7-part shopping series to assist consumers navigating this year’s pandemic holiday season
Guest Editorial by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection announced the rollout of a seven-part consumer alert series to help New Yorkers navigate new holiday shopping pitfalls. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most experts predict this year’s online holiday shopping season may top records – both in sales and in scams. In the coming weeks, consumers will receive guidance on equitable pricing requirements, credit cards, gift cards, refunds, warranties and data privacy.
“This holiday season, we want all New Yorkers to stay safe and understand their rights. Online shopping provides convenience and helps people maintain social distancing, but is not without risks,” said New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Division of Consumer Protection. “Consumers need to be aware of the New York laws that protect them, and ways they can protect themselves while shopping this holiday season.”
Package tracking and delivery scams are rife during the holidays. It is important for consumers to keep track of their packages and note any issues right away directly through the merchandiser’s websites.
Another common scam this time of year is scammers using phishing emails and impersonating delivery companies (e.g. UPS, USPS, FedEx), banking and credit card companies, and other large retailers (e.g. Netflix, PayPal, eBay, Amazon), which often include links to sites attempting to steal one’s information. Always open a browser and type the company’s website address yourself instead of clicking on a link in an email.
Shop safely this holiday season with these additional tips:
•Know Your Rights:
√ The Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (the Mail Order Rule) states one’s order must be delivered within 30 days unless otherwise stated at the time of purchase. If there is a delay, one must be notified. If the company cannot reach you to obtain your consent to the delay, they must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money you paid for the unshipped merchandise.
•Savvy Online Shopping Tips:
√ Shop on trusted sites with retailers known to you. In the era of social media marketing and influencers, consumers are more exposed to sham businesses that advertise a premier product but only deliver a low-quality version of the advertised item, if they deliver anything at all. Use caution on trusted sites that host items for third-party sellers.
√ Beware of third-party vendors. If redirected from a trusted site to a third-party site, read the seller’s policies, review ratings, read consumer comments and, most importantly, do a broad internet search before making your purchase. Trusted retailers who host third-party sellers do not warranty their sales, thus you could get a substandard product or no product at all when you take the risk and purchase from an unknown third-party vendor.
√ Do your research if you want to try a new site or retailer. Performing a broad internet search will provide you with important feedback from other customers. Are there any reviews? How is the company responding to its customers? Read the comments within any social media advertisements. This will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong.
√ Read product specifications. Online marketing is geared to get you to buy so it is important to understand the product you are purchasing and the terms of the sale to ensure you are getting what you want.
√ Comparison shop. Search other websites to compare price, quality, return policies, delivery cost and speed. Buying the “cheapest” advertised price may cost you more when you factor in delivery charges in the short term or return policies in the long term.
√ Protect your privacy. Our devices are generally defaulted to share the maximum amount of data as possible. Take precautions and make changes to your settings to limit the personal data you share.
•Tips for Using Credit Cards Online:
√ Check the website’s encryption, it’s easier than you think. Before entering your credit card information, make sure the website’s address begins with “https” and that there is a closed lock or unbroken key symbol in the lower portion of your window or up on the website address bar.
√ Don’t keep the credit card on file for future purchases. Provide your credit card number each time you make a purchase.
√ Designate one credit card and one email address for online shopping. This will allow for easy review of purchases and provide protection in case of a dispute.
•Online Privacy Protection Tips:
√ Protect your passwords. The key to safe passwords is to update them regularly and make them unique. Try using a passphrase instead of a password and include special characters and numbers. If it’s difficult to remember so many passwords, try a password manager with multi-step authentication to manage your passwords.
√ Avoid autofill. Saving usernames, passwords and credit card information on your device saves time. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for thieves to get access to that information if they access your account or device. Reentering important information each time – as opposed to autofill – is an extra step to safeguard personal information.
√ Check social media logins. Many apps allow you to use your social media credential to create a new account on their platform, but when you stop using those apps, your social media accounts still have access to the information. Once a year, check the list of apps that you access through your social media account and delete any you do not recognize or no longer use.
√ Secure your connections. Do your shopping while connected to a secure network, rather than public Wi-Fi or an unknown Wi-Fi server. Public Wi-Fi does not mask any information, even if a website or app seems secure. Usernames, passwords, credit card and account information can be easily seen by hackers who are logged into the same network. On home networks, keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security patches and ensure the network has a strong password.
√ Don’t become the product. Everything you do on your computer or device creates a digital imprint. That information is often compiled, tracked and sold to interested parties to better market products directly to you. This is called “behavioral advertising.” You can shut this feature off on your devices. Go to your device’s main settings and look for the settings marked “Privacy.” You can adjust the privacy settings to your comfort level.
If you encounter a marketplace problem or are concerned about a scam, you are encouraged to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the state’s consumers. The consumer helpline, 800-697-1220, is available to assist consumers from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Consumer complaints can be filed anytime online at the DCP website, www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. To view consumer alerts, consumers can visit https://www.dos.ny.gov/about/newsroom.html. The DCP can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.