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Holiday Shopping Tips

The day after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday," the day when holiday shoppers descend on their favorite stores, malls and online retail sites in full force. Consumers, feeling generous, spend billions of dollars each holiday season on gifts for friends, loved ones and business associates.

Needless to say, competition is fierce this time of year among merchants seeking to get a share of what consumers dole out on presents. While many consumers stand to benefit from sales offering deep discounts, others who make hasty decisions on their purchases may find themselves stuck paying more for products than they should, paying for items they didn't want or the victims of fraud.

Holiday shopping can be fun as long as you exercise caution. Naturally, you'll want to comparison shop to see what other stores and Internet sites are offering in order to get the best deals, but you should also exercise caution and common sense when making holiday purchases. Whether you're shopping on line or at bricks-and-mortar establishments, heed the following advice from Consumer Affairs and the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Before you make any purchase, familiarize yourself with the store's refund policy. Can you return the items for a full refund if you're not satisfied with it? What are the conditions that apply? For example, do the price tags have to be on the product, is there a restocking fee or, in the case of Internet shopping, do you have to pay shipping and handling fees?

  • Keep your receipts. Many merchants who accept returns will require you to present the original receipt before providing you with a refund. For Internet purchases, print records of your online transactions. Print and save the product description and price, the online receipt and copies of every email you send or receive from the seller.

  • Ask for gift receipts. If you don't want to provide the person to whom you gave the original receipt, a gift receipt will enable him or her to exchange or return the item anyway.

  • Don't use or damage newly purchased products you intend to return for an exchange or refund.

  • Read sale advertisements carefully. Some may say "quantities are limited," "no rain checks," or "not available at all stores." Before you step out the door, call ahead to make sure the merchant has the item you want in stock. If you're shopping for a popular or hard-to-find item, ask the merchant if he or she would be willing to hold the item until you can get to the store.

  • Know exactly what you're buying. Read the seller's description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like "refurbished," "vintage," "closeout," "discontinued," or "off-brand" may indicate that a product is in less-than-mint condition. Some name-brand items with "too-good-to-be-true" prices may even be counterfeits.

    When making buying over the Internet:

  • Pay for items with a credit card. It offers you the most protection as a consumer. Don't send cash.

  • Use a secure browser. Look for an unbroken key or padlock at the bottom of your Web browser window to ensure that the transmission is protected. Buy only from Web vendors that protect your financial information when you order online.

  • Check the privacy policy. The company's privacy policy should let you know what personal information the company is collecting, why, and how the information is going to be used.

  • Know who you're dealing with. Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number so you can contact them if you have questions or problems.

    Finally, if you're the victim of fraud, contact the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 (if you're calling from within the State of New Jersey) or 973-504-6200. You may write the Division at 124 Halsey St., P.O. Box 45025, Newark, N.J. 07101. You may also file a complaint online at

    Wishing you a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.


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