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AG Offers Shopping Tips During Holiday Season

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(credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

(credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

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BOSTON –  Shopping can be stressful. And during the busiest shopping month of the year, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has some advice for consumers on how to protect themselves.

SHOPPING AT A STORE:

1. Gift Certificates:  Gift certificates are good for seven years: Under Massachusetts Law, a gift certificate or a merchandise credit must be redeemable for seven years from the date of issuance. Once a consumer redeems a gift certificate or gift cardfor 90% of its value, the balance is redeemable in cash. State law does NOT apply to gift cards issued by a national bank.

2.  Return Policies:  Stores in Massachusetts are required to disclose return policies prior to the transaction, so be sure you review the return policy BEFORE purchasing something. Return policies do not apply to defective goods.

3. Layaway: Get your facts straightaway before you layaway: If you are putting an item on layaway, don’t hand over money before knowing the store’s policy. It is illegal for a store to fail to disclose or to misrepresent its layaway plan, or for a store to represent that the goods chosen by the buyer or an exact duplicate are being “laid away” if that is not true. It is illegal to increase the price of layaway goods.

4. Privacy Policies: Protect your personal and financial information: Check your bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity. Ask for a copy of the store’s privacy policy or read the website’s privacy policy to understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If one is not posted, it should be taken as a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.

5. Advertising Rules: Take advertisements with you.  A business must honor the price displayed in its advertisement, even if it is incorrect. However, once a business corrects the price in its advertisement, they may sell it for the new price. If a store runs out of a product, check the ad to see if they are offering rain checks. Under state law, businesses must offer rain checks unless they otherwise state in their advertisements that they will not.

“Particularly in this economy, consumers will look for the best deals when doing their holiday shopping,” said Attorney General Coakley. “The key is to be educated consumers. We advise people to know their rights and do their homework on a merchant – including online sellers – before purchasing a big ticket item.”

“Consumers have unlimited options on where to spend their dollars this holiday season,” said Jon B. Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “Price is important, but so is service, reliability, and the local economy. Consumers need to do their homework before they spend their dollars.”

SHOPPING ONLINE

“Cyber-Monday,” the first Monday following Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest days of the year for Internet shopping.  AG Coakley offers the following tips for “Cyber-Monday:”

1. Confirm Website Security:  Shop only on trusted websites. Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in “https://” and in the lower-right corner of the check-out page for the “lock” symbol before paying for an item. You can also right-click anywhere on the website page and select “properties” to view a website’s URL and determine if the website is encrypted. Do not make the purchase if the website is not secure.

2. Pay With A Credit Card:  If you shop online, pay with a credit card. This offers an added layer of consumer protection. Under federal law, shoppers can dispute Internet purchases if they don’t receive the purchased items. Consumers can also dispute unauthorized charges made on their credit cards. Be sure to print all confirmation pages and save any e-mail correspondence about your order as a record of the purchase.

3. Beware Of Phishing: Remember, legitimate businesses do not send emails announcing problems with an order or account and proactively solicit consumers’ financial information. If you receive an email like this, call the company where the purchase was made to confirm whether there really was a problem with the transaction.

4. Know Who You Are Dealing With: Online shopping can make it difficult to know who you are doing business with. Do some research and read online reviews, to make sure you are dealing with a reputable business. If you are using on an online auction site, in most situations, it merely brings together the buyer and seller. Check a seller’s record, and if you have made a successful bid, make direct contact with the seller and try not to use just email.

While most businesses are reputable, consumers that have a problem or unresolved issue may wish to make a complaint by contacting the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400. The Attorney General’s Website offers additional tips on retail rights and consumer protections. RAM has been the voice of the Commonwealth’s retailers for almost 100 years. To learn more, please visit.

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