Shop smart, safe this holiday season
Many North Carolina consumers have already started shopping for the holidays, and N.C. Attorney General Cooper and the Better Business Bureau of Central North Carolina encouragethem to take steps to avoid common problems such as items that can’t be returned, gift cards that can’t be used and orders that never arrive.
“For many families, giving gifts to loved ones is an important part of holiday celebrations,” Cooper said. “You can make the holidays even more enjoyable if you learn how to avoid potential headaches, shop smart and spend wisely.”
“During the holidays, we ask you to pay special attention to family and friends who are senior citizens. These people are usually the first victims of con artists. Their willingness to talk to strangers makes them vulnerable,” said Kevin Hinterberger, president and CEO of the BBB of Central N.C. “Make sure senior citizens in your circle of friends and family know where their money is going.”
• Buy from stores you know. Buying from reputable retailers improves the odds that you’ll be able to return or exchange a purchase if needed. To check out a company’s track record, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or contact your local Better Business Bureau.
• Shop safely online, too. If you shop online, stick to buying from well-established companies with secure web sites (look for a lock icon on the site and a web address that starts with “https”). Get the company’s street address and telephone number and verify them before you place an order.
• Learn about refund and return policies. Stores aren’t required by law to accept returned merchandise, so ask about refunds and return policies before you buy. Many retailers offer store credit instead of a cash refund, and some charge a “restocking fee” for returns. Hang on to receipts, and remember to print receipts for online purchase and keep invoices that arrive with mail order gifts. If the purchase came by mail, you may have to pay shipping costs to return it.
• Consider paying by credit card to improve chances of getting a refund if the retailer goes out of business. If a gift that never arrives, you may be able to dispute the charge. Also, if your credit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits your liability to $50.
• Giving gift cards or certificates? If you buy a gift certificate with a credit card and the store or restaurant closes before the certificate can be used, you may be able to contest the charge through your credit card company. Under North Carolina law, retailers can’t charge a maintenance fee on their gift cards within the first year and must clearly disclose any fees they’ll deduct from the value of the gift card after that.
• Give wisely. Planning to make a donation as part of a holiday gift giving? Learn where your money will go and how it will be used. Research charities with the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance and the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office. Give to causes that you choose rather than being swayed by high-pressure telemarketers or text messages and emails that may be scams.
• Criminals and scammers don’t take a holiday. Always be aware of your surroundings and protect your wallet and access to your credit or debit cards when in public. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Consider paying by credit card because federal law limits your liability if your credit card is stolen. And never share personal information with telemarketers who call you or respond to emails or text messages that ask you for personal information.
To check out a company with the Attorney General’s Office or file a consumer complaint, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or visit www.ncdoj.gov. To check out a company’s record or file a complaint with your local Better Business Bureau, visit www.bbb.org.