Know your rights: Avoid fraud, scams this holiday shopping season
Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his newly reorganized and expanded Consumer Protection Section are reminding Virginia consumers to be aware of their rights as Black Friday approaches and the holiday shopping season begins.
“The holidays are a great time to celebrate and give thanks with friends, family, and neighbors, but it’s also a time when criminals and scammers try to take advantage of Virginians’ generosity and all that we have going on in our lives this time of the year,” said Attorney General Herring. “Whether you’re shopping in person, online, or giving to a charity, it’s important that Virginians understand their rights as consumers and the tools and resources we have available to help them make informed decisions and hang onto their money. Education and prevention are so important because once money changes hands, especially cash, pre-paid cards, or online transfers, it’s nearly impossible to get back. So please know your rights, get as much information and documentation as you can, resist pressure to agree to things or sign papers you don’t understand, and always reach out to my Consumer Protection Section if you have any questions or concerns.”
Attorney General Herring recently reorganized the OAG Consumer Protection Section to more efficiently and effectively enforce Virginia’s consumer protection laws, provide exceptional customer service in resolving complaints and disputes, and provide robust consumer education to keep Virginians from being victimized by fraud, scams, or illegal or abusive business practices.
Consumers can contact the Consumer Protection Section for information or to file a complaint:
Virginians are encouraged to remember the following tips when shopping, giving to charity, or vetting a transaction.
- Verify online retailers and check to see if they have a registered physical address and phone number.
- Try to pay by credit card if you can. Credit card transactions are protected by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act which gives you more protections, including the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances, including unauthorized charges, charges that list the wrong amount, and charges for goods that were not delivered as agreed.
- Know the terms of the deal, such as refund policies and delivery dates. If you have to return the item, who pays for the shipping costs? Are there any restocking fees?
- Ask for a gift receipt.
- Keep a paper trail of the transaction. Print and save records of your purchase, including product description, price, online receipt, and shipping records.
- Make sure they have a privacy statement and use a trusted, secure payment gateway.
- Look for “https” at the beginning of the internet address. The “s” means the site is secure.
- Never click on an email or social media site unless you are certain the message is from a legitimate business.
- Look for warning signs on websites or emails such as spelling errors, low-resolution images, strange websites that change once you’ve navigated to the site, and unsolicited emails.
- Be wary of emails that appear to be from major retailers offering positions at local stores unless you’ve applied for a position, use caution when proceeding.
- Cross reference any emails with the company’s website to see if they have openings.
- If using sites like Craigslist to find a job, use the “too good to be true” rule of thumb. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are a few signs to look for:
- High pay rates for simple tasks
- Receiving a Job offer without an interview
- Requesting up-front payments and personal information
- Contact information and address are missing and an online search doesn’t turn up the company’s name
- Never provide your Social Security number or personal information unless you are certain the company and job offer are legitimate.
- Only donate to charities you know and whose status you can verify with the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (OCRP.)
- Be wary of unsolicited emails advertising charities and do not click on links embedded in those emails.
- Request that soliciting charities provide you with written material about their organization.
- Do not donate cash or use a wire transfer. Ask how much of your donation will go to the cause.
- Link to OCRP’s searchable database for registered charitable organizations:http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-
- Only purchase gift cards from reputable sources or directly from the store, not secondhand or online sales. Examine both sides of the card and look for signs of tampering.
- Request the store cashier scan the card to ensure it has the correct balance.
- Keep your receipt as proof of purchase of the gift card.
- Make sure you know about any expiration dates or additional terms that limit the use of the card.
- Beware of “grandparent scams” where scammers try to convince their victim that a grandchild or relative is in some sort of trouble and needs money.
- Use the “24 hour rule” when providing money or personal information. If a deal or solicitation seems off, talk with a friend or trusted family member and wait 24 hours to think it over.
- Never give your credit card information over the phone or through the mail unless you have initiated the transaction.
- Never be pressured to pay cash upfront or to a salesman who comes to your door.
- Never respond to any offer you do not thoroughly understand and request information in writing if you need it.