Consumer Advisory: Tips to avoid scams, inconveniences this holiday season

Black Friday is this week, kicking off the holiday shopping season when many consumers are on the lookout for the best deal they can find. Unfortunately, scammers also will be shopping - for victims to exploit. Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane wants to help you avoid scams and unnecessary inconveniences this holiday season.


Toy safety and recalls
Due to increased supply and demand, some toys are manufactured hastily ahead of the holidays. Information about product safety and recalls is available through the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission's website at www.cpsc.gov/en/.

Online shopping tips
Cyber Monday is the virtual extension of Black Friday and is powerful platform for scammers to steal money and identities. Limited-time only sales and or pressure to make hasty purchases are tactics scammers use to dupe consumers. Follow these tips to protect your identity and wallet when shopping online:

  • Stick to shopping on trustworthy websites.  Tempting deals from obscure websites might be a scam in disguise.
  • Protect your personal information ? read the site's privacy policy to understand how it will be used.  If one isn't posted, it is a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.
  • Use a credit card. Under federal law, charges may be disputed if an item is not received.
  • Confirm your online purchase is secure. On pages where you will enter a password, credit card or other personal information, look for the "s" in "https://" and in the lower-right corner for the "lock" symbol.
  • Understand the return policy.
  • Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days.
  • Check your credit statement frequently. By the time the bill comes in the following month, a thief may have burned through your limit.
  • Beware of phishing (soliciting personal information through electronic communication). Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure a buyer into revealing financial information.
  • Protect your computer. Make sure your computer has the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a secure firewall.

Donating to charity 
Making a charitable donation during the holidays?  Follow these tips to ensure your generosity benefits those in need, not scammers:

  • If solicited in person, ask to see identification for both the solicitor and charity.
  • Before making a donation, verify the charity or non-profit organization's legitimacy at: www.dos.state.pa.us or www.charitynavigator.org.  
  • Ask about the charity's mission. The recipient should be willing to explain the objective.
  • Find out how your contribution will be used and ask questions about administrative operations.
  • Ask for a copy of the charity's financial report. Reputable charities will provide this information.
  • Never send cash if the donation is not made in person. Write a check directly to the charity after verifying its legitimacy.

Advertising and pricing
Think you've found the deal of the century? Some deals may be too good to be true.

  • Carry ads with you while shopping in order to match and verify advertised prices.
  • Ask about a restocking fee after each purchase. Restocking fees may be applied when returning high-end items or electronics, and some stores will charge the fee with no prior notification.
  • Find out what the return policy is, as they may vary and some retailers may not offer refunds.

Report a Scam
Consumers with questions or concerns about holiday scams can contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file a complaint online at www.attorneygeneral.gov