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Consumer Tips and Resources for the Holiday Season

Welcome to our new consumer page featuring tips and resources for the 2013 holiday season. This page is dedicated to helping Rhode Islanders get the best experience and value from their holiday season shopping. As alerts and advisories are released, they will be added to this section.

Advertising/ Accurate Prices

Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, is quickly approaching and shoppers everywhere will be looking for the perfect holiday gift at a great price. And, retailers will try to out-do each other with deals to lure cost-conscious shoppers who are still watching their wallets. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is reminding holiday shoppers to do research and ask questions before making a purchase to ensure they get the best value.

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 Peter F. 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.

Charities

While most people are filled with the spirit of giving this time of year, unfortunately scam artists may also try to prey on that generosity. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin wants to help Rhode Islanders ensure that their hard-earned money is going to a good cause.

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. Charities soliciting donations in the State of Rhode Island are required to be registered with the Department of Business Regulation at www.dbr.ri.gov .
    • 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.

For more tips to protect consumers this holiday season, please visit www.riag.ri.gov

Additional Resources
www.dbr.ri.gov
www.charitynavigator.org
www.give.org
www.guidestar.org

Online Shopping and Internet Safety

Next to “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” has become one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.  Analysts predict that instead of braving the crowds at the mall on Black Friday, over 120 million shoppers will opt to shop online from the comfort of home. However, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is reminding consumers to be cautious of the potential pitfalls of online shopping.

“More and more people are buying their holiday gifts online to avoid the hustle and bustle of the mall this time of year,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “However, it is important for consumers to be vigilant, both online and at the mall. Just as you keep your wallet in a safe place, it’s important to safeguard your personal information when shopping online. Keep in mind that while you’re looking for deals, scam artists are looking for you.”

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

  • Protect your computer – Make sure your computer has the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
  • Shop on trustworthy web sites. While it may be tempting to buy the “hot toy of the year” from a website that you’ve never heard of before, the chance is greater that it is a scam.
  • Protect your personal information – 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.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true – Offers on web sites, and in unsolicited e-mails, can often sound too good to be true, especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items.
  • Beware of phishing – Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. If a consumer receives such an e-mail, 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.
  • Confirm your online purchase is secure – Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying.
  • Pay with a credit card – 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.
  • Understand the return policy. Just like a brick and mortar retailer, online retailers may charge “restocking fees” or exorbitant shipping and handling fees.
  • Check your credit card statements often. By the time you get the credit card bill in January, a thief may have already burned through your limit.
  • Know your rights – Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.

Toy and Product Safety

Additional Resources
www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/category/toy.html
www.recalls.gov
www.safekids.org

Contact Us

(401) 274-4400
contactus@riag.ri.gov

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