OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today provided consumers with tips on how to shop safely this holiday season. As Black Friday and Cyber Monday quickly approach, Californians can take action to help protect themselves from scams, fraud, and other consumer-related issues.
“Whether you are shopping online or in person, the holiday season is a great time to support your local businesses. Unfortunately, it's also a period when we typically see an uptick in fraud and other scams,” said Attorney General Bonta. “This holiday season, shop smarter. Don’t let flashy Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals cause you to drop your guard when it comes to potential scams, and always take the necessary steps to protect yourself.”
Tips for Safe Shopping This Holiday Season:
- Be suspicious of a price or deal that seems too good to be true. Chances are, it probably is. There is always a chance that the seller may not send you anything, or the item you get may be counterfeit or stolen.
- Be attentive to details before you make a purchase. Read all descriptions closely, as the fine print may explain that an item is not as advertised. Ask the retailer about warranties, delivery dates, tracking numbers, and shipping and handling fees so that there are no surprise charges when you check out. Make sure you understand the company’s return and exchange policy and never assume a store will allow you to return an item if you change your mind. More information regarding refund policies here.
- Check to see if a business is legitimate. A quick internet search of the business may help you figure out whether the seller is legitimate and trustworthy. Search online for customer feedback, complaints, and other information that will help you determine whether to purchase from the seller. Make sure that the business has a legitimate physical address, phone number, and website. More information on how to check a company’s background can be found here.
- Use a credit card when shopping. Shopping with a credit card can make your life easier, as the law allows you to dispute charges on your credit card if something goes wrong. Some credit cards also provide warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits. Cash, money order, cryptocurrency, or wire transfers do not provide you with the same ability to reverse the charge. In the event that you receive an unauthorized or incorrect charge on your credit card, you can follow these steps to dispute the charge.
- Make sure you have a secure internet connection when shopping online. Before providing any personal or financial information online, always make sure that the website you are on is secure. You can do this by looking at the URL address to see if it begins with "https" (the “s” indicates it’s secure) and/or has a lock icon displayed, typically on the left-hand side. Do not provide your credit card number, checking account, or social security number via email, as it is never a safe way to transmit financial information. You can find more tips regarding online purchases here.
- Don’t open links from unsolicited text messages. As the holiday shopping season approaches, you may start receiving text messages from unknown numbers offering discount codes or access to exclusive sales. Think twice before clicking on these links, as they may expose you to a scam, hacker, downloadable malware, or add your number to a calling list without your consent.
- Close accounts on websites and apps that you no longer need. By closing your accounts, you remove private data from services that you are no longer utilizing and minimize your digital footprint. You also have the right to delete your personal information under the California Consumer Privacy Act. More information on data privacy and security can be found here.
- Know the common pitfalls of zero-interest financing offers before entering into an agreement. While a company may advertise a 0% interest rate, be aware that not everyone will qualify. Oftentimes, qualifying for zero-interest financing requires you to have a near-perfect credit score. Zero-interest financing may also come with certain restrictions, such as a required down payment, or a limitation on what items or models you can purchase with the special financing offer. Additionally, the zero-interest financing offer may just be an introductory rate, with a very high-interest rate once the introductory period ends. You can find additional information on zero-interest financing here.
- Be cautious about Buy Now, Pay Later financing. Buy now, pay later offers can come with hefty interest rates and late fees, especially if you aren’t able to make payments on time. Late payments can also hurt your credit and result in lawsuits by debt collectors. Make sure that you understand the terms of any buy now, pay later offer, including how much you will owe over the life of the financing, and what happens if you can’t make your payments. You can find additional information on buy, now pay later financing here.
For more information and tips on how to stay safe while shopping this holiday season, visit our consumer resources page at oag.ca.gov/consumers. If you believe that you have been a victim of a scam, report it to our office at oag.ca.gov/report.