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Luis Espinoza
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Miami-Dade County reminds residents and tourists to be smart consumers during the holiday season

MIAMI (November 23, 2016)

The holidays are synonymous with crowded stores and shopping, meaning there is a greater chance of thieves taking advantage of the high volume of customers in stores and online to cash in on some common scams. The Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources' Office of Consumer Protection shares these simple tips so consumers can shop safely and protect their wallets during the holidays and the rest of the year.

Keep an eye on purse or wallet.  When shopping, consumers should know at all times where their purse or wallet is and keep it within reach. A thief can snatch valuables without being noticed.  Shoppers should avoid being distracted and maintain awareness of their surroundings at all times.

When purchasing a gift card, check for tampering. Packaging on the card should be intact, and the PIN number on the back should not be scratched off.  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 those could be a stolen or counterfeit gift card.

Keep receipts.  They serve as proof of purchase for rebates, returns and exchanges.

Read sale ads carefully. Some ads may say "quantities limited," "no rain checks," or "not available at all stores." Before going shopping, consumers can call ahead to make sure the merchant has the item in stock. For a popular or hard-to-find item, shoppers can ask the merchant if the item can be placed on hold.

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

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, visit the Office of Consumer Protection, email consumer@miamidade.gov, or call 786-469-2333.