New York State’s Division of Consumer Protection Offers Holiday Shopping Tips for Consumers

The New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) today issued tips advising consumers to shop smart this holiday season, and encouraging them to be proactive in fully understanding the terms and conditions of purchases.

“We want to make sure the public is mindful of their purchases and their rights as consumers,” stated Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales. “The New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection has assembled valuable tips that will help make this holiday season less stressful and more rewarding for New Yorkers.”

Last holiday season, the most frequent complaints received by the Division of Consumer Protection included (1) returns/refunds; (2) defective merchandise; (3) incorrect, late, or lost mail orders; (4) gift cards; and (5) cellular/wireless phone purchases.

In response, the Division of Consumer Protection has provided the following tips for shoppers this holiday season:

  • Returns and Refunds – The law requires stores to conspicuously post their return and refund policy. Review these terms before making a purchase. Check for any restocking fees or other fees you may be charged for a return. If a store does not post any return policy the store must accept your return within 30 days, and provide the refund in your choice of a cash or credit. However, you must provide the store a receipt or other proof of purchase. In short, keep your receipts!
  • Rebates – When buying items that were advertised with a rebate, look for the actual selling price of the item and how the rebate will be returned to you. Keep copies of all correspondence and any documents sent to redeem a rebate, such as the UPC code and proof of purchase. The law requires retailers to advertise truthfully. Retailers cannot use a rebate to hide the actual selling price, unless the advertised price clearly and conspicuously includes the rebate terms and conditions.
  • Defective Merchandise – Before you buy, research the product warranties or guarantees, and the store policies to return defective merchandise. Look out for any additional fees you may be charged to correct or return defective merchandise.
  • Order and Deliveries – Each holiday season, the Division of Consumer Protection receives numerous complaints about wrong merchandise delivery, late arrival of orders and lost articles. Plan ahead to allow for time to receive your items in time for the holidays. Get tracking information from the retailer and track your purchases online until they arrive.   Prior to purchase, read all the shipping and handling, return, and refund policies. Always inspect the merchandise upon delivery. Contact the retailer as soon as possible if you discover a problem and memorialize any communication in writing. Be clear: state the defect or problem, and request a specific response. If the item was damaged during delivery, contact the shipping company immediately. They may owe you repair or replacement costs.
  • Gift Cards and Certificates – Gift cards are always popular holiday gifts, but they may lose their value if they are lost or are not redeemed on time. The law requires gift cards/certificates clearly and conspicuously state all terms and conditions on the product, so that consumers are aware prior to purchase. Look for usage restrictions and dormancy fees that can reduce or eliminate the value of the gift. Keep receipts or online confirmation information after buying the gift card. Make a copy of the card or certificate to keep with the receipt in the event the gift is lost or stolen. This information may be helpful to get a replacement. Only buy from reliable sources, some discount auction sites provide opportunities for scam artists to take advantage of consumers.
  • Cellular/Wireless –Mobile phones and tablets are very popular gift items during the holidays. Wireless contracts are often long and filled with terms and conditions that effect your wallet. Identify your needs and then research which provider and/or plan will meet them. Consider your options and review the different plans available that are best suited for you and your family. Remember, it is easy to upgrade a plan so initially only obligate yourself to the features you really need. Once you chose a device and plan, and sign a contract, it is legally binding. There are finite time periods before you can change plans or end the contract, and fees often apply.

Consumers may also contact with their local consumer affairs authorities for additional protections in their jurisdictions. For more information, please contact the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection at (518)-474-8583 or visit our website at www.dos.ny.gov or Follow DCP on Twitter (@NYSConsumer) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/nysconsumer).