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Consumer Tips and Resources for the Holiday Season

The holiday shopping season is here, and whether you're lining up outside a store or logging on to your computer to find the best deals, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is offering tips that even Scrooge would approve.

Nothing puts a damper on the holiday spirit like hidden fees or unauthorized charges," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "And, honest mistakes can happen during the hustle and bustle of this busy time of year. With a little bit of planning and taking a few precautions, consumers can kick start the New Year with a great resolution: to save money."

Advertising/ Accurate Prices

The holidays are a time of giving, but dealing with hidden fees or unauthorized charges can really put a damper on the holiday spirit. By being proactive and alert, consumers can get a head start on one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions: to save money.

To help keep consumers merry – and their finances bright – Attorney General Kilmartin offers the following tips:

  • Bring ads with you while shopping to be sure prices charged match advertised prices.
  • Before making a purchase, ask if the store charges a restocking fee, and if so, how much.
    • Some stores will charge a fee for “restocking” an item that you return for a refund or credit.
    • Businesses that charge a restocking fee are supposed to disclose the fee. The notice should be clearly visible to consumers before purchases are made.
  • Before making a purchase, ask what the return policy is. Return policies vary.
    • Refund policies must be posted at the point of display, at the cash register or at the store entrance.
  • When checking out, watch the cash register display to be sure the scanned price matches the posted or advertised price.
    • Check your receipt for accuracy before leaving the store.
    • Ask for a refund if you have been overcharged.
  • Check your credit card and bank statements often. By the time you receive your credit card bill in January, a thief may have already made unauthorized charges.

Online Shopping and Internet Safety

Attorney General Kilmartin offers the following online shopping and internet safety tips to help consumers protect their identities and avoid scams while holiday shopping:

  • Make sure your computer has the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
  • Use secure websites. A secure website has an address that begins with "https"and has a small padlock at the bottom of the page.
  • Do not click on a link or open an attachment from an unknown source.
  • Shop websites of businesses/retailers that you know or trust.
  • Be familiar with the policies of each website. Get details about refund policies and restocking fees as well as shipping and handling fees.
  • Make sure you've read the site's privacy policy to understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn’t one posted, it is a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.
  • Beware of deals from unsolicited emails and offers on websites offering extremely low prices on hard to get items that sound "too good to be true."
  • Make sure the seller lists an address and phone number to call in case you have questions.
  • Pay by credit card in case you need to dispute the bill or withhold payment. It’s best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charges if he or she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it.
  • Print out and keep records of your purchases.
  • Beware of phishing attempts. Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the consumer into revealing financial information. If you do receive such an email, call the retailer directly and ask. Do NOT reply to the email and do NOT provide confidential or identifying information, like your Social Security Number or your credit card.


It’s important to think not just with our hearts, but also our heads this time of year. The holiday season tends to be when people give most to charities. The best way to donate is to do your research: don’t be afraid to ask questions about the organization’s track record and how your money will be spent. The generosity of many Rhode Islanders enables others to have a happy holiday season, but it is important to double check the cause before handing over a contribution.

  • Before you make a donation, research the charity and/or non-profit organization.
    • Verify the legitimacy of the organization. Several websites, including www.charitynavigator.org , www.give.org and www.guidestar.org provide helpful information regarding numerous charities. These websites can be a useful starting point for consumers looking to research companies prior to making a donation.
  • Find out how your donation will be used and what percentage of the funds will be used for programming and how much will be spent on administrative costs.
  • Ask for a copy of the charity’s financial report. Reputable charities will be happy to provide this information.
  • Be careful of charities with names that sound impressive or resemble those of other organizations. Some scam artists use names similar to reputable organizations to confuse donors.
  • Do not pay bills or invoices you have received from charities unless you know you have already made a commitment to support them.
  • Never send cash! Always contribute by check or credit card. Donate directly to the charity.
  • Remember to ask for a receipt and a statement that the contribution is tax deductible.
  • If solicited in person, ask to see identification for both the solicitor and the charity.

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