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Common Scams and Shopping Tips

South Florida is known as one of the most popular destinations in the world, which means lots of tourists and shopping all year around. This also means that thieves can take advantage of the high volume of customers in stores to cash in on some common scams. The Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources’ Office of Consumer Protection would like share with you some simple tips to shop safely in stores and online.

Common Scams

Watch out for Wi-Fi hackers. If you are shopping online, make sure to use a secure website. In order to verify that you are in a secured website, look for the “https” in the address field. The “s” stands for secured network. Also, do not enter your credit card information when using a public Wi-Fi network. Make sure you are using a secured Wi-Fi network when shopping online.

Keep your personal information safe. Mobile apps can collect a lot of personal information. Look for apps that explain how they safeguard your personal information. Don’t provide sensitive personal information for a chance to win a prize. Your information can be sold or used to commit identity theft.

Keep an eye on your purse or wallet. When shopping, know at all times where your purse or wallet is and keep it within reach. A thief can snatch your valuables without you noticing. Avoid being distracted and maintain awareness of your surroundings at all times.

When purchasing a gift card, check that it has not been tampered with. Check that the packaging on the card is intact and that the PIN number on the back has not been scratched off. If the PIN is visible, it means someone may have recorded that number and is calling the number listed on the card to determine when the card is activated. The thief will call every few days to check for a balance and then use the funds to make online purchases. Criminals may also carefully remove new, unsold gift cards from their packaging and replace them with cards that have had their funds drained. When these "empty" cards are sold, the activation of the package's bar code loads the real card (in a thief’s possession) with the funds.

Avoid auction websites to purchase gift cards. The National Retail Federation advises consumers to only buy gift cards online from a reputable dealer and never through an online auction, because what you bid on could be a stolen or counterfeit gift card.

Consumer Smarts

Browse online and call ahead. Save time, money and gas by comparing prices for items sold online and at stores in your area. Identify the manufacturer, model number and other product information for the item you want and search for the best price at the time you are ready to purchase.

Keep your receipts. You will need them as proof of purchase for rebates, returns and exchanges.

Ask about the refund policy – especially for sale and clearance items. Merchants often have different refund and return policies for sale and holiday items, especially clearance merchandise. By law, stores must post any “no refund” policy at the register (excluding food, perishable and custom/altered goods). When in doubt, ask before purchasing an item.

Ask about sale adjustments. Ask a store clerk if you can receive a credit or refund for the discounted amount for an item that goes on sale after you purchase it. Always make sure to save your receipt.

Read sale ads carefully. Some ads may say “quantities limited,” “no rain checks,” or “not available at all stores.” Before you go shopping, call ahead to make sure the merchant has the item in stock. If you are shopping for a popular or hard-to-find item, ask the merchant if the item can be placed on hold.

Look for price-matching policies. Some merchants will match, or even beat a competitor’s price. Read the merchant's pricing policy.

Use a credit card. They offer you protections and options that other methods of payment don’t. Under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, there are limits to your liability for unauthorized charges when a card has been lost or stolen.

Be sure to get your credit card back from the merchant. It’s very easy to forget when carrying or paying for several items.

New rules for gift cards:

  • Money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased, or from the last date any additional money was loaded onto the card. If the expiration date listed on the card is earlier than these dates, the money can be transferred to a replacement card at no cost.
  • Inactivity fees can be charged only after a card hasn't been used for at least one year, and you can be charged only once per month. But you may be charged a fee to buy the card or to replace a lost or stolen card.
  • The expiration date of a card must be clearly disclosed on the card, and fees must be clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging.

Not all of the new rules apply to gift cards issued by banks, credit card companies and malls.

Limited exceptions still apply to gift cards issued by banks, malls and credit card companies. They may have expiration dates and tack on fees for activation, maintenance, inactivity and transactions. See whether any fees will be deducted from the card after you purchase it. And regardless of the type of gift card you purchase, give the recipient your original receipt so they can verify the card's purchase in case it is lost or stolen. The FTC provides additional information.

The Better Business Bureau has more information on common holiday scams and fraud. For more consumer tips, or to file a complaint or ask consumer-related questions, email us or call (786) 469-2333.

Back to Top Page Last Edited: Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:51:21 AM
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