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Tips to help consumers protect themselves on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black FridayAs millions of holiday shoppers head out for Black Friday shopping and take to their computers for Cyber Monday, it’s important to remember that just because items are supposedly on sale, all may not be what it seems.  

“When purchasing gifts for family and friends, we encourage consumers to use our tips to protect themselves against fraudsters and scams,” said New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood  

Underwood offers the following tips for consumers shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday:

  • Beware of misleading bargains and added fees.  The “sale” price may have been marked way up before it was marked down. Often, the “sale” price may be higher than the price for that same item later in the season. In addition, delivery charges and/or other added costs such as assembly fees aren't often reflected in the “sale” price.
  • Compare warranty terms. Make sure you read the terms of any warranty to learn what protections you get and the length of time of those protections.
  • Know the terms of a layaway planThe law requires merchants to give a description of the merchandise to be purchased on layaway plans, the cost of the items including all charges, the length of the plan, the required payment schedule, what happens if you miss payments, the refund policy, and the location where the merchandise is being stored if its other than the place of purchase.
  • Check return and refund policies.  Merchants are required to post their refund policies. A store that doesn’t must give consumers 30 days to get a refund. With an early Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, be aware that – if a merchant has a refund policy of 30 days or less – items purchased on those days to be given as presents on Christmas Day or later may not be returnable. Be especially careful of “final sales” or “cash-only – final sale” notices, as you’ll have little or no recourse if the merchandise is defective. Some stores require the original packaging and charge a large restocking fee for returned items.
  • Beware of restricted gift cardsBe sure to read the terms and conditions of gift cards before purchase. It’s illegal to deduct any fees for non-use within 25 months of purchase or to have an expiration date of less than five years from when it was issued. Use your gift card as soon as possible. If it later appears that your card has expired, or that fees have been deducted, contact the company that issued the card. It may still honor the card or refund the fees.
  • Shop only on secure internet connections. Don’t conduct any transaction that involves personal, financial, or credit card information while using an open and unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Be careful not to shop, conduct business, or send sensitive or personal information out on these networks because identity thieves often stake out open networks. When entering payment information online, verify that the URL begins with "https://">https:// to protect yourself from identity thieves and cyber criminals. These URLs are secured by SSL – an internet security protocol.
  • Don’t be tricked by similar website and domain names. Pay attention to your retailer’s URL when shopping online. Scammers use similar names of a known company’s internet address to try to lure users into visiting fake websites. They often target users through email or social media. Avoid clicking on links from email or social media sites. Watch out for websites with URLs that differ slightly from those of legitimate online retailers, and links that appear genuine but direct your browser to a completely different URL. To ensure safe shopping online, type the URL of your desired retailer directly into your web browser – and watch for typos.
  • Protect yourself by using credit or debit cards. You can protect yourself from the risks of identity theft and fraud by using credit or debit cards. (1) Credit cards generally offer better purchase protection and fraud dispute resolution than other methods of payment. When you use a credit card, you’re accessing a line of credit from the issuer. Each purchase is a loan you need to repay later with interest. (2) While you avoid debt with debit cards, watch out for overdraft charges. Debit cards are best used to avoid credit traps, but be aware that if your information is stolen, fraudulent charges are deducted directly from your checking account. Check with your bank to find out what protections are offered. If your debit card is lost or stolen, you must report it within two business days to limit your loss to $50.
  • Be wary of too-good-to-be-true contests and prize promotions.  Emails, messages, or posts on social networks may promote questionable giveaways or contests such as free high-value gift cards, tablets, and smartphones. These “contests” are often scams designed to steal money from consumers and/or to collect their personal information. Genuine sweepstakes and contests are available on the internet. However, you should avoid any contest or promotion that requires you to pay money. Think twice before taking part in promotions that require you to register with third-party websites because these are often ploys to build marketing lists.
  • Read the fine print.  Broadly worded promotional offers and advertisements often mislead consumers into paying full price for items they think were on sale. Consumers should read all the fine print and identify the exact brand and model number on sale. Bait-and-switch advertisements lure consumers with low prices that aren’t guaranteed to be in stock. Fine print stating that quantities are limited is a sign of bait-and-switch tactics.
Copyright 2018, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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