Attorney General Urges Consumers to Exercise Caution When Shopping During Holiday Season

Following these tips can help consumers avoid common holiday shopping issues

Attorney General Urges Consumers to Exercise Caution When Shopping During Holiday Season
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November 23, 2016

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is encouraging consumers to shop smart during this holiday season.

Following these tips, he said, may enable shoppers trying to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving deals to avoid common holiday shopping problems such as fake deals and issues obtaining refunds and returns.

"Holiday gifts should bring joy, but scams and bad deals can ruin the fun," Cooper stated. "Before you start your shopping, study our tips to shop smarter this holiday season."

Many North Carolinians observe the tradition of giving gifts during holidays, and it is common for consumers to begin their holiday shopping after Thanksgiving by going to stores on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. However, the excitement and stress of these events can lead to trouble.

These tips can help consumers complete their shopping without being taken advantage of by scams and bad deals:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Impulse purchases often cause consumers to overspend and can even lead them to start the New Year in debt. Establish a budget for holiday purchases and then stick to it to avoid these problems.
  • See a deal you like? Make sure it really is a deal. Retailers often advertise discounts on popular items to attract shoppers to sales on Black Friday. To make sure you are really getting a deal on such products, research the items and their prices before you go. If the product you want has sold out before you get there, make sure that similar items are priced fairly before you buy one.
  • Know the stores. To increase the likelihood that you will be able to return or exchange your items, make sure to make your purchases at stores you know. You can find information about a particular company's track record by contacting your local Better Business Bureau or the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.
  • Stay safe online. If you plan to do any shopping online, make sure the companies are well established and have secure websites (secure sites will have a lock icon in the address bar and a web address starting with "https" instead of "http") as well as legitimate, official apps. Verify its street address and telephone number before placing an order. If making a purchase through a site such as eBay or Craigslist, check out both seller and product before agreeing to the purchase. If you plan to meet someone in person to purchase or sell an item, choose a public location such as a shopping center or police station.
  • Know about refund and return policies. Retailers are not required by law to accept returned items, so make sure to ask about store policies regarding refunds and returns before making a purchase. Many offer store credit instead of a refund, and some charge restocking fees. Keep receipts, including printed receipts for online purchases and invoices from mail order gifts. If your purchase came in the mail, you might have to pay the cost of shipping in order to return it.
  • Pay with a credit card. Paying for purchases with a credit card improves your chances of obtaining a refund in the event that the retailer goes out of business. If you make an order that is never delivered, you might also be able to dispute the charge with your credit card company. In addition, in the event that your credit card is lost or stolen, your liability is limited to $50 under federal law. Cards that use EMV chip technology may make transactions at in-store payment terminals more secure.
  • Offered a discount for signing up for a credit card? Be careful. Many major retailers offer consumers a one-time discount on their purchases in exchange for signing up for a credit card then and there. If you are thinking about applying for a new credit card, make sure the card does not involve a deferred interest deal, which can trap you into paying a high interest rate if the card carries a balance past a particular deadline. Make sure to take the time to read the fine print and understand all the terms and conditions on the card before you sign up.
  • Giving a gift card or certificate? Gift cards and certificates can be useful gifts for people who patronize particular retailers often but do not always buy the same item. If you give someone a gift card or certificate but the store or restaurant closes before it can be used, you might be able to contest the charge through your credit card company. North Carolina law prohibits retailers from charging a maintenance fee on gift cards within the first year, and they have to clearly disclose any fees they will deduct after that period. In addition, make sure to check before buying a gift card whether or not the security code has been scratched off. Thieves will take a picture of gift card numbers in the hope of stealing the value of the card once it is activated.
  • Making a charitable donation? Give wisely. Helping people in need is often an important aspect of holiday celebration, particularly when so many people have been suffering from a natural disaster like Hurricane Matthew. Donating during the holiday season is a good practice, but you should learn as much as possible about where your money will go and how it will be used if you want to make the greatest impact possible. You can research charities with the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance and the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office, among others. Choose the causes you want to give to, and do not allow yourself to be swayed by high-pressure telemarketers or text messages and emails that might be a scam.
  • Keep in mind that criminals do not take a holiday. Make sure that you are always aware of your surroundings and that you protect your wallet or purse and access to any credit or debit cards whenever you are in public. Do not carry large amounts of cash. Never share any personal information with any telemarketers who call you, and never respond to any email or text message requesting your personal information.