Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has some helpful tips for consumers to avoid potential scams while gearing up for the holiday shopping season.
“It certainly can be the most wonderful time of the year,” Yost said, “but a scam or a bad shopping experience has a way of quickly dampening the holiday spirit, bringing out the Grinch in us. Don’t let it happen to you.”
The Attorney General’s Office recommends that consumers:
• Research sellers carefully. Search for complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Also look up online customer reviews about the seller.
• Beware of scams. Watch for phony coupons. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary if someone asks you to pay using gift cards or wire transfers; both are commonly requested by scam artists.
• Check return policies. In Ohio, sellers can set their own return policies, including the policy of “no returns,” but any retailer whose policy limits your ability to obtain a refund must clearly notify you of that policy before you complete the purchase. Be sure to check return periods, which might change during the holidays.
• Look for exclusions and limitations in ads. Important exclusions and limitations should be clearly disclosed. Check to see whether an offer is valid only during certain hours, only limited quantities are available, or other terms and conditions apply. If a seller advertises a product at a certain price but sells out by the time you respond to the ad, you may have the right to a rain check. However, sellers are not required to provide rain checks if they clearly disclose the number of goods available at that price or if they clearly state that no rain checks will be given.
• Understand differences among gift cards. Not all gift cards have the same features or functions. A gift card that is branded by a credit card company and can be used almost anywhere can reduce in value faster than a single-store gift card. Promotional cards, such as those that come free with a purchase, may not carry the same protections as other cards and may last only a short time. If you receive a gift card, it’s generally best to use it as quickly as possible to reduce the chance that it will be lost, stolen or otherwise reduced in value.
Consider paying with a credit card, if possible. Paying with a credit card usually offers greater protection from unauthorized charges compared to other kinds of payment methods. In general, with a credit card, your responsibility for unauthorized charges is limited to $50 and you have certain rights to dispute charges that you may not have with a debit card or other forms of payment.
• Monitor your accounts. Regularly check your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges or unexpected activity. If you find problems, immediately notify your credit card provider or bank. The sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can correct it.
Additionally, holiday shoppers should consider these tips:
• Keep cybersecurity in mind. When shopping for online deals, don’t use free public Wi-Fi when entering sensitive information such as a credit card number. Keep apps, software and operating systems up-to-date and use secure websites whenever you need to enter personal information.
• Beware of e-skimming while shopping online. Cybercriminals can capture credit cards and personally identifiable information by skimming your data online. Look for the “s” in “https” to ensure that a website is secure, and always double-check that the site you’re on is the company’s official (legitimate) site. Also, use credit cards instead of debit cards; credit cards have more safeguards.
• Check delivery dates and fees. Carefully review the expected delivery date and shipping costs before making a purchase. Find out whether you’ll be charged shipping or restocking fees if you return the product. Also, pick up delivered packages quickly so they’re not stolen or damaged outside your door.
• Beware of package tracking or account freezing scams. You may receive texts or emails alerting you of a shipping delay or that your account has been frozen. You may be asked to provide personal information or to click on a link for additional information. But providing personal information or clicking on unknown links could lead to financial harm or infect your computer with malware. Don’t click on links if you’re not sure who they are from.
Consumers who suspect an unfair business practice or want help addressing a consumer problem should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.