State offers advice for online shopping, warns of potential scams, shortages and delays
ALBANY – The New York State Division of Consumer Protection has alerted consumers to issues impacting the holiday shopping season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday shopping season will be marked by delays, higher prices and potential scams, the agency warns.
Consumers should expect a long wait for holiday merchandise and gifts due to supply shortages and ongoing shipping backlogs.
“The holiday season brings out the best in ourselves as we share with family and friends to celebrate this special time of year,” said Rossana Rosada, Secretary of State for New York. However, this holiday shopping season can be frustrating due to delays, higher prices and the risk of scams. To help consumers take advantage of this holiday season, the Consumer Protection Division is encouraging everyone follow these basic tips for a smooth and safe holiday shopping experience.
DCP advises consumers to exercise caution this holiday season. Scams and thefts are common this time of year, and it is essential that consumers continue to protect themselves.
Buy safely by following these tips:
Avoiding pandemic-related shortages:
Buy early this holiday season to avoid merchandise shortages and shipping delays. Experts advise shopping in advance and avoiding last-minute rushes to make sure your gifts arrive on time.
Think about virtual gifts. Avoid shipping hassles altogether by offering items that can be used online, such as streaming subscriptions, virtual gift cards, or e-learning courses. Always check the source of online retailers and buy from secure sites to avoid scams.
Buy local – support small businesses and pick up straight from stores for Christmas gifts. Many local retailers have deals to encourage consumers to buy locally from neighborhood businesses. Continue to follow Covid-19 safety protocols when shopping in person.
Know your rights:
Retailers should notify you of any changes to your delivery. The Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule states that your order must be delivered within 30 days, unless otherwise specified 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 reimburse you for all of the money you paid for the unshipped merchandise. See refund policies. Retailers must publish their refund policy. If it is not displayed, the retailer is legally obligated to accept a return within 30 days with acknowledgment of receipt.
Savvy online shopping tips:
Buy from trusted sites with retailers you know. In the age of social media and influencer marketing, consumers are more exposed to fictitious businesses that advertise a top-notch product but only deliver a low-quality version of the advertised article, if they deliver anything. Be careful with trusted sites that host items for third party sellers.
Beware of third-party vendors. If you are redirected from a trusted site to a third party site, read seller policies, review ratings, read consumer reviews, and most importantly, do extensive internet research before making your purchase. Trusted retailers that host third-party sellers do not guarantee their sales, so you might get an inferior product or no product at all when you take the risk and buy from an unknown third-party supplier.
Do your research if you want to try a new site or a new retailer. Doing an extensive internet search will provide you with important feedback from other customers. Read comments in all social media ads. This will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong.
Read the product specifications. Online marketing is designed to get you to buy, so it’s important to understand the product you’re buying and the terms of sale to make sure you’re getting what you want.
Comparison shop. Look for other websites to compare prices, quality, return policies, shipping costs, and speed. Buying the advertised “cheapest” price may cost you more if you factor in short-term delivery charges or long-term return policies.
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 address begins with “https” and that there is a closed padlock or unbroken key symbol at the bottom of your window or in the website address bar.
Do not keep the credit card on file for future purchases. Provide your credit card number each time you make a purchase.
Designate a credit card and email address for online purchases. This will allow for easy review of purchases and provide protection in the event of a dispute.
Online privacy tips:
Protect your passwords. The key to strong passwords is to update them regularly and make them unique. Try to use a passphrase instead of a password and include special characters and numbers. If it is 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 this information easier for thieves to access if they gain access to your account or device. Re-entering important information every time – as opposed to autofilling – is an extra step to protect personal information.
Check social media connections. Many apps allow you to use your social media credentials 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 you access through your social media account and delete those you don’t recognize or no longer use.
Secure your connections. Shop while connected to a secure network, rather than public WiFi or an unknown WiFi server. Public WiFi does not hide any information, even if a website or app appears secure. Usernames, passwords, credit card and account information can be easily seen by hackers who are connected to the same network. On home networks, keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security fixes and make sure the network has a strong password.
Don’t become the product. Everything you do on your computer or device creates a digital fingerprint. This information is often compiled, tracked and sold to interested parties in order to better market the products directly to you. This is called “behavioral advertising”. You can turn off this feature on your devices. Go to the main settings of your device 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 your package tracking information and immediately note any issues on merchant websites.
Beware of phishing attempts. Another common scam this time of year is scammers who use phishing emails and text messages and pose as delivery companies (e.g. UPS, USPS, FedEx), banking companies and credit cards and other major retailers (eg Netflix, PayPal, eBay, Amazon), which often include links to sites that attempt to steal your information. Always open a browser and type in the company’s website address yourself instead of clicking a link in an email or text message.