North Carolina Department of Justice
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Shop smart this holiday season, Attorney General Cooper says

Release date: 11/22/2016

Avoid common problems such as refunds, returns, gift cards

Raleigh: A few tips can help consumers headed to the stores after Thanksgiving avoid common holiday shopping problems like deals that don’t materialize and difficulties with refunds and returns, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday.

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

Gift giving is a holiday tradition for many North Carolina families, and many consumers plan to start their shopping after Thanksgiving by heading to the stores on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. But the excitement and stress of the holidays can lead to trouble for consumers.

To avoid scams and bad deals this holiday:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Establishing a budget for holiday gifts can help you avoid overspending on impulse buys--and prevent you from starting the New Year in debt.
 
  • Make sure a deal really is a deal. Many retailers advertise discounts on hot items to lure shoppers to Black Friday sales. Research items you’re planning to buy before you head to the sales to make sure you’re really getting a deal. And if the item you wanted to buy has already sold out, don’t rush to purchase something similar without verifying that you’re paying a fair price.
 
  • Buy from stores you know to improve the odds that you’ll be able to return or exchange a purchase. 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. Stick to well-established companies with secure web sites (look for a lock icon on the site and a web address that starts with “https”) and legitimate apps. Verify the company’s street address and telephone number before you order. If you’re buying through websites like eBay or Craigslist, check out the seller and the product before you agree to buy. If you meet someone to purchase or sell an item, choose a public place like a shopping center or police station.
 
  • 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 refund, and some charge a restocking fee. Hang on to receipts, including printed receipts for online purchase and invoices from mail order gifts. If your purchase came by mail, you may have to pay shipping costs to return it. 

  • Consider paying by credit card. If the retailer goes out of business this will improve your chances of getting a refund. If you order a gift that never arrives, you may be able to dispute the charge with your credit card company. Also, if your credit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits your liability to $50. EMV chip technology can make some credit card transactions at in-store payment terminals more secure.
 
  • Be wary of in-store credit card promotions. Several major retailers offer one-time discounts for consumers who sign up for a credit card on the spot. If you’re considering getting a new credit card, look out for deferred interest deals, which can trap you into paying high interest rates if you carry a balance past a certain deadline. Resist pressure to sign up for a new credit card without taking time to read the fine print and understand all the terms and conditions.
 
  • Giving gift cards or certificates? If the store or restaurant closes before the gift card 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 after that. Also, be sure to check to make sure the security code has not been scratched off before you buy a gift card. Thieves will photograph gift card numbers in hopes of stealing the value once they are activated. 
 
  • Give wisely when you give to charity. Helping those in need can be an important part of holiday celebrations, especially when so many in our state are still hurting from Hurricane Matthew. It’s great to make donations during the holidays but learn where your money will go and how it will be used. Research charities with the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance and the NC 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. Check out more tips on giving to charity.
 
  • Remember that 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. 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 ncdoj.gov. To check out a company’s record or file a complaint with your local Better Business Bureau, visit bbb.org

Contact:  Noelle Talley

Phone:     919/716-6413