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Nassau Consumer Affairs Visits North Bellmore Civic

(Credit: Chris Boyle)
(Credit: Chris Boyle)
Editor's Note: This article was written and submitted by Chris Boyle.

The North Bellmore Civic Association received a visit Monday from a member of the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA), who gave a lecture on the ins and outs of his organization.

“We’re a law enforcement agency that protects the consumers,” said Ken Heino, the Executive assistant to the Commissioner of the OCA. “The difference between us and the Better Business Bureau is that we can actually enforce the laws. We have the power to issue fines and prosecute with the District Attorney’s Office.”

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Heino broke down his Office into four separate major consumer categories that they handle on a daily basis, including retail, home improvement, taxi and limousine, and weights and measures.

One major function of the Office of Consumer Affairs, Heino said, is to regulate all the “for hire” vehicles within Nassau County limits.

“We want to make sure the vehicle is properly registered, properly insured, and that they’re up to safety standards,” he said. “We also want to make sure the drivers have a “hack” license, meaning they’ve been fingerprinted and that there’s been a criminal background check done.”

Heino also said the OCA also inspects gas stations, ensuring that consumers get the gallon of gas and octane level that they’re paying for. He also pointed out that he and his co-workers hit the streets after Hurricane Sandy on the close lookout for price gouging.

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“We checked every gas station,” Heino said. “Normally, gas prices are unregulated. They can charge whatever they want. However, during an emergency, gas stations aren’t allowed to raise their prices more than 30 cents above what they’re paying for it. Only two stations in Nassau were cited for price gouging...one in Inwood and one in Westbury.”

Another major function of the OCA is the regulation of the retail industry in Nassau County. They act as watchdogs for consumers, making sure that retailers observe accurate pricing of their products, as well as charging correct sales tax, displaying correct sales signage, conducting sting operations to catch violators of laws governing activities such as selling alcohol to minors or selling expired merchandise, and more.

One story that Heino shared was a case involving Abercrombie and Fitch, whose repeated refusal to comply with a New York State law requiring all merchants to plainly display their return policy for customers has resulted in a steady revenue stream for Nassau County in the amount of thousands of dollars in fines.

“The just continued to pay the fines instead of displaying the return policy signs,” Heino said. “Their lawyer said that they didn’t match the décor of their store. We, of course, then sent every investigator to every Abercrombie in Nassau County and just kept raking in the money.”

Based on the amount of fines that the OCA levies, they are one of Nassau’s more profitable agencies, Heino said. Typically, they take in more than $2 million above their operating costs per year.

The OCA also handles a plethora of additional consumer-related issues, including identity theft, ATM machine regulation and home improvement licensing.

“Any contractors that work in the County are all required to have our license...no license, no work,” he said. “The reason a license is so important is that we want to make sure the person’s insured, that they’re qualified to do what they’re doing, and that they’ve had a criminal background check.”

Heino was quick to point out that the OCA is there to help the public first and foremost, and that they shouldn’t hesitate to report any business concerns to them.

Were you at the meeting? What did you think of the OCA presentation? Tell us in the comments section below.

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