With the first big day of the holiday shopping season coming on "Black Friday," Nov. 25, followed by "Cyber Monday" on Nov. 28, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne offers his top tips for holiday shoppers.
Advertising a set of sales or "deals" and refusing to honor the terms of the advertisement is deceptive advertising and illegal in Arizona. Consumers using holiday sales and coupons should be careful that the specials advertised match what is advertised in stores.
Consider bringing ads with you to the store to see if prices charged match advertised prices. Read all fine print or disclosures before making your purchase. When checking out, watch the cash register display to be sure the scanned price matches the advertised or posted price. Check your receipt for accuracy before leaving the store. If you have pricing questions, ask to see the store's pricing error policy.
Gift cards issued by merchants (single or group, i.e. chain stores) and those issued by financial institutions (many with Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Discover brand logos) will have to follow new guidelines recently set up by Congress. Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, limitations have been placed on fees and expiration dates for gift cards. Service fees can no longer be charged until the card has been inactive for 12 months and only after that time can one fee be charged per month. Fee details and terms need to be disclosed clearly and conspicuously prior to purchase. Also, gift cards now carry an expiration date of at least five years from the date of purchase or the date the card was last reloaded with funds. Make sure you understand any terms or details disclosed about any fee or expiration date prior to purchasing your gift card.
Using secure websites will help ensure that personal information, such as your name, address and credit card number, is transmitted to the merchant safely, without being intercepted by a third party. You can identify secure Web sites by looking for Web addresses that begin with "https" and check for a small padlock icon at the bottom of the page. Also look for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates which allow for safe browsing and purchasing ("VeriSign" is a commonly used SSL). Credit cards are still preferred over debit cards for online shopping security.
Certain stores will charge you a percentage of the price for "restocking" an item that you return for refund or credit. These fees most often apply to larger purchases such as furniture, electronic equipment or appliances. If a business charges a restocking fee, it should disclose the fee in print advertising and promotional materials as well as post a clearly visible notice disclosing the fee and how consumers can obtain the full restocking fee policy. Before making a purchase, ask if the store charges a restocking fee. If so, make sure you understand the full cost and restocking policy.
Keeping printed copies of receipts, warranties and service agreements helps you negotiate any refunds or exchanges should you have a problem or decide to return the product.
During the time of purchase, request warranties and service contracts in writing and save receipts from all of your purchases. Bring them with you if you need a refund, exchange or repair.
Make sure you read all labels and fine print on packages of toys purchased for children. Many toys are meant for children of certain ages and may contain small pieces hazardous to very young children. Also, to verify that the toy you have bought is safe, you can check the Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov for more information.
As you are booking your travel to see family this holiday season, take caution when booking through agents and online websites. Make sure you are working with a legitimate travel agent and remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. It never hurts to take extra time researching a company or business online before using their service. Major airlines and travel companies often offer coupons and discounts while traveling over the holidays - be mindful of the small print and details regarding when purchase needs to be made and when travel dates are valid.
Many consumers seek seasonal employment to earn more cash during the holiday season. Be mindful of the employer you seek work from and make sure you are familiar with the company and its seasonal employment policies. Use caution when seeking employment from online job boards. Online employment boards may display employment opportunities that do not exist only as a means to obtain information from potential candidates. Use caution when providing identifying information over the Internet and research companies that may not be familiar to you. Most job boards, such as Craigslist, allow users to report advertisements that are bogus are fraudulent.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, please contact the Attorney General's Office in Phoenix at 602-542-5763; in Tucson at 520-628-6504; or outside the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas at 1-800-352-8431. To file a complaint in person, the Attorney General's Office has satellite offices throughout the state with volunteers available to help. Locations and hours of operation are posted on the Attorney General's website, www.azag.gov.
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