreme, taking advantage of businesses by shoplifting and counterfeiting. If anything, she hopes the course will help them achieve a happy medium.

“As consumers we have the rights, but we also have the responsibilities, I want my students to know both sides,” Shen said.