Shoppers, pay heed

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

With the Christmas Holiday season by far the busiest time of the year for most shoppers and retail stores, it is only natural that the season generates more than its share of consumer problems.

Because of the sheer volume of purchases, because many shoppers are in a rush, and because people want to make more gift returns than in other seasons, many problems can surface to make life miserable for once-happy consumers robbed of their holiday spirit.

Here are some tips for holiday shoppers:

*Make sure you know a store's policy on returns or layaways before you make a purchase. Remember, there is no state law that requires stores to give a refund, exchange, or to credit merchandise that is returned or taken off layaway, unless the store advertises that it accepts such returns, or unless the item is defective or was misrepresented. Also remember that Iowa's three-day right to cancel law only applies to door-to-door sales, or sales made away from a seller's usual place of business. In short, refund policies are up to each store.

*Always keep receipts. Most stores will not make refunds without them.

*If you're thinking of buying gift certificates, check the store's policy. Find out when the certificate expires, and find out whether the store will give a credit or cash return if the purchase costs less than the value of the gift certificate.

*If the item you want is not available locally and you order gifts by mail or telephone or over the Internet, you have certain protections. Federal law requires the seller to ship you purchase within 30 days, unless the offer or advertisement specifies a later date. If there is a delay, the seller must notify you, give you a chance to cancel your order, and send a full refund if you choose to cancel. The safest way to pay for mail order purchases is by credit card.

*Again, if the item you want is not available locally and you choose to buy on the "web," make sure the seller lists an address or toll-free number just in case you have a problem. Be sure purchases are refundable in case you are not satisfied, and get all the details on shipping and handling fees, refund and return policies, and complaint procedures. Keep records of your purchase and use only secure web sites. Pay by credit card so you dan dispute the bill and withhold payment if necessary.

If you ever have a complaint on any of the above, don't be a lemming and accept your fate. Contact the Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Second Floor, Des Moines, Iowa 50319, or call 515-281-5926. The web site is www.Iowa Attorney General.org.

Happy holidays!