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As Black Friday and Cyber Monday Approach, AG Kilmartin Offers Tips for Smart Shopping and ID Protection

Whether you're out braving the Black Friday crowds or shopping online from the comfort of your couch on Cyber Monday, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is reminding shoppers of important tips to help keep consumers merry and their finances bright this holiday season.

"During this season of giving, shoppers are searching for the best deals on the perfect gifts for their loved ones. However, while scouring sales flyers and the Internet, it's important that consumers are not taken advantage of," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Hidden fees or unauthorized charges can really put a damper on the festivities, and with all of the activity going on, honest pricing mistakes do happen. Our Office is helping consumers prepare themselves with some helpful tips to keep in mind during the holiday shopping season."

If you are heading out on Black Friday in search of a great deal, our Consumer Protection Unit has put together some tips to keep you feeling festive:

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 to be sure the scanned price matches the posted price. Check your receipt for accuracy before leaving the store. Ask for a refund right then if you have been overcharged. Check your credit card and bank statements often. Read the terms of any warranty to learn what protections may be in place and for how long. Not all warranties are the same. Before you put merchandise on layaway, ask about the store's policy. Find out how long you have to pay for everything, if there are additional charges for using the plan, and if there are fees or penalties for missed/late payments.

If you would rather avoid the crowds and shop online, here are some additional tips to help protect your identity and personal information:

Make sure your computer has updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software, updated spam filters, and a secure firewall. Use secure websites. A secure website has an address that begins with "https" and has a small padlock near the URL or 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 read the site's privacy policy to understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn't a privacy policy posted, it is a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without your permission. Beware of deals from unsolicited e-mails 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. Print out and keep records of your purchases, and check your credit card and bank statements often. Beware of phishing attempts. Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the consumer into revealing financial information. If you do receive such an e-mail, call the retailer directly. Do not reply to the e-mail and do not provide personal identifying information (i.e. your Social Security Number, your credit card or bank account information).

"Whether you're shopping at a retail store or online, my number one tip is to closely monitor your bank account and credit card information. Be on the lookout for any unauthorized charges, and be sure to report those charges to your financial institution immediately," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "And always remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is."

If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Unit at the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General at (401) 274-4400. You can download a consumer complaint form by visiting our website at www.riag.ri.gov. You can also email us at contactus@riag.ri.gov.

About the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.

Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.

The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams.

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