As the holiday season quickly approaches, Black Friday and Cyber Monday – traditionally two of the busiest shopping days of the year – are right around the corner. 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 important 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.
This year if you do decide to head 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.
o Some stores will charge a fee for "restocking" an item that you return for a refund or credit.
o 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.
o 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.
o Check your receipt for accuracy before leaving the store.
o Ask for a refund right then if you have been overcharged.
•Check your credit card and bank statements often. By the time you receive your credit card bill or bank statement in January, a thief may have already made unauthorized charges.
If online shopping is your thing, 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 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.
•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.
•Print out and keep records of your purchases.
•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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.