PLATTSBURGH — The New York State Division of Consumer Protection is reminding New Yorkers to make informed decisions during the holiday shopping season, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
According to the FBI's 2018 Internet Crime Report, New Yorkers rank among the top 10 states claiming a total loss of more than $100 million resulting from cyber-related crimes. Many of the complaints originate from interaction on social media.
“As the holiday shopping season kicks into full gear with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the opportunities for unsuspecting consumers to fall victim to unscrupulous scammers increase," New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said in a news release.
"To stay safe this holiday season, I urge all New Yorkers to follow the helpful tips provided by the Division of Consumer Protection.”
This holiday season, and all year long, consumers are urged to keep the following tips in mind when making purchases:
• Gift cards and gift certificates: When buying a gift card, consumers should make sure the packaging and security seals are intact. Consumers should use caution when buying gift cards from third parties or online auctions, as it is difficult to verify the dollar amount remaining. Consumers should always review the fine print and check for hidden fees or any restrictions on the use of the gift card.
Per New York State law, a gift card cannot expire any earlier than five years from the date of purchase. Likewise, ‘dormancy fees’ for non-use cannot be imposed if the card is used within two years of the purchase date, and any such fees must be waived where the cardholder uses it within three years of the purchase date.
Consumers should be particularly cautious about callers claiming to be from the government or utility company saying that an overdue bill or federal debt can be paid with a gift card. No one from the government, utility companies, or the police would ask for payment via gift card.
• "Big Ticket” items: When purchasing big ticket items, consumers should look for and review warranty coverage on the specific item. Consumers should also check the stock availability at the store. It’s also important for consumers to review the financing options carefully.
As consumers comb retail advertisements, they should take note of the fine print and the quantity of the product available at the advertised price, as well as whether rain checks are available.
• Layaway plans: Layaway plans vary by store. Consumers should make sure they read all terms in the contract and have their questions answered regarding the payment schedules, refund policies and penalties for missing a payment before moving forward with a layaway purchase. A copy of the contract and a record of payments should be retained by the consumer.
• Refund and return policies: Consumers should review a store’s refund policy before considering a purchase. If the store does not post a return policy, the law requires the store to accept a return within 30 days of purchase, with proof of purchase. Consumers should retain receipts in the event gifts need to be returned. Shoppers should inquire whether the store imposes a re-stocking fee for returned merchandise and determine prior to purchase if the item can be returned for a refund or store credit only.
• Credit cards: Holiday purchases may cost consumers more than what is on their receipt. The Division of Consumer Protection urges consumers to track their spending, be cognizant of credit card limits and stick to a realistic budget. Consumers should verify receipts and reconcile them against their statement.
In addition, consumers are cautioned against using their credit card for cash advances, as fees and interest on such transactions are higher than for credit card purchases. Consumers should always review monthly credit card statements carefully to ensure they are being billed for the correct dollar amount.
• Shop safely online: Consumers should protect their personal, identifiable information when making purchases online. It is imperative that consumers ensure they are conducting their transactions over a secure connection. Consumers should:
Check the URL of a website to confirm it starts with “https” instead of “http” to ensure the site is secured using an SSL Certificate and that personal information will be encrypted. The address bar should contain a small padlock icon, which is another indication that the site is secure.
Do their shopping while connected to a secure network, rather than public WiFi or an unknown WiFi server. Public WiFi 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. Public computers can be compromised with malicious software and should also be avoided when shopping online.
Secure computers, mobile devices and home WiFi networks by keeping the operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security patches. Consumers should also ensure their home WiFi network has a strong password.
• Beware of fake websites: As fraudsters continue to advance in sophistication, fake websites frequently resemble legitimate sites with credible-looking logos, pictures, and payment options. If the website is advertising extremely low prices, or discounts beyond 50 percent, consumers should be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller. Consumers should:
Verify the authenticity of the seller and website via an online search engine review before shopping at an unknown site. Consumers should not rely on a small padlock symbol in the browser’s address bar to verify that the seller is genuine.
Beware of typos on a website. They are a red flag that the site may not be legitimate.
Before clicking on a link, hover the mouse pointer over the link to show its actual destination. If the link shown doesn’t match the intended destination, it could be a sign the site is not legitimate.;
If there is still uncertainty of a website’s validity, try going to the site directly by typing their web address into the address bar.
• Delivery scams: As more and more consumers shop online, phishing emails are getting more sophisticated to catch people off-guard. Rather than click on an email to see the delivery update, go directly to the delivery company’s website and type in the tracking number received with the original confirmation. It takes an extra step but will prevent thieves from redirecting packages to alternate addresses.
• Charities and donation sites: Last year, consumers gave more than $380 million on Giving Tuesday and that number is expected to climb this year. If consumers plan on giving, there are a few things to consider:
Beware of fake websites and pushy telemarketers. Don’t be pressured, and do not be afraid to say no.
Research the charity. Make sure you know where your money goes, and find out if the charity is properly registered – check out https://www.charitynavigator.org/ or the New York Attorney General’s Charity Bureau website at https://www.charitiesnys.com/.
Protect your finances. Never give social security numbers or other personal information in response to a charitable solicitation. Never give out credit card or bank account information over the phone or to an organization you are not familiar with.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the state’s consumers. The division provides voluntary mediation services for consumers experiencing a marketplace dispute.
Fore more information, call the Consumer Assistance Hotline: 1-800-697-1220. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.
The division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.