Attorney General Rob McKenna offers shopper survival guide

November 24, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 6 p.m. Nov. 24, 2011

Black Friday starts at some stores as early as midnight, as turkey-and-stuffing-stuffed shoppers line up for bargains.

Then, comes Cyber Monday, as online sales ramp up and the holiday shopping season shifts into gear.

Just before Thanksgiving, state Attorney General Rob McKenna offered consumers some tips for a safe shopping season.

Take ads for sales and deals with to the store, because advertising a set of sales or deals — and refusing to honor the advertisement — is deceptive, illegal advertising in Washington.

Shoppers should make specials advertised match the items on shelves, and then read the fine print or disclosures before making a purchase.

Make sure the scanned price matches the advertised or posted price at the cash register, too. Check the receipt for accuracy before leaving the store.

Shoppers with questions should ask to see the store’s pricing error policy.

Gift cards issued by merchants and financial institutions — such as Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Discover — must follow new federal guidelines.

Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, limitations have been placed on gift card fees and expiration dates. Service fees can no longer be charged until the card has been inactive for 12 months. Only then may one monthly fee be charged. Fee details and terms must be disclosed clearly and conspicuously prior to purchase. Gift cards now carry expiration dates of at least five years from the date of purchase or the date the card was last reloaded.

Washington state’s gift card law prohibits expiration dates on many kinds of gift cards and allows shoppers to cash out when the balance drops to $5 or less. Check the terms, details and date prior to buying a gift card.

Shop on secure websites with a credit — not ATM — card.

Using secure websites helps to ensure personal information is transmitted safely, without being intercepted by a third party.

Identify secure websites by looking for Web addresses containing “https” and check for a small padlock icon at the bottom of the page. Look for SSL certificates, such as VeriSign, to identify websites for safe browsing and purchasing.

A credit card is still preferred over debit cards for online shopping security because, with a credit card, the checking account is not affected by merchant errors or identity thieves.

Watch out for restocking fee, because some stores charge a percentage of the purchase price for “restocking” a returned item. The fees often apply to larger purchases such as furniture, televisions or appliances.

If a business charges a restocking fee, it should disclose it in advertisements and post a notice disclosing how consumers may obtain the restocking fee policy. Before making a purchase, ask if the store charges such a fee.

Save all receipts, warranties and service agreements to better negotiate refunds or exchanges. Request warranties and service contracts in writing and save them. Also, keep the packaging, if possible.

Use caution when buying toys. Make sure to read the labels and fine print. Many toys have been designed for children of certain ages and may contain small pieces dangerous to very young children. Go to www.recalls.gov before purchasing children’s products and sign up to receive federal recall notices at www.cpsc.gov.

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