10 tips to avoid holiday shopping scams

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The holiday season has enough stress without worrying about what scams unscrupulous con artists are cooking up, but a little awareness can go a long way in making sure consumers’ holidays stay merry and bright this year.

It’s natural to hunt for bargains during the holidays, but consumers shouldn’t let the busyness of the season cause them to fall prey to shopping, travel and employment scams. The AZ Attorney General's office has some valuable advice, just in time for the holidays.

Slow down and use caution when purchasing gifts, booking travel and signing on for seasonal employment opportunities. Consumers also need to watch closely for the delivery of purchased items as thieves are becoming more and more aggressive targeting delivery trucks and stealing packages left on front porches.

“This is a joyous time of year when many Arizonans reconnect with family and friends and participate in beloved traditions,” AZ AG Mark Brnovich said. “But scammers see this season as an opportunity. Exercising caution and arming oneself with current information on scams ensures the holiday season can be filled with wonderful memories instead of fraudulent experiences.”

Protect your holidays with the following ten tips:

  1. Bring ads for sales and “special deals” with you to the store: Make sure that the specials advertised match what is advertised in stores. Refusing to honor the terms of an advertisement is deceptive advertising and illegal in Arizona.
  2. Check your charges: When checking out, watch the display to be sure prices match the posted price and check your receipt for accuracy before you leave the store or website.
  3.  Monitor package deliveries: 23 million people say they’ve had packages stolen from their homes before they could open them, according to a recent survey. Know the expected date and time of delivery, get to know your neighbors and keep each other informed of suspicious activity in the neighborhood. Many delivery services also have a live map to track deliveries. Some consumers install webcams that send text alerts if activity is detected and provide video proof of any theft.
  4. Understand the rules for gift cards:  The Credit Card Act of 2009 placed limitations on fees and expiration dates for gift cards. Service fees can no longer be charged until the card has been inactive for 12 months. Fee details and terms need to be disclosed clearly. Also, gift cards now carry an expiration date of at least five years from the date of purchase.
  5.  Do online shopping at secure websites only: Identify secure websites by looking for web addresses that begin with “https” and display a small padlock icon next to the web page address. Also look for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates which allow for safe browsing and purchasing (“VeriSign” is a commonly used SSL).
  6. Be aware of restocking fees: Certain stores will charge you a percentage of the price for “restocking” an item that you return for refund or credit.  Make sure you understand the full cost and restocking fee policy before making a purchase.
  7.  Save all receipts, warranties and service agreements: These help you negotiate any refunds or exchanges, should you have a problem or decide to return the product.
  8.  Be cautious of toys bought for children: Read labels and fine print. Also, to verify that the toy you have bought is safe, you can check the Consumer Product Safety Commission, http://www.cpsc.gov.
  9. Travel safely this holiday season: Use caution when booking through agents and online websites. Remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  10. Be wise when seeking seasonal employment opportunities: Consumers often seek temporary jobs to earn extra cash for the holidays. Use caution when seeking employment from online job boards. Online employment boards may display employment opportunities that do not exist as a means to obtain personal information from potential candidates.

For more consumer protection tips and news on local scams, visit the Arizona Attorney General’s Office website at www.azag.gov.

If you believe you have been the victim of consumer fraud, please contact the Attorney General’s Office in Phoenix at (602) 542-5763, in Tucson at (520) 628-6648, or outside the metro areas at (800) 352-8431.  Bilingual consumer protection staff is available to assist. Consumers can also file complaints online by visiting the Attorney General’s website at https://www.azag.gov/complaints/consumer.

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