As the holiday season approaches, Senator John J. Flanagan (2nd Senate District) is reminding all Long Islanders to be wary of identity theft and crime as they do their holiday shopping. To help consumers protect themselves, Senator Flanagan has established a special section on his web site – Helpful Holiday Shopping and Safety Tips – to help make the holiday season safer for shoppers.
"The coming months are a time of giving and that means many in our community will be heading to shops both in person and on the Internet. While this is great news for legitimate and conscientious businesses who offer quality service, shoppers need to be diligent to avoid scams and to protect themselves from theft of their identity and their money. By following some simple tips and staying alert, we can all have a happier and safer holiday season,” stated Senator Flanagan.
To help shoppers, Senator Flanagan and the New York State Consumer Protection Board (NYSCPB) offer the following advice regarding gift cards, layaway plan and refunds or rebates:
Gift Cards: The NYSCPB urges consumers to read all the fine print, and apprise themselves of any fees, warranties, expiration dates, store closings and other details about a gift card before purchasing one. Recipients of gift cards are advised to use them quickly and in full to get the most out of the cards.
Layaway: During the fiscal crisis, layaway plans can be a helpful method of purchasing big ticket items. Consumers are advised to read all the terms in any layaway contract, and have their questions answered before moving forward with a layaway plan. Be sure to retain a copy of the contract and maintain a record of their payments
Refunds: Clarify the store’s refund policy before making a purchase. There is no legal requirement under state law for a store to offer a refund in the form of cash, credit, replacement merchandise or other means. Many stores clearly post their refund policy, however if the store does not post any return policy, the law requires the store to accept your return within 20 days of a purchase. Even if the store has no return policy, consumers always have a right to obtain a refund for returned damaged or defective merchandise.
Rebates: Stores offering merchandise with rebates may post the after rebate or discounted price only if the actual selling price is displayed and it is clearly stated that a rebate is required in order to pay the lower price.
Senator Flanagan also joined with the NYSCPB to offer advice to those who will be shopping online this holiday season:
- Know the company with whom you are dealing: Anyone can create a web site that looks professional. If you are not familiar with the company, request a catalog or brochure to get a better idea of its merchandise and services. You can also check the reliability of a company with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org; 
- Be thorough when using Internet auctions: If a consumer is utilizing an auction web site, such as eBay, they should have complete confidence in a potential seller by checking for feedback before conducting business;
- Use a secure website and browser: Make sure that the web site contains a closed lock or unbroken key icon on your screen’s status bar and look for the “http” in the web site address when making your purchase. For your protection, also make sure that your web browser complies with the most current technology such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to ensure that your purchase and financial information is scrambled. If a company's web site does not provide these protections, you should consider ordering by telephone;
- Protect Your Identity: Never respond to e-mails from “sellers” or anyone asking for your passwords, Social Security number or other personal information.
- Always maintain a record of your online transaction by printing a copy of your purchase order and confirmation from the web site. If the company sends you a confirmation via electronic mail, you should retain a copy of that correspondence until all concerns regarding the transaction are satisfied;
- Prior to purchasing any item online, check shipping and handling fees, compare prices and fully review any warranty information. Also be sure to check whether the item has been recalled by visiting the recall pages of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC.gov) and the NYSCPB (nysconsumer.gov);
- Compare prices and availability of specific items at stores and other sites. Consider carefully whether you are paying too much for an item, especially on auction sites;
- Use a dedicated credit card to allow an easy review of purchases;
- Finally, make sure you know all the costs involved, including shipping and handling. Know the return and refund policies.
“While many of our residents will be heading to area shops, which is great for our local economy, many consumers will also utilize the Internet to do their shopping. By following these simple tips and staying alert, these shoppers can protect themselves from falling victim to online scams and predators,” stated Senator Flanagan.
For more holiday shopping tips, including links to product recalls and additional consumer protection advice, please click here .
If you would like to order a free brochure from Senator Flanagan about protecting yourself from identity theft during the holiday season, please call his office at 631-361-2154 or send an e-mail with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org .