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Safety tips for holiday shopping

December 5, 2012
The Daily News

While the holiday season is traditionally a pleasant time to be with family and friends, it also tends to be a hectic time that can make any shopper feel harried.

When shopping during the Christmas holiday season, consider the following tips from the Better Business Bureau to assist with having a safe and satisfactory experience:

- Plan ahead. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Also make a list of the gifts you would like to give. This helps you to avoid buying on impulse gifts that may be inappropriate or too expensive.

- Compare prices and shop carefully. Holiday "sales" and "markdowns" sometimes are not the bargains they appear to be. Read catalogs and advertisements to compare prices for the same or similar merchandise to determine whether a holiday price is really a bargain.

- Before making a purchase, ask the merchant about its refund and exchange policy. A store is not obligated to accept items for refund, exchange, or credit unless the item is defective or was misrepresented. Never assume that the merchandise can be returned. Refund and exchange policies vary from store to store, so before making a purchase inquire about and completely understand the store's policy. To make the process easier, be sure to save all tags and receipts and bring the merchandise back in good condition and as soon as possible. Remember that some stores have a time limit for returns.

- Protect your identity. Clean out your wallet, purse, or pocketbook before heading out for shopping excursions. Remove unnecessary credit cards, debit cards, your Social Security card, and other unneeded documents that could compromise your identity if lost or stolen while shopping. Pickpockets will be out in force during the holiday season. The more documents that you carry with you, the more difficult and time-consuming it will be to report and recover from their loss.

- Guard your PIN number. If you are using a debit card or withdrawing money from an ATM, stand between the next person in line and the debit card machine when entering your pin number. Do not worry about being impolite, it is rude to stand in view of another person's personal banking information.

- Be aware of your surroundings. Don't forget to take simple precautions to protect your personal safety. Men can carry their wallets in a front pocket, which is less susceptible to pickpocketing. Women can place their purse strap over their head and across their chest. The bait and switch trick is popular during the holidays where someone will switch a worthless bag for yours when you are not looking. Keep an eye or a hand on your bags at all times. When shopping at night, park in a well-lit area. Be careful getting into and out of your car at the shopping mall. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, find mall security and ask for an escort.

- Make smart gift card purchases. Gift cards have become a very popular during the holiday season and Michigan has some very specific regulations to protect consumers who use them; but these rules don't apply to gift cards purchased or used in another state or those that are issued by financial institutions versus those from retailers and restaurants. Be aware that some gift cards have expiration dates, activation fees, or conditions on how they can be used.

- If you are considering shopping on the Internet, exercise the same care and judgment that you would on Main Street. If you are not familiar with the online merchant or company, contact the local BBB for a reliability report by calling 1-248-223-9400 or Know the web-site's privacy policy before you place an order. The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card. In the event something goes wrong, you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are only responsible for the first $50 in charges.

- When shopping by mail, beware of exaggerated claims for products or unrealistically low prices for merchandise. Compare prices with similar merchandise you could buy at a local retailer (be sure to add in the cost of shipping and handling in your comparison). Carefully read the product's description. Don't rely solely on the picture for information about the product's size or quality. The Federal Trade Commission's Mail Order Rule protects consumers who shop by mail. According to this regulation, the company must ship your order when promised. If the company doesn't specify a shipping time, it must send the merchandise within 30 days. If there will be a delay, the company must give you the option to either agree to the delay or cancel your order.



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