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Holiday Shopping Tips

The Bucks County Office of Consumer Protection warns shoppers to avoid some common mistakes during this holiday season.

During the holiday season, consumers are busy visiting family and friends, and gift shopping. Our office would like to remind Bucks County 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.

Know 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.

When making purchases, keep your receipts together and organized. Quickly retrieve your credit cards from the cashier after using them. If you pay by credit card, sometimes  the credit card company will 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 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 as well as the manufacturer and your credit card company. If you are offered an extended warranty, stop and think if the expense is worth it, as many new items have a warranty that covers the products for the first six months or the first year. In most cases, if an item is defective or a lemon, it will become apparent while the item is still new.

Counterfeit gift cards have been a growing problem. Be cautious when buying gift cards. Only buy from reputable businesses. Gift cards should be kept behind the counter and purchased from a cashier.

Crooks have been known to jot down gift card numbers, then days later they call the card issuer to check to see if it was activated and the balance. If it has been activated, they deplete the card online. Your gift will have no balance left. Many times, the gift recipient says nothing to the gift giver, as it is uncomfortable for all parties.

Many gift cards have a pin number, which is protected by a scratch off seal. If this seal has been tampered with, revealing the pin number, a crook may use the card to make purchases without physically having possession of the card, depleting its balance. Always check to make sure this seal has not been tampered with before purchasing a gift 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://; the "S" means it's a secure site.

Guard against identity theft by only giving out personal information in contacts you have initiated. Don’t 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 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 them.

Keep all receipts and gift receipts in a safe place. You may need them after the holidays.

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

If you 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 for the supervisor and climb that ladder if necessary. If that does not work, document names 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.

On that same note, we also have a great thank you letter available. It is 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.

Contact the Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection at 215-348-6060 or www.buckscounty.org if you are experiencing a problem with a purchase or have any questions or concerns.

We wish you happy and pleasant holiday season!

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