Attorney general offers tips to help shoppers find the best deals while not getting scammed in the process; helps seasonal employees understand their rights
This week will mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season, beginning with "Black Friday," one of the busiest shopping days of the year because of large discounts offered by many retailers. Last year, consumers spent almost $60 billion during the Thanksgiving weekend alone.
Unfortunately, not all deals consumers will see advertised in the coming weeks will be what they claim to be. Many deals that seem too good to be true are designed simply to get consumers into the store. Retailers employ a variety of scams and deceptive sales practices that can lead consumers to make costly mistakes.
"As the holiday shopping season kicks off this week, shoppers should be wary of so-called sales that are often too good to be true," Schneiderman said. "Consumers should know exactly what they're entitled to in order to ensure that they're getting the best deal for their money."
In an effort to help consumers avoid falling victim to holiday season traps, Schneiderman issued the following tips:
•A bargain may not be a bargain. The "sale" price may have been marked up before it was marked down, nullifying the impact of the sale. If possible, educate yourself about the pricing of the products you want before Friday. Often, the touted "sale" price may, in fact, be significantly higher than the price for that same item later in the season.
•Be aware of added fees. Delivery charges and/or other added costs such as assembly fees are often not reflected in the "sale price." In many cases, hidden costs like these may negate the value of the sale. In other cases, a product offered at a certain price may be available only if purchased with other items.
•Compare warranty terms. Not all warranties are the same. Make sure you read the terms of any warranty to learn what protections you get and the duration of those protections. This could significantly affect that cost of an item over the long run.
•Know the terms of a layaway plan. The law requires merchants to give a detailed description of the merchandise to be purchased on layaway plans, the total cost of the items, including all charges, the duration of the plan, the required payment schedule, the consequences of missing payments, the refund policy and the location, if other than the place of purchase, where the merchandise is being stored.
•Check return and refund policies. The law requires all merchants to post their refund policies. A store that fails to do so must give consumers 30 days to get a refund in the manner that the purchase was made. Be especially vigilant of "final sales" or "cash-only - final sale" notices, as you will have little or no recourse if the merchandise proves to be defective. Some stores will require the original packaging and charge a hefty restocking fee for returned items.
•Beware of restricted gift cards. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of gift cards before purchasing. It is illegal to deduct any fees for non-use within one year of purchase or to have an expiration date of less than five years from issuance. Use your card as soon as you can. It's not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget you have them; using them early will help you get the full value. If it later appears that your card has expired, or that fees have been deducted, contact the company that issued the card. It may still honor the card or withdraw the fees.
•Use caution when taking advantage of social network promotions. Consumers on social networking sites are likely to be targeted with ads for holiday promotions and giveaways. Be wary when clicking on ads, particularly if doing so prompts your device to begin downloading an unfamiliar app, which could be malware. Similarly, be careful when directed to any unknown third-party websites.
•Be mindful of the websites you visit. Beware of any URLs that are even slightly different from a legitimate online retailer's website — extra letters or misspellings in the domain name or unrecognized domain endings, i.e., not the usual ".com" or ".net." Scammers frequently target users through email or social media, using variants of a known company's Internet address to lure them into visiting a fake website. These sites may look legitimate, but are actually set up to steal personal and/or financial information. If you decide to make a purchase online, verify that you are on an SSL-secured site: the Internet address should start with "https://" instead of the standard "http://".
Many retail stores and other businesses hire additional staff during the holidays. Labor laws protect workers all year around, including those who work part-time during the holiday season.
"It's important for people picking up part-time work this holiday season to understand their rights and make sure they are safe and protected," Schneiderman said. To make sure seasonal workers are paid and treated properly, the A.G. issued the following tips.
•Know the minimum wage and overtime laws. The minimum wage for non-tipped employees is $7.25 for most workers (it will increase to $8 an hour Jan. 1, 2014). If you receive tips, your employer can pay you a specified lower hourly wage under certain conditions, but your wage plus tips must equal at least the minimum wage. Employers must pay most workers overtime at 11/2 times their regular rate of pay for working more than 40 hours in one week. If you work more than 40 hours a week, your employer generally cannot pay you a flat weekly or daily rate.
•You have the right to be safe. You have the right to work in safe conditions that do not put you at risk of accident or serious illness. This means that retail stores with time-limited sales must adequately ensure the physical safety of their employees during times of heavy-volume crowds. If you get injured or become ill due to work, you have the right to file a workers' compensation claim to have your medical expenses covered and lost time from work paid. To report an unsafe condition at your worksite, call the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at 1-800-321-OSHA or visit www.osha.gov.
•You're entitled to call-in pay. Employers are required to pay their employees for working a minimum of four hours (three for restaurant and hotel employees), or their regularly scheduled shift, whichever is less. So if you are scheduled to work for six hours, but your employer sends you home after two hours because there's not enough work, you still must be paid for the minimum required call-in pay.
•Certain deductions from pay are illegal. Other than deductions for taxes or other purposes permitted by law, your employer may not make deductions from your pay except for your benefit, such as for medical insurance. An employer may not make you pay out of pocket for expenses such as cash register shortages.
•Child labor laws protect kids. Those under the age of 18 must generally obtain working papers from a local public high school before they can obtain employment, and are restricted from certain types of employment. Minors are also restricted in the hours they can work, depending upon their age.