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Schneiderman issues consumer alert for Black Friday, Cyber Monday

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Wed, Nov 25th 2015 08:00 am

Schneiderman: By following our tips and guidelines, consumers will be able to spend their money wisely and safety this holiday season

In advance of the holiday shopping season, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued tips for consumers who plan to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

"As the holiday shopping season kicks off and New Yorkers look to take advantage of sales and bargains, they must be aware of deals that are too good to be true and online fraudsters scheming to make a quick buck," he said. "By following our tips and guidelines, consumers will be able to spend their money wisely and safely this holiday season."

Schneiderman issued the following tips for consumers shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday: 

•Beware of misleading bargains and added fees: The "sale" price may have been marked up before it was marked down, nullifying the impact of the sale. Often, the touted "sale" price may, in fact, be significantly higher than the price for that same item later in the season. 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.

•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 the 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 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 nonuse 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. If it later appears 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. 

•Shop only on secure Internet connections: Do not conduct any transaction that involves personal, financial or credit card information while using an open and unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Be careful not to shop, conduct business or send sensitive or personal information out on these networks, because identity thieves often stakeout open networks seeking victims. When entering payment information online, you should verify HTTPS is in your address bar to protect yourself from identity thieves and cyber criminals. URLs that begin with https:// instead of the standard http:// are secured by SSL, an Internet security protocol.

•Do not be tricked by confusingly similar website and domain names: Pay particular attention to your retailer's URL when shopping online. Scammers use variants of a known company's Internet address to try and lure users into visiting fake websites. They often target users through email or social media. Avoid clicking on links from email or social media sites. Watch out for websites with URLs that differ slightly from those of legitimate online retailers, and also links that appear genuine but direct your browser to a completely different URL. To ensure safe shopping online, type the URL of your desired retailer directly into your Web browser - and watch for typos.

•Protect yourself by using credit cards: With the advent of point-of-sale malware and rampant data breaches, identity thieves are now more sophisticated and dangerous than ever. If you are going to make purchases online, you can best protect yourself from the risks of identity theft and fraud by using credit cards. Credit cards generally offer better purchase protection and fraud dispute resolution than other methods of payment. 

•Be wary of too-good-to-be-true contests and prize promotions: Consumers should be suspicious of any email, messages or posts on social networks promoting giveaways or contests that seem too good to be true, e.g., free, high-value gift cards, tablets and smartphones. These "contests" are often scams designed to bilk consumers out of money and/or to collect consumers' personal information for resale. Genuine sweepstakes and contests are commonplace on the Internet; however, you should avoid any contest or promotion that requires you to pay money or to perform any sort of financial transaction. Also, think twice before participating in promotions that require entrants to register with multiple third-party websites; often these are ploys to build marketing lists. Promotions that require users to provide more than simple contact information may even be phony or run by scammers who resell consumer information to collect referral fees.

•Read the fine print: Broadly worded promotional offers and advertisements often mislead consumers into paying full price for items they believed were on sale. Consumers should carefully examine Internet deals by reading any and all fine print in the promotional materials, identifying the exact brand and model number on sale. Consumers should also avoid bait-and-switch advertisements or promotions that lure consumers with basement prices that are not guaranteed to be in stock. Fine print stating that quantities are limited is a telltale sign of this bait-and-switch tactic. 

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