|NEWARK - With the holiday buying season nearly upon us, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs are reminding shoppers to protect themselves against fraud and deception as they join the mad dash for deals and discounts.
“Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday have become the trifecta of holiday bargain shopping,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “Retail and online merchants are bombarding consumers with offers designed to beat out the competition. Shoppers can benefit greatly from these discounts, but must follow some basic rules to ensure they’re getting a fair and honest deal.”
“It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement surrounding the start of the holiday shopping season,” said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We’re reminding everyone to exercise a bit of common sense and caution to avoid getting cheated.”
Whether shopping online or at traditional brick and mortar stores, the following tips will help consumers protect themselves from fraud this holiday season:
- Bring ads for sales and “special deals” with you to the store. Advertising holiday sales or coupons and refusing to honor those terms is deceptive advertising and illegal in New Jersey. Read sale advertisements carefully. Some may say “quantities are limited,” “no rain checks,” or “not available at all stores.”
- Before you head to the store, call ahead to make sure the merchant has the item you want in stock. If you’re shopping for a popular or hard-to-find item, ask the merchant if he or she would be willing to hold the item until you can get to the store. When checking out, watch the cash register display to be sure the scanned price matches the advertised or posted price.
- Familiarize yourself with the store’s refund policies. Can you return items for its full price if you’re not satisfied? What are the conditions that apply? For example, do the price tags have to be on the product? Is there a restocking fee, or in the case of Internet shopping, do you have to pay shipping and handling fees?
- Keep your receipts. Many merchants who accept returns will require you to present the original receipt before providing you with a refund. For Internet purchases, print records of your online transactions. Print and save the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of every email you send or receive from the seller.
- Before you put items on layaway, ask about the store’s policy. Find out how much time you have to pay for the merchandise and possible charges for using the plan. Will there be a fee or a penalty for missed or late payments? If you decide you don’t want the merchandise after you’ve made some or all the payments, can you get a refund?
- When using credit cards in stores, take advantage of new anti-fraud chip technology whenever possible. The new cards have metal chips embedded on the front that better protect consumer’s identifying information from fraudsters. While not all retailers have upgraded their payment system to accept the new chip cards those who do not have them installed for this holiday shopping season would be liable for any fraud that befalls purchasers forced to use the old swipe method.
- Exercise particular care when making a purchase over the internet. Be certain the website is secure or uses encryption before entering personal and credit card information – look for “https” in the website address. Verify that the business operates from a real location and be wary of businesses that only list a Post Office Box as an address. Print out a transaction record for each purchase and keep it to resolve any issues regarding the item being purchased.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.