The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) today alerted consumers to issues impacting the holiday shopping season. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday shopping season will be rife with delays, higher prices and potential scams. Consumers should expect to have a lengthy wait for goods and holiday presents due to the continued supply shortages and shipping backlogs.
Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, “The holiday season brings out the best of us as we share with family and friends in celebration of this special time of year. However, this holiday shopping season may be frustrating due to delays, higher prices and the risk of scams. To help consumers enjoy this festive time, the Division of Consumer Protection encourages everyone to follow these basic tips to have a smooth and safe holiday shopping experience.”
The DCP advises consumers to exercise caution this holiday season. Scams and theft are common this time of year, and it is essential consumers continue to protect themselves.
Shop safely using these tips:
Avoid Pandemic-Related Shortages:
- Shop early this holiday season to avoid merchandise shortages and shipping delays. Experts advise to get shopping done ahead of time and avoid the last-minute rush to ensure your gifts arrive on time.
- Consider virtual gifts. Avoid shipping concerns altogether by gifting items that can be used online, such as streaming subscriptions, virtual gift cards, or online learning classes. Always verify the source of online retailers and shop on secure sites to avoid scams.
- Shop local—support small business and pick up direct from in-store locations for holiday gifts. Many local retailers are offering deals to encourage consumers to shop locally from neighborhood businesses. Continue following Covid-19 safety protocols when shopping in person.
Know Your Rights:
- Retailers must inform you of any changes to your delivery. The Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (the Mail Order Rule) states that your order must be delivered within 30 days unless otherwise stated at the time of purchase. If there is a delay, you must be notified. If the company cannot reach you to obtain your consent to the delay, they must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money you paid for the unshipped merchandise.
- Review refund policies. Retailers must post their refund policy. If it is not posted, the retailer is legally required to accept a return within 30 days with receipt.
Savvy Online Shopping Tips:
- Shop on trusted sites with retailers known to you. In the era of social media marketing and influencers, consumers are more exposed to sham businesses that advertise a premier product but only deliver a low-quality version of the advertised item, if they deliver anything at all. Use caution on trusted sites that host items for third-party sellers.
- Beware of third-party vendors. If redirected from a trusted site to a third-party site, read the seller’s policies, review ratings, read consumer comments, and most importantly do a broad internet search before making your purchase. Trusted retailers who host third-party sellers do not warranty their sales, thus you could get a substandard product or no product at all when you take the risk and purchase from an unknown third-party vendor.
- Do your research if you want to try a new site or retailer. Performing a broad internet search will provide you with important feedback from other customers. Read the comments within any social media advertisements. This will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong.
- Read product specifications. Online marketing is geared to get you to buy, so it is important to understand the product you are purchasing and the terms of the sale to ensure you are getting what you want.
- Comparison shop. Search other websites to compare price, quality, return policies, delivery cost and speed. Buying the “cheapest” advertised price may cost you more when you factor in delivery charges in the short term or return policies in the long term.
Tips for Using Credit Cards Online:
- Check the website’s encryption; It’s easier than you think. Before entering your credit card information, make sure that the website’s address begins with “https” and that there is a closed lock or unbroken key symbol in the lower portion of your window or up on the website address bar.
- Don’t keep the credit card on file for future purchases. Provide your credit card number each time you make a purchase.
- Designate one credit card and one email address for online shopping. This will allow for easy review of purchases and provide protection in case of a dispute.
Online Privacy Protection Tips:
- Protect your passwords. The key to safe passwords is to update them regularly and make them unique. Try using a passphrase instead of a password and include special characters and numbers. If it’s difficult to remember so many passwords, try a password manager with multi-step authentication to manage your passwords.
- Avoid autofill. Saving usernames, passwords, and credit card information on your device saves time. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for thieves to get access to that information if they access your account or device. Re-entering important information each time – as opposed to autofill – is an extra step to safeguard personal information.
- Check social media logins. Many apps allow you to use your social media credential to create a new account on their platform, but when you stop using those apps, your social media accounts still have access to the information. Once a year, check the list of apps that you access through your social media account and delete any you do not recognize or no longer use.
- Secure your connections. Do your shopping while connected to a secure network, rather than public WiFi or an unknown WiFi server. Public WiFi does not mask any information, even if a website or app seems secure. Usernames, passwords, credit card and account information can be easily seen by hackers who are logged into the same network. On home networks, keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security patches and ensure the network has a strong password.
- Don’t become the product. Everything you do on your computer or device creates a digital imprint. That information is often compiled, tracked and sold to interested parties to better market products directly to you. This is called “behavioral advertising.” You can shut this feature off on your devices. Go to your device’s main settings and look for the settings marked “Privacy.” You can adjust the privacy settings to your comfort level.
Package and Delivery Scams:
- Keep track of your packages. Package tracking and delivery scams are common during the holidays. Review the tracking information for your package and note any issues right away through the merchandisers’ websites.
- Beware of phishing attempts. Another common scam this time of year is scammers using phishing emails and text messages and impersonating delivery companies (e.g. UPS, USPS, FedEx), banking and credit card companies, and other large retailers (e.g. Netflix, PayPal, eBay, Amazon), which often include links to sites attempting to steal your information. Always open a browser and type the company’s website address yourself instead of clicking on a link in an email or text message.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. Consumers can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection at https://dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at https://dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.