Don’t Fall Victim to a Holiday Con

State offers tips for smart holiday shopping

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

As New York consumers gear up for the busiest shopping time of the year, the New York State Division of Consumer Protection, together with the Rockland County Office of Consumer Protection and the Retail Council of New York, offered shoppers five important tips for safe and smart holiday shopping. The press conference, organized by State Consumer Protection Director Aiesha Battle, was held Tuesday at the Palisades Center in West Nyack.

“This is a time when people should be enjoying themselves rather than becoming angry or frustrated because of consumer problems,” stated Terry Grosselfinger, Director of the Rockland County Office of Consumer Protection. Added State Senator David Carlucci, “A protected consumer is a happy consumer. We want shoppers in the Hudson Valley to stay here and shop til they drop, not til they call a cop.”

The main speaker, Deputy Secretary of State Marcos Vigil, revealed the top five consumer trouble spots based on the number of complaints the Division of Consumer Protection received for the 2012-2013 holiday season. Each year, he explained, the Department sees a spike of several hundred consumer complaints in January, directly related to the increase in holiday spending.

The first of the top five tips is to stay informed about refund and exchange policies. Always make sure to know what the store’s policy is before making a purchase. All retailers are subject to local and state laws which require that return policies must be clearly posted at the “point of sale,” usually at or near the registers. Although most stores will include their policies on the sale receipt as well, it is too late once the item is bought to make an informed choice about the purchase, warns Grosselfinger.

Second, be super careful when shopping on line. Know your retailer or merchant and only deal with those who are reputable. Review terms and conditions both for shipping and for return policies, print out all receipts and be extra vigilant about keeping personal and financial information safe.

Third, be extra careful when it comes to holiday orders and deliveries. Verify shipping information, save and print out all email and text message correspondence and always check the merchandise as soon as it’s delivered. Contact the seller at once with any problems, and follow up immediately with state and local protection agencies if the seller does not respond satisfactorily. The longer a consumer waits to pursue a remedy, the harder it will become to do so.

Fourth, understand guarantees and warrantees for all items, but especially for big-ticket purchases and electronics. Educate yourself about return procedures and costs, as well as who will be liable for defective merchandise—the manufacturer or the retailer. Always inspect items as soon as possible and follow up immediately if there is a problem.

Even Santa can use some holiday shopping tips
Even Santa can use some holiday shopping tips

Finally, take the time to understand the contracts associated with the purchase of cell phones and other wireless media. Make sure to examine and thoroughly understand monthly charges, early termination fees, insurance options and return/replacement costs, policies and procedures. Also, Vigil noted, most plans can be upgraded later on if necessary, so when possible, only purchase those features you really need to start with.

The organizers chose to hold the conference at the Palisades Center in acknowledgement of the growing economic activity throughout Rockland County. “Rockland is on the rebound,” Vigil stated. “In past years we have held these conferences in other places, but this year it made sense to do it here, at the largest mall in New York State.”IMG_2274

“This is where people come to shop,” added Ted Potrikus, Executive Vice President of the Retail Council of New York. “And the way to keep that going is to make sure we have the best retailers and the best service. If the consumer isn’t happy, then we aren’t either.”

For additional information about holiday shopping tips and consumer protection, or to register a complaint, visit www.dos.ny.gov or call the consumer hotline at 800-697-1220. Rocklanders can also contact the County Office of Consumer Protection at www.rocklandgov.com or call 845-708-7600.