SEATTLE – “Black Friday” seems to arrive earlier every year, with turkey-and-stuffing-stuffed shoppers lining up on Thanksgiving eve. “Cyber Monday” follows, as Internet sales ramp up on Nov. 28. With this in mind, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna shared the following consumer tips for holiday shoppers, with a nod to Arizona AG Tom Horne:
- Bring ads for sales and “deals” with you to the store
Advertising a set of sales or “deals” and refusing to honor them is deceptive, illegal advertising in Washington state. Shoppers should be careful that the specials advertised match what’s on shelves. Read the fine print or disclosures before making your purchase. At the cash register, make sure the scanned price matches the advertised or posted price. Check your receipt for accuracy before you leave. If you have questions, ask to see the store’s pricing error policy.
- Understand new rules for gift cards
Gift cards issued by merchants and those issued by financial institutions such as Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Discover must follow new federal guidelines. Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, limitations are placed on gift card fees and expiration dates. Service fees can no longer be charged until the card has been inactive for 12 months. Only then may one monthly fee be charged. Fee details and terms must be disclosed clearly and conspicuously prior to purchase. 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. Washington state’s gift card law prohibits expiration dates on many kinds of gift cards and allows you to cash out when the balance drops to $5 or less. Check the terms, details and date prior to buying a gift card.
- Shop on secure Web sites with your credit – not ATM – card
Using secure Web sites will help ensure that your personal information is transmitted safely, without being intercepted by a third party. 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 such as “VeriSign,” which allow for safe browsing and purchasing. Credit cards are still preferred over debit cards for online shopping security because, with a credit card, your checking account will not be affected by merchant errors or identity thieves. The American Bar Association has a useful Web site, Safeshopping.org, which provides additional tips.
- Watch out for restocking fees
Some stores will charge you a percentage of the purchase price for “restocking” an item that you return. These fees often apply to larger purchases such as furniture, televisions or appliances. If a business charges a restocking fee, it should disclose it in advertisements and post a notice disclosing how consumers may obtain the restocking fee policy. Before making a purchase, ask if the store charges such a fee.
- Save all receipts, warranties and service agreements
This simple tip (admittedly easier said than done) helps shoppers negotiate refunds or exchanges. Request warranties and service contracts in writing and save them. Also, keep the packaging, if possible. When it comes time to make a return or exchange, you’ll be glad you did.
- Use caution when buying toys
Make sure you read the labels and fine print. Many toys are meant for children of certain ages and may contain small pieces dangerous to very young children. Visit www.recalls.gov before purchasing children’s products and sign up to receive federal recall notices at www.cpsc.gov.
- Travel safe
Work with a legitimate online or storefront travel agent. Research the agent or business online beforehand. Major airlines and travel companies often offer coupons and discounts while traveling over the holidays – but watch out for small print and details for travel dates and other restrictions.
- Seasonal Employment Opportunities
Make sure you are familiar with a potential employer and their seasonal employment policies. Use special care when using online job boards. Fake jobs are often posted just to capture personal information from potential candidates. Most job boards, such as Craigslist, allow users to report advertisements that are bogus are fraudulent.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of fraud, file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at http://www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx.
Note: Thank you to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne for providing the tips that were the basis of this release.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725