Being Cautious is Key to Shop Successfully During the Holidays; Research Online Sites Prior to Moving Forward with a Purchase
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) today reminded New Yorkers to be informed consumers when purchasing gifts this holiday season, including upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
In 2017, there were 22,023 identity theft complaints reported by consumers in New York State during the holiday season, a 9 percent increase from 2016. According to the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Report, New Yorkers claimed a total loss of over $88 million resulting from cyber-related crimes.
This holiday season, and all year long, consumers are urged to keep the following tips in mind when making purchases:
Gift Cards & Gift Certificates: Per New York State law, a gift card cannot expire any earlier than five years from the date of purchase. Likewise, ‘dormancy fees’ for non-use cannot be imposed if the card is used within two years of the purchase date, and any such fees must be waived where the cardholder uses it within three years of the purchase date. Consumers should always review the fine print and check for hidden fees or any restrictions on the use of the gift card. Consumers should use caution when buying gift cards from third parties or online auctions, as it is difficult to verify the dollar amount remaining – if any. Likewise, when buying a gift card, shoppers should make sure the packaging and security seals are intact.
“Big Ticket” Items: When purchasing big ticket items, consumers should:
- Look for and review warranty coverage on the specific item
- Check stock availability at the store
- Evaluate financing options carefully
As consumers comb retail advertisements, they should take note of the fine print and the quantity of the product available at the advertised price, as well as whether rain checks are available.
Layaway Plans: Layaway plans vary by store. Consumers should make sure they read all terms in the contract and have their questions answered regarding the payment schedules, refund policies and penalties for missing a payment before moving forward with a layaway purchase. A copy of the contract and a record of payments should be retained by the purchaser.
Refund and Return Policies: Consumers should review a store’s refund policy before considering a purchase. If the store does not post a return policy, the law requires the store to accept a return within 30 days of purchase. Shoppers should inquire whether the store imposes a re-stocking fee for returned merchandise and determine prior to purchase if the item can be returned for a refund or store credit only.
Credit Cards: Holiday purchases may cost consumers more than what is on their receipt. The Division of Consumer Protection urges consumers to track their spending, be cognizant of credit card limits and stick to a realistic budget. Consumers should verify receipts and reconcile them against their statement. In addition, consumers are cautioned against using their credit card for cash advances, as fees and interest on such transactions are higher than for credit card purchases. Consumers should always review monthly credit card statements carefully to ensure they are being billed for the correct dollar amount.
Shop Safely Online: Consumers should protect their personal identifiable information when making purchases online. It is imperative that consumers ensure they are conducting their transactions over a secure connection. Consumers can check this easily: Simply look at the URL of the website. If it begins with “https” instead of “http” it means the site is secured using an SSL Certificate and that communication with the webpage is encrypted. Consumers should also look for a small padlock icon in their browser’s address bar, which also denotes that the site is secure.
Beware of Fake Websites: As fraudsters continue to advance in sophistication to perpetuate a scam, fake websites resemble legitimate sites, with very credible-looking logos, pictures, and payment options. If the website is advertising extremely low prices, or discounts beyond 50 percent, consumers should be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller:
- Before shopping at an unknown website, consumers can verify the authenticity of the seller and site via an online search engine review. Consumers should look for a small padlock symbol in the browser’s address bar to verify that the site is secure.
- Typos on the web site are a red flag that the site may not be legitimate.
- Consumers should review the copyright date and domain creation date, as recently created sites are a tell-tale sign of scam sites.
- Consumers should not use public computers or public Wi-Fi for any purchases or personal banking. Public computers may be compromised with malicious software. Additionally, criminals can intercept traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other confidential information.
- Consumers should secure their computers, mobile devices and home Wi-Fi networks by ensuring that the operating systems and antivirus software are up to date with the latest security patches. They should also ensure their home Wi-Fi network has a strong password.
- Consumers should think twice before clicking on email links or pop-up advertisements. Unsolicited email offers or pop-up ads that appear to be from legitimate businesses may contain viruses or may be scams that sell knock-off products or never deliver purchased goods.
New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, “Black Friday and Cyber Monday are well known by consumers for their great bargains, but for criminals these unofficial shopping holidays represent ripe opportunities to scam unsuspecting consumers. In support of a safe holiday shopping season, I encourage New Yorkers to employ the tips provided by the Division of Consumer Protection.”
New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “The New York State Police reminds shoppers that they can become vulnerable targets for thieves during the holiday shopping season both online and in the stores. It may sound simple, but whether you are shopping at a large mall or online, always be aware of your surroundings. Criminals will look for every opportunity to steal and take advantage of their victims. The commonsense steps are the ones that will protect you from becoming a victim. Being alert and taking the appropriate precautions will help to keep you safe this holiday shopping season. If you encounter something suspicious report it to law enforcement immediately.”
New York State Chief Information Officer Robert H. Samson said, “Technology innovations are enabling more and more people to do their holiday shopping online. As online shopping grows, so too does the risk of theft, fraud and abuse by cyber criminals. New Yorkers can take many steps to protect themselves this holiday season, and I encourage everyone to be cautious when shopping online to safeguard their financial information.”
New York State Chief Information Security Officer Deborah Snyder said, “Cyber criminals have become very creative. While the risk for fraudulent activity increases during the holiday season, there are many things savvy consumers can do to help keep their information safe. If you do happen to fall victim to an Internet crime, you may report it at the Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, at www.ic3.gov.”
State Homeland Security Commissioner Roger L. Parrino, Sr. said, “Online shopping during the holidays can be easy and hassle-free, however it also gives criminals the opportunity to not only access your finances, but steal your identity as well. By taking simple steps like deleting suspicious looking e-mails, limiting the personal information you transmit online and ensuring your security system is up to date, you can protect yourself and safely enjoy the holidays.”
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own. If any New Yorker has a problem with a retailer after a purchase, they are encouraged to file a complaint with the New York State Department of State, Division of Consumer Protection. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time via the DCP website. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.