The nine R’s of holiday shopping

Consumer tips to protect your purchases

DES MOINES – Attorney General Tom Miller offers the following tips to Iowans shopping in stores or online for this holiday season:

 Research the product and retailer: If you know what you’re looking for, research before you buy. If you see more than one advertisement for something offered at different prices, make sure it’s exactly the same item. Consider the reputation and policies of the seller, including return policies. If you’re buying online, consider shipping charges.

Read the ad: If it’s an advertised special, read the ad carefully. Make sure you understand exactly what’s for sale, the price, and any limitations or exclusions. Take along the ad to ensure it’s the advertised item at the advertised price.

Rain checks: Ask if the seller issues rain checks for out-of-stock items.

Return policies: Understand the seller’s return and exchange policy. Iowa law does not require sellers to accept returns or offer refunds, but if they won’t accept returns they must disclose it (for example, a seller may say that sales of clearance items are final).  Understand the return policies and whether consumers must pay “restocking” fees for returned items. If you are buying online, ask who pays for shipping returned items.

Reinforce purchase protection with credit card: A credit card offers additional purchase protections, especially when shopping online. If there’s a problem with your purchase, including non-delivery, you can dispute the charge through your credit card company. Keep in mind that a seller withdraws money from your bank account when you use a debit card.

Require secure websites: If you’re buying online, pay only through secure websites. Secure websites have an “s” in the prefix (https://), which stands for secure.

Receipts: Keep your receipt in case you have a problem with the purchase.

Review: If you used a credit card or debit card, check your financial statements to ensure everything is correct and there are no unauthorized charges or withdrawals.

Retail gift cards: Retail gift cards are sold by merchants, while financial institutions sell gift cards that can be used wherever the brand (such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover) is accepted.  Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years after the card purchase date, or from the last date a consumer added additional funds onto the card.  The expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card.  The merchant or institution offering the card cannot charge inactivity fees until the card has not been used for at least a year, and can charge only one fee per month.  All fees must be clearly disclosed on the package.  Be wary of purchasing gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards may have been used or may be fraudulent.

To report a consumer protection issue, including deceptive advertising or unfair business practices, contact the Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint:

Online complaint form: www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov

Phone: 515-281-5926 (or 888-777-4590, toll-free, outside of the Des Moines area)

Email: consumer [at] iowa [dot] gov

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