Consumers are expected to spend an average of about $1,000 during this year’s holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation, and complaints about shopping (both in stores and online) are one of the most common types of complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Commonly reported problems include refund issues, complaints about products not being delivered, and billing disputes.
“We’re reminding people to take some common-sense steps to avoid problems when they’re doing their holiday shopping,” Attorney General DeWine said. “A little bit of effort up front can help prevent headaches later.”
Tips for consumers include:
- Beware of scams. Watch for phony “Black Friday” coupons, such as those offering hundreds of dollars to spend at a store, and other claims that sound too good to be true. Be wary if someone asks you to pay using gift cards or wire transfers, which are commonly requested by scam artists.
- Check refund policies before you buy. Under Ohio consumer protection laws, stores are not required to provide refunds or to have a specific type of return policy, but if they do have a return policy, they must clearly tell you what it is before you complete the purchase. (For example, the return policy shouldn’t be posted only on the back of a receipt or after you’ve checked out.)
- Research sellers carefully. Search for complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Also look up customer reviews online and find out what previous customers have said about the seller.
- Look for exclusions and limitations in ads. Important exclusions and limitations should be clearly disclosed. Check to see if an offer is valid only during certain hours, if limited quantities are available, or if other terms and conditions apply. If a seller advertises a product at a certain price but sells out of it by the time you respond to the ad, you may have the right to a rain check. However, sellers are not required to provide rain checks if they clearly disclose the number of goods available at that price or if they clearly state that no rain checks will be given.
- Understand differences among gift cards. Gift cards are the most requested type of gift, according to the National Retail Federation, but not all gift cards have the same features or functions. A gift card that is branded by a credit card company and can be used almost anywhere may reduce in value faster than a single-store gift card. Also, promotional cards, such as those that come free with a purchase, may not carry the same protections as other cards and may last only a short period of time. If you receive a gift card, it’s generally best to use it as quickly as possible to reduce the chance it will be lost, stolen, or otherwise reduced in value.
- Keep cybersecurity in mind. Don’t use free, public Wi-Fi when entering sensitive information like your credit card number, keep apps, software, and operating systems up to date, and use secure websites when you need to enter personal information. (Find additional cybersecurity tips on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.)
- Consider paying with a credit card, if possible. Paying with a credit card usually offers greater protections from unauthorized charges compared to other kinds of payment methods. In general, with a credit card, your responsibility for unauthorized charges is limited to $50 and you have certain rights to dispute charges that you may not have with a debit card or other form of payment.
Consumers who want to learn more or get help addressing a consumer problem should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.