Holiday shopping is in full gear, but the search for the perfect gift comes with an increased danger of consumer scams, warned Joseph H. Vicari, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
“The good news is, alert consumers can often stop a scam before it starts,” Vicari said. “It’s important to always be aware, whether you are shopping online or in a store.”
Credit card “skimmers” are one way a thief can steal a credit card in less than one second.
Be on the lookout for small electronic skimmers illegally attached to credit card machines that can instantly steal personal and account information from your card, he said.
An unscrupulous employee could also scan the card a second time using a personal handheld device, he said.
“Always keep your eye on your credit card when you hand it to a store or gas station employee,” said Vicari, who is also Chairman of Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs.
According to the U.S. Secret Service, skimming is one of the fastest growing ploys used by criminals.
Vicari said it’s also a good idea to closely monitor all credit cards and bank accounts for any sign of fraudulent information.
“Keep your receipts and compare them to your accounts,” he said.
Ron Heinzman, director of the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs, said online shoppers should also be aware of unsolicited emails and texts offering deals that seem too good to be true.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.
Smart shoppers know other less devious pitfalls also await those willing to stand in long lines for that irresistible bargain.
“Not every holiday gift is the perfect gift,” Vicari said. “To make after-holiday returns as painless as possible, always review a store’s return policy before making a purchase.”
Every retail establishment in New Jersey is required to disclose its refund policy. The disclosure must either be:
• On a sign attached to the merchandise itself.
• On a sign affixed to each cash register at the point of sale.
• On a sign that can be easily viewed by the consumer while standing at the cash register.
• On a sign posted at each store entrance used by consumers.
The disclosure must tell you that you have the option of either a cash refund, credit card credit or store credit, provided the merchandise you are returning has not been used or damaged. It also must inform you if there are any other terms or conditions that must be met in order for you to receive a refund.
“Easier returns is another reason it pays to buy local,” Vicari said. “Our Consumer Affairs Office can offer more protection when dealing with local businesses, rather than online stores, which are often located out of state or even in another country.”
“Following a few commonsense guidelines can ensure that shopping for friends and loved ones is a fun and joyous part of the holiday season,” Vicari said.
For more information and tips on keeping the holidays safe, contact the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs at (732) 929-2105.