Now that Thanksgiving is in the past and the winter holidays are approaching, shopping season is upon us. But in the time of giving and buying, how do you avoid scams and overspending?
New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin says shoppers can keep their money safe by being aware of the types of fraudulent deals that exist, like the bait-and-switch.
“Where a certain product is advertised, you go into the store and they try to sell you a completely different product. If that happens, please call us, we can absolutely intervene,” she told MetroFocus Host Jack Ford. “Another big scam we see are sales. First of all if a sale is listed, the store must actually show the pre-sale price prominently. That’s very important.”
If you’re thinking of hitting up a liquidation or going-out-of-business sale, Menin says you should confirm its legitimacy with her office first because the stores must register with the Department of Consumer Affairs. And if a shop offers delivery in a set amount of time, get this in writing, she says.
“It’s so important because we constantly see stores that are saying we’ll deliver in seven days and then two months later, the consumer doesn’t have the good but they have no evidence of that,” she said.
And for shoppers who buy online, Menin says users can protect themselves from identity theft by changing account passwords frequently and never entering personal or financial information on a public computer. You can also get a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com, she said.
“It’s free and you’re entitled to it and it’s so important to check it on a yearly basis because frequently there will be mistakes in the credit report, people won’t know that and it will damage your credit and can damage it permanently if those mistakes aren’t quickly corrected,” she said.
Menin’s office will also help you from overspending on gifts this season at the city’s municipal financial empowerment centers, where you can receive help to create a budget. But the Department of Consumer Affairs offers services year round, including investigating and mediating consumer complaints, licensing New York’s businesses, enforcing labor laws and helping New Yorkers get out of debt. So if you do spend over your budget, her office will help you with that too.
“New Yorkers in debt can come to us, they can bring all their bills. We help to create a budget, we help to lower their debt, improve their credit scores,” she said. “And for anyone who’s unbanked — and we have about 800,000 unbanked New Yorkers right now — we actually offer banking products.”