At­tor­ney Gen­eral re­leases tips for shop­pers this hol­i­day sea­son

The Avenue News - - NEWS -

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Frosh is urg­ing con­sumers to know their rights, ed­u­cate them­selves, and to be ex­tra vig­i­lant as con­sumer spend­ing on­line and in stores sharply in­creases this hol­i­day sea­son.

Con­sumers in the U.S. are ex­pected to spend more than $700 bil­lion on hol­i­day shop­ping, much of which will take place this week­end. Novem­ber also marks the start of a sharp in­crease in char­i­ta­ble giv­ing.

“Be­ing a savvy shop­per be­gins with ed­u­cat­ing your­self about re­tail poli­cies and pit­falls,” said At­tor­ney Gen­eral Frosh. “Some­times that ‘great deal’ isn’t such a bar­gain if you’re left with a bro­ken or un­wanted gift that you can­not re­turn.”

In an ef­fort to help con­sumers avoid fall­ing vic­tim to hol­i­day sea­son traps, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Frosh is­sued the fol­low­ing tips for con­sumers:

Make sure your char­i­ta­ble dona­tions are go­ing to the in­tended cause. Dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, many con­sumers make gen­er­ous dona­tions to char­i­ties—but this is also a prime time for crooks to take ad­van­tage of that gen­eros­ity. Be­fore mak­ing a do­na­tion, check to see if the char­ity is reg­is­tered with the Mary­land Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice. Ed­u­cate your­self on the char­ity and de­ter­mine what per­cent­age of your do­na­tion goes to the char­ity’s mis­sion. Sev­eral third-party web­sites (GuideS­tar, Char­ity Nav­i­ga­tor, etc.) pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s fi­nan­cials, mis­sion state­ments, and more. This may help you de­cide how to al­lo­cate your giv­ing. Bo­gus char­i­ties fre­quently use names and lo­gos that re­sem­ble well-known, le­git­i­mate or­ga­ni­za­tions. These char­i­ties of­ten sur­face af­ter na­tional emer­gen­cies, or nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. The only way to be sure a char­ity is le­git­i­mate is to do some re­search be­fore you give.

Check re­turn and re­fund poli­cies. Mary­land re­quires a re­tailer to dis­close its re­turn pol­icy in writ­ing so con­sumers are aware of the store’s pol­icy be­fore mak­ing a pur­chase. Stores can have a “no re­turns” pol­icy, but that must be dis­closed. Don’t ex­pect to be able to re­turn things like food and per­ish­able goods or cus­tom-made mer­chan­dise (like per­son­al­ized jew­elr y) or cus­tom-al­tered cloth­ing (like a busi­ness suit). Al­ways ask the store about its re­turn pol­icy, and read the fine print. Some stores charge re­stock­ing fees, or don’t al­low the re­turn of “fi­nal-sale” items.

Be mind­ful of the web­sites you visit. On­line shop­ping is a con­ve­nient way to get your hol­i­day shop­ping done, but con­sumers should triple-check that the web­site ad­dress they are vis­it­ing is le­git­i­mate. You should never send per­sonal in­for­ma­tion or pay­ments through a web­site if the ad­dress does not be­gin with “https”—the “s” at the end means that your con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion is se­cure. Con­sumers should also be wary when click­ing on ads found on a web­page or so­cial net­work­ing sites. Scam­mers fre­quently lure con­sumers through so­cial me­dia or emails to fake web­sites, which are set up to steal per­sonal and/or fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion.

Avoid po­ten­tial pit­falls with gift cards. Ask ques­tions and read all dis­clo­sures so you know all the terms and con­di­tions of gift cards you are pur­chas­ing. Only pur­chase gift cards from rep­utable sources, or di­rectly from the store. En­cour­age the gift card re­cip­i­ent to use the card to avoid ad­di­tional fees or charges or in the event a busi­ness closes. Treat gift cards like cash and keep them in a safe place. Keep the re­ceipt of the gift card pur­chase in case there are any is­sues with the card. Ex­am­ine the card for any signs of tam­per­ing. Crooks can copy num­bers from cards and wait for them to be ac­ti­vated.

Be wary of bar­gains and “sale” prices. De­liv­ery charges and/or other added costs such as as­sem­bly fees are of­ten not re­flected in the “sale price.” In many cases, hid­den costs like these negate the value of the sale. In other cases, a prod­uct of­fered at a cer­tain price may be avail­able only if pur­chased with other items.

Know the terms of lay­away plans. A mer­chant must give you a writ­ten lay­away agree­ment, spell­ing out your rights and obli­ga­tions, when you buy an item on lay­away. If the seller does not com­ply, you can can­cel the agree­ment and get a full re­fund. Con­sumers have the right to can­cel a lay­away agree­ment within seven days and re­ceive all the money they’ve al­ready paid. A mer­chant may only keep 10 per­cent of the full price of the item if a con­tract is can­celled af­ter eight days or more, or if the con­sumer does not make a pay­ment within 15 days of a due date.

No-in­ter­est fi­nanc­ing can cost you plenty. While noin­t­er­est plans can save you money, many carry hid­den charges. For ex­am­ple, some of­fers have a time limit. If you don’t pay off the amount of the pur­chase within the time pe­riod al­lot­ted, you are then charged in­ter­est on the en­tire pur­chase amount. Al­ter­na­tively, some of­fers in­flate the sell­ing price to make up the dif­fer­ence. Con­sumers should read the fine print and un­der­stand the terms of the agree­ment be­fore sign­ing.

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