Consumer Protection: Safe Holiday Shopping And Current Scams

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday shopping season is right around the corner. Larry Meiller finds out how to be a safe shopper. Plus, information on current scams to watch out for.

Featured in this Show

  • Learn 5 Tips On Safe Holiday Shopping From Consumer Protection Experts

    For many people, Black Friday represents the real start to the holiday shopping season and an opportunity to save on any number of items.

    As the season ramps up, it’s important to remember to be savvy and smart consumers.

    Here are some of the tips from Sandy Chalmers, administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection, and Michelle Reinen, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection within the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, for holiday shoppers this season:

    1. Look at the fine print.

    “There are deals out there, there’s no question about that,” said Chalmers. “But, the important thing is to avoid frustration and wasted time by carefully reading the sales ads.”

    Chalmers advised shoppers to zero in on the fine print for any disclaimers or conditions. She said those can include limited quantities of deeply discounted items, sale prices that are Internet-only offers, limited hours during which discounts apply and different return-and-exchange policies on certain items or on items purchased on Black Friday specifically.

    2. Learn about layaway policies.

    Layaways — arrangements in which a retailer holds on to an item for a customer while they make payments on it — can be a popular way to purchase more expensive items without having to pay in one lump sum. Reinen said it’s important to be familiar with the policies of a particular store when it comes to layaways.

    For example, some stores penalize a customer, cancel a contract or return merchandise to inventory if there is a late or missed payment. Others don’t offer refunds and will even impose a fee as a penalty if a customer decides that they don’t actually want an item after making some payments on it.

    Knowing the return policies for layaways before signing the contract is also wise, Reinen added.

    3. Take care with big-ticket purchases.

    Similar to layaways is the offer of 0 percent interest or no-money-down offers on big-ticket items like electronics or furniture, Reinen said.

    She reiterated the importance of knowing the specific terms of a contract, including whether a store will repossess the item if a payment is missed. Being aware of the potential impact on a credit report is also a good idea, she said.

    Whether it’s a layaway or another financing deal, Reinen warned against overextending, and said it’s a matter of “knowing what works for you and your finances, and making sure that you can honor whatever agreement you enter into.”

    4. Watch out for copycat”​ websites.

    Many people will head to the mall to shop, but online shopping gains in popularity every year, whether on Cyber Monday or throughout the holiday season.

    Chalmers said that makes it important to be vigilant.

    There is so much opportunity for fraud online,” she said.

    She said that the first step is to make sure that a website is legitimate, and that it’s not a “copycat website” set up to steal payment information.

    “There are a lot of copycat websites out there,” Chalmers said. “And a lot of fraudulent ones, too.”

    5. Write down an online company’s contact information.

    Another online safeguard is to look for the the company’s name and a street address on a website in case there is a need to contact them in a different way. If a website disappears and it was the only way a consumer was in contact with the company, that can cause headaches down the road.

    “We are so busy at this time of year, with lots of money changing hands in stores and online,” Chalmers said. “So you really have to be vigilant and alert.”

    More advice on safe online shopping is available from the Wisconsin DATCP, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Information Technology and the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Michelle Reinen Guest
  • Sandy Chalmers Guest

Related Stories