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State to Shoppers: Know Your Rights on Refunds, Gift Cards, Layaways and More

Division of Consumer Affairs also issues tips on rainchecks, recalled toys, online shopping and charities soliciting donations.

With the busiest shopping day of the year just one week away, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is reminding shoppers to know their rights about rainchecks, gift cards and refunds and to check the national list of recalled toys before going online or to stores this holiday shopping season.

“We’re seeing a resurgence in layaway plans offered by stores this year," said Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs. "As with any offer, consumers should learn all the details, know the associated costs, and judge whether it's a good deal for them."

Calcagni urged consumers to know their rights in the marketplace and offered the following advice and information:

Store Layaway:

  • Know the terms of the store’s layaway plan.  Do not assume layaway is free.

Rainchecks:

A retailer may, but is not required to, offer a raincheck for advertised merchandise that is not available for purchase. When a raincheck is issued:

  • The retailer has 60 days to honor the raincheck, unless the consumer holding the raincheck agrees to an extension;
  • If the item costs more than $15, the retailer must give written or telephonic notice to the consumer when the item becomes available; and
  • After such notice is given, the item must be held for the consumer for at least 10 days or the end of the 60-day raincheck period (whichever is greater).

Refunds:

Refund policies at some retailers may include a restocking or reshipping fee. Whatever the refund policies, retailers must conspicuously post them for all merchandise in one of the following locations:

  • Attached to the item itself;
  • Affixed to each cash register or at point of sale;
  • Situated as to be clearly visible to the buyer from the cash register; or
  • Posted at each store entrance used by the public.

Gift Cards:

  • No gift card or gift certificate can expire for five years after purchase;
  • No dormancy fee can be imposed within the first 24 months following purchase or within the 24 month period following last use of the gift card;
  • After 24 months of non-activity, the issuer may charge a maximum dormancy fee of $2 per month; and
  • The gift card must include a telephone number to call for information about its expiration date or dormancy fees.

Online Purchases:

  • Be certain the website is secure or uses encryption before entering personal and credit card information – look for “https” in the website address;
  • Verify that the business operates from a real location and be wary of businesses that only list a Post Office Box as an address;
  • Find out how the business resolves consumer disputes, by reading the posted “terms and conditions;"
  • Print out a transaction record for each purchase and keep it to resolve any issues regarding the item being purchased; and
  • Do not click on links contained in unsolicited emails from supposed shopping websites.

Be a Savvy Shopper:

  • Make a budget and know what you can afford before you start shopping;
  • Compare prices for the same item in store flyers or on the internet before making your purchase; and
  • Avoid identity theft by protecting your credit card receipts and sales slips that contain personal information.

Toy Safety:

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has authority to issue recalls for unsafe or dangerous toys. Consumers can check the list of recalled toys via the division’s website.

Charitable Giving:

All charities doing business in New Jersey must be registered, unless the charity raises less than $10,000 annually and does not use paid fund raisers to solicit donations.

To verify whether a charity is registered, check the online registry maintained by the division.

Know the warning signs of a scam. If you receive a telephone call from a charity asking for a donation:

  • Avoid being pressured into making an immediate donation;
  • Beware if you are offered a prize or gift in return for your donation;
  • Do not give credit card information to an unknown person over the telephone; and
  • Never agree to have a messenger or delivery person come to your home to pick up your donation.

When receiving a solicitation for a donation by mail, remember:

  • Trinkets and other items accompanying the donation request are gifts. You are not required to send a donation because you received a trinket or item;
  • Be dubious if the charity claims you made a past donation or pledge but you have no record of it; and
  • Ignore harassing letters that demand payment of a donation pledge that you have no record or recollection of making.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visitingits website or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.

Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/NJ-Division-of-Consumer-Affairs/112957465445651. Check the division's online calendar of upcoming consumer outreach events.

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