While caught up in the last-minute, present-buying frenzy of the holidays, exhausted and distracted New Yorkers are easy prey for fraudsters and scammers, says state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
To keep from getting taken for a ride, try the following, he advised:
- Beware of misleading bargains and added fees. The “sale” price may have been marked up before it was marked down. And the touted “sale” price may, in fact, be significantly higher than the price for that same item later in the season. Delivery charges and/or other added costs such as assembly fees are often not reflected in the “sale” price.
- Compare warranty terms. Not all warranties are the same. Make sure you read the terms of any warranty to learn what protections you get and how long those protections last. This could significantly affect that cost of an item over the long-run.
- Know the layaway plan’s terms. The law requires merchants to give a detailed description of the merchandise to be purchased on layaway plans, the total cost of the items (including all charges), the plan's duration, the payment schedule, the consequences of missing payments, the refund policy and the location (if other than the place of purchase) and where the merchandise is stored.
- Check return and refund policies. Merchants are required to post refund policies. A store that fails to do so must give consumers 30 days to get a refund in the manner that the purchase was made. Be especially vigilant of “final sales” or “cash-only – final sale” notices; you will have little or no recourse if the merchandise proves to be defective. Some stores will require the item be returned in its original packaging and could charge a hefty restocking fee for returned items.
- Beware of restricted gift cards. Read the terms and conditions of gift cards. It is illegal to deduct any fees for non-use within one year of purchase or to have an expiration date of less than five years from the date the card was purchased. Use your card as soon as you can. If it later appears that your card has expired, or that fees have been deducted, contact the company that issued the card; it may still honor the card or withdraw the fees.
- Shop only on secure Internet connections. Do not conduct any transaction that involves personal, financial or credit card information while using an open and unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Identity thieves often stake out open networks seeking victims. When entering payment information online you should verify that HTTPS is in your address bar. URLs that begin with https:// instead of the standard http:// are secured by SSL, an internet security protocol.
- Watch out for confusingly similar website and domain names. Pay particular attention to your retailer’s URL when shopping online. Scammers use variants of a known company’s Internet address to try and lure users into visiting fake websites. They often target users through email or social media. Watch out for websites with URLs that differ slightly from those of legitimate online retailers, and also links that appear genuine but direct your browser to a completely different URL. To ensure safe shopping online type the URL of your desired retailer directly into your web browser -- and watch for typos.
- Protect yourself by using credit cards. With the advent of point-of-sale malware and rampant data breaches, identity thieves are now more sophisticated than ever. If you are going to make purchases online, you can best protect yourself by using credit cards. Credit cards generally offer better purchase protection and fraud dispute resolution than other methods of payment.
- Be wary of too-good-to-be-true contests and prize promotions. Be suspicious of any email, messages, or posts on social networks promoting giveaways or contests that seem too good to be true, free high-value gift cards, tablets and smartphones. These “contests” are often scams designed to bilk consumers and/or to collect their personal information for resale. Avoid any contest or promotion that requires you to pay money or to perform a financial transaction. Think twice before participating in promotions that require entrants to register with multiple third-party websites; these are often ploys to build marketing lists.
- Read the fine print. Broadly worded promotional offers and advertisements often mislead consumers into paying full price for items they believed were on sale. Carefully examine Internet deals by reading any and all fine print in the promotional materials, identifying the exact brand and model number on sale. Avoid bait-and-switch advertisements or promotions that lure consumers with basement prices that are not guaranteed to be in stock.