NEWARK – As residents gear up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs are encouraging New Jerseyans to familiarize themselves with their rights as consumers, and to be cautious of potential fraud or deception during the holiday shopping season.
Consumers say they will spend an average of $1,047.83 this holiday season, up 4 percent from last year, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.
“As New Jersey residents do their holiday shopping – this week or at the last minute – we want you to know that you can buy from New Jersey retailers with confidence because the Division of Consumer Affairs is looking out for you,” said Attorney General Grewal.
In New Jersey, shoppers must be informed of refund policies before making a purchase – not just on the receipt. Refund policies that are 20-days or less must be conspicuously displayed by merchants on signs clearly visible to the buyer from the cash register, posted by the store’s entrance, attached to the item or affixed to the cash register.
When it comes to online shopping, consumers should beware of increasing numbers of imposter websites that are easily mistaken as the websites familiar online retailers and brands. While some of these phony pages take consumers’ money and send nothing in return, others deliver counterfeit merchandise that may be damaged, worthless or dangerous.
Before buying online research the seller’s reputation and history online, and be cautious with sellers that appear to have no previous history. Walk away if a seller insists on hard-to-trace payment options such as wire transfers or gift cards.
“We encourage consumers to be especially vigilant with their personal information when making purchases online,” said Paul Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Think twice about clicking on unsolicited offers, prizes and official-looking emails that could be phishing attempts to trick you into providing personal information or gain access to information stored on your electronic devices.”
No matter where the purchase takes place, these tips and precautions will help shoppers avoid buyer’s regret and fraud:
- Bring advertisements to the store: When you see an ad for a sale or “special deal,” make sure to bring it with you to the store. Also, be sure to read the fine print on advertisements. Some may contain limitations such as that “quantities are limited” or that the advertised price is “not available in all stores.”
- Pricing: Make sure you know the price of the item before getting in line for the register. New Jersey law requires merchants to clearly mark the price of items either on the items themselves or the display where the items are located.
- Refund policies: Can you return an item for a full refund? Some stores have fairly strict rules about returns. Keep all your receipts and store tags on purchased items. For online purchases, save all your email correspondence with the seller. If the item is purchased online, see if you have to pay for return shipping and handling. There can be other conditions placed on returns and refunds as well, ask about policies before you buy and before you seek to return an item.
- Layaway: Know the store’s policy for items placed on layaway. Some stores have additional charges for layaway, beyond the cost of the item purchased. Some stores may charge penalties for late payments. Others may also have rules about whether you can get reimbursed if you make some payments and then decide not to purchase the merchandise.
- Rain-checks: While stores do not need to offer rain-checks, many do. If you are seeking a rain-check, make sure you get a written document allowing you to purchase merchandise at the advertised price. Stores must honor the rain check within 60 days or provide an extension, if you agree and must notify you when the item is back in stock, if it costs $15 or more.
- Use familiar websites: Start at a trusted site. If you know the site, and go there by typing the address directly rather than clicking on a link that was sent to you, to avoid one of the most common website impersonation scams. Also, check to see if the company has a real street address, rather than a Post Office box.
- Shopping Apps: Be aware that some shopping apps collect a lot of personal information. Make sure that you understand how your data will be used. Only use apps that clearly tell you what they do with your data, and how they keep it secure.
- Look for the Lock: Avoid buying anything online using your credit card from a site that doesn't have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. You'll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS—instead of just HTTP. An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically to the left of the URL in the address bar or the status bar down below.
- Secure networks: Do not to use public Wi-Fi to do your shopping. Open networks make it easier for hackers to steal your information. Consider using a virtual private network to be safe. Make sure that your home’s Wi-Fi network is secured with a password.
- Gift cards: Only buy cards from reputable sellers to ensure the card is valid and was not previously used. If you are giving or receiving gift cards and gift certificates this holiday season, it is important to know that under state law, they must retain their value for 24 months after purchase. After that period, merchants are allowed to charge a dormancy fee of up to $2 a month, as long as that fee is disclosed on the card or certificate. Also, while a gift card or certificate may list an expiration date, the underlying funds never expire. The merchant also must include a telephone number for consumer inquiries into the expiration date and dormancy fee on the card.
For more holiday shopping tips and information on avoiding scams, visit the Division’s Website for a wealth of consumer briefs and educational materials.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect a store or retailer has committed a violation, can file an online complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs or call 1-800-242-5846 to receive a form by mail.