How to be a merry — not sad — holiday shopper

Pennsylvania At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Linda Kelly has urged con­sumers to ex­er­cise cau­tion dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son to avoid com­mon prob­lems, scams and fraud.

“The hol­i­days can be a busy and ex­cit­ing time, filled with many dis­trac­tions, so it is im­port­ant for con­sumers to think be­fore they spend,” Kelly said. “The pleas­ure of the hol­i­day sea­son can quickly be spoiled by crimes like iden­tity theft or dis­putes in­volving gift pur­chases.”

Con­sumers should re­view im­port­ant de­tails be­fore mak­ing pur­chases at stores. They should check the ex­change and re­turn policy, check gift-card fees and ex­pir­a­tion dates, keep all re­cords of pur­chases and re­ceipts, check re­ceipts for er­rors be­fore leav­ing the store, be care­ful deal­ing with sea­son­al busi­nesses that close after the hol­i­days and closely guard their per­son­al be­long­ings, in­clud­ing purses and wal­lets.

On­line shop­pers should re­search the seller for pri­or com­plaints, do com­par­is­on shop­ping from mul­tiple sources, un­der­stand ship­ping costs and de­liv­ery times, re­view re­fund and re­turn policies, re­view the seller’s pri­vacy policy for the con­sumer’s per­son­al in­form­a­tion, print all re­ceipts and e-mails deal­ing with the pur­chase, keep com­puter anti-vir­us and fire­wall soft­ware up to date and be­ware of “look-alike” sites that may be used by scam artists.

Con­sumers should be par­tic­u­larly wary of iden­tity theft dur­ing the hol­i­days. They should not carry ex­tra cred­it cards while shop­ping; they also should not re­veal per­son­al ac­count in­form­a­tion by e-mail or tele­phone. Con­sumers should keep all per­son­al cards and doc­u­ments in a safe loc­a­tion, shred all un­wanted cards, state­ments and fin­an­cial so­li­cit­a­tions, re­view all cred­it card and bank state­ments for un­ap­proved trans­ac­tions, and check their cred­it his­tor­ies reg­u­larly.

Re­gard­ing char­it­ies, con­sumers should donate only to those that they are already fa­mil­i­ar with and those whose mis­sions they sup­port. 

Char­it­ies should be able to provide ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion in writ­ing upon re­quest pri­or to any donor. Those wish­ing to donate to char­ity should be­ware of fake “look-alike” or “sound-alike” or­gan­iz­a­tions that at­tempt to pass them­selves as le­git­im­ate char­it­ies.

Con­sumers should nev­er feel pres­sured in­to mak­ing a dona­tion, and should al­ways be wary of door-to-door so­li­cit­ors. Con­tri­bu­tion checks should be made out to the char­ity and not to the per­son col­lect­ing the money.

Con­tact the Bur­eau of Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion at 800-441-2555 for more in­form­a­tion, or vis­it­tor­ney­gen­er­ ••

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