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'Tis the Season for Caution at the Cash Register

The Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection offers some helpful hints for holiday shoppers.

Credit: Corbis
Credit: Corbis

The following was provided by the Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection:

During the holiday season consumers are busy visiting family and friends, and gift shopping. Our staff would like to remind residents of a few consumer related holiday tips to make your experience a pleasant one.

First, do your research. Comparison shop for the best price, and find out all you can about an item before you purchase it. Bring your research and advertisement with you to the store to avoid any discrepancy.

Be aware of the refund policy of the merchant you are buying from. Retail stores In Pennsylvania are permitted to set their own refund and exchange policies.  Make sure you know the store’s policy.  If you do not see it clearly spelled out, ask and remember to always read the fine print.

After making your purchases, keep your receipts together and organized. Quickly retrieve your credit cards from the cashier after using them. If you pay by credit card, the credit card company will usually help you if you have a dispute with a merchant.  

Be careful when using a debit card.  The funds are taken directly from your account and it may be harder to dispute these charges if there is a problem.  

Find out the warranty information about a product before you purchase it. Warranties can vary from product to product. Sometimes, warranties are offered by the merchant, the manufacturer and your credit card company. If you are offered an extended warranty, stop and consider if the added expense is worth it. Many new items already have a warranty that covers the products for the first six months or even the first year. In most cases, if an item is defective or a “lemon” it will become apparent while the item is still new.

Be cautious when buying gift cards. Be certain to read the fine print concerning the terms of the gift card before getting to the register. Although the face of the credit or gift card may have an amount printed on it, there may be additional fees associated when making the purchase of the card.

Be careful if you are buying gift certificates.  They can be a convenient gift, but if the business closes its doors, the gift certificate is no good.  When buying a gift certificate, make sure it is for a business that has a good chance of staying open, such as chain stores, malls or bank gift cards.  If you are the one to receive a gift certificate don’t wait too long to enjoy it.

Shopping on the Internet may be convenient, but be wary of merchants who don’t have a phone number and address listed. Only use merchants you know, or who have provided good service to someone you know. Check for a written description of the company’s return or exchange policy before buying. Make sure your purchase will arrive before the holiday. Many times we hear of gifts that arrive late.  When shopping online, make sure the website is secure before entering your personal or financial information.  Secure websites begin with https:// rather than just http://.

Guard against identity theft by only giving out personal information in contacts you have initiated. Do not write your phone number, Social Security number or driver’s license number on credit card receipts. Keep your private information as private as possible.  

When out and about doing your shopping, stay alert to your surroundings. Keep your wallet or purse in a safe location. Keep purchased gifts in the trunk of your automobile and not where thieves can see your purchases.

If an advertised sale item is not available, ask for a rain check.

If you do have a problem with a purchase, there are effective ways to get the desired result. First, keep your cool and remain calm. It pays to be polite but firm.  Remember, store employees can be under great stress also. If you do not get the results you desire, ask to speak to the supervisor and climb that ladder if necessary. If that does not work, document names of store personnel you’ve spoken to and other important information as soon as possible. 

Sending a complaint letter to a business has surprisingly positive results. We have a great, easy-to-use sample complaint letter on the Bucks County website. We also have a great thank you letter available when the service that you experienced at a store or with a particular employee is noteworthy. It is just as important to note good service when you get it - you could make an employee’s day by sending a thank you letter to their boss for a job well done.

If you are experiencing a problem with a purchase or have any questions or concerns, visit this website, email an investigator at consumerprotection@co.bucks.pa.us or call 1-800-942-2669.

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