“We encourage consumers to take some simple steps to protect themselves,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Whether they’re shopping online or in stores, we encourage people to take their time, understand the details, and ask for help if they need it. Awareness can go a long way in preventing problems.”
The National Retail Federation (NRF) says an estimated 137.4 million people plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Additionally, the NRF says about 36 percent of consumers plan to shop online during Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving).
Consumers can help avoid holiday shopping problems by following these tips:
• Plan before you shop. Review ads carefully and compare deals. Important exclusions and limitations should be disclosed in ads, including online, so check the details to see if limited quantities of an item are available for sale, if the sale price is valid only during certain hours, or if other terms and conditions apply.
• Check return policies. In Ohio, sellers can choose to set their own return policies, including policies of “no returns,” but if they have a policy that limits your ability to get a refund, they should clearly tell you what the policy is before you complete the purchase.
• Look for “free” offers that renew automatically. Before signing up for a free trial of a product or service, check the details, especially if you are asked to provide your credit card number or pay for shipping and handling. In many cases, if you sign up for the offer, you will be automatically enrolled in a program that will charge you on a regular basis.
• Compare gift cards. Not all gift cards are alike, so review the terms and conditions before you buy. In general, most gift cards must last at least five years, but fees may vary depending on the type of card it is, such as whether it’s a single-store card or a prepaid network-branded card that can be used most anywhere. Also promotional cards, such as those that come free with a purchase, may not have the same protections.
• Check details of a layaway plan. Layaway plans let you pay in installments before you buy an item outright. Before signing up, check the plan’s details. Look for any initiation or service fees, the length of the plan, when payments are due, and whether you can get your money back if you cancel. Also find out what happens if an item on layaway goes on sale, or if there are certain days when layaway is not available.
• Keep your receipts. Maintaining a complete record of a sale will help you handle problems that may arise after the purchase. Keep copies of receipts, sales agreements, advertisements, photos of products, or other documentation of a sale until the transaction and billing process are complete.
• Check delivery dates and fees. Carefully review the expected delivery date and shipping costs before you make a purchase. Find out whether you will have to pay shipping or restocking fees if you return the product. Also pick up delivered packages promptly so that they’re not stolen or damaged outside your door.
• Be careful where you click. Don’t click on links or attachments unless you’re sure they’re safe, even if they appear to come from a friend or if they pop up on a reputable website. Some links are placed by scammers, and clicking on them could cause a variety of problems, such as downloading malicious software on your device or locking you out of your accounts.
• Use secure websites. Use secure websites whenever you need to enter personal information online. Look for websites that begin with “https” instead of just “http.” The “s” stands for secure. You also may see a lock symbol to indicate the website has security features. Also, if you are concerned about your privacy and security while browsing online, consider using a private browsing option. Most Internet browsers offer this feature.
• Consider using a credit card for online purchases. In general, when you pay with a credit card, you have certain rights to dispute unauthorized charges that you may not have with a debit card or other form of payment.
• Beware of fake apps. Not all retailers have their own apps. Even if an app appears to be “official,” it might actually come from a third party not associated with the retailer. To help avoid problems, use official app stores to download apps, and even then, double check the source of the app. Before downloading an app, be sure you are comfortable with the “permissions” it may require you to provide. Delete apps you no longer use.
• Monitor your accounts. Regularly check your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges or unexpected activity. If you find problems, immediately notify your credit card provider or bank. The sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can work to correct it.
Consumers who suspect an unfair business practice or want help addressing a consumer problem should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.