How to protect yourself while shopping for the holidays

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Attorney General Roy Cooper is urging holiday shoppers to protect themselves from problems with toys and from scams to steal your identity.

"We can avoid holiday stress by spending within our means and learning the rules about refunds, returns and gift cards," Cooper said.  "Parents can also take steps to choose safe toys, games and other gifts for their kids."

  • Check safety recalls.  Thousands of products are recalled every year due to safety problems.  You can check out recalls for toys, electronics and other household items by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission web site at, where you can also sign up to get emails about future recalls.
  • Remember online safety, too.  If Santa brings your family a new laptop, phone, or other device that gets Internet access, make sure you enable filtering software or parental monitoring.  Before your kids use their new gadgets to go online, remind them not to post or share personal information or photos that could fall into the wrong hands.  For a free guide on keeping children safe on the Internet, visit
  • Buy age-appropriate computer and video games.  Computer and video games are popular holiday gifts, but not all games are created for kids.  To choose games that are age appropriate, check the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings before you buy.
  • Protect your identity. You keep your wallet in a safe place when you go shopping.  It's just as important to guard your personal information.  Protect your Social Security, driver's license and bank account numbers when you shop online. Don't respond to unsolicited emails that ask for your personal financial information, and don't share this information with telemarketers, either.
  • Learn about refund and return policies.  Stores aren't required by law to accept returned merchandise, so ask about refunds and return policies before you buy.  Many retailers offer store credit instead of a cash refund, and some charge a "restocking fee" for returns.   Hang on to receipts, and remember to print receipts for online purchase and keep invoices that arrive with mail order gifts.  If your purchase came by mail, you may have to pay postage to return it.   
  • Buy from stores you know.  Buying from well-established retailers improves the odds that you'll be able to return or exchange a purchase if needed.  To check out a company's track record, call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or contact your local Better Business Bureau. 
  • Consider paying by credit card to improve your chances of getting a refund if the retailer goes out of business.  If you order a gift that never arrives, you may be able to dispute the charge.  Also, if your credit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits your liability to $50.   
  • Ask when your order will arrive.  Internet and catalog shoppers alike are protected by the Federal Mail Order Rule. By law, a company is required to ship your order within the time stated in its catalog or on its website.  If they don't give you a delivery date, they have 30 days to ship your purchase once they've received your order. If the seller can't ship the item on time, they must let you know and give you a chance to cancel for a full refund.
  • Giving gift cards or certificates?  If you buy a gift certificate with a credit card and the store or restaurant closes before the certificate can be used, you may be able to contest the charge through your credit card company.  Under North Carolina law, retailers can't charge a maintenance fee on their gift cards within the first year and must clearly disclose any fees they'll deduct from the value of the gift card after that.  
  • Shop within your means.  Many families plan to spend less on holiday gifts this year.  No matter where you shop, buy only what you can afford to avoid starting the New Year in debt.

To check out a company with the Attorney General's Office or file a consumer complaint, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina.

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