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""With the holiday season underway, knowing your rights as a consumer might be just as important as knowing where to get the best deals.

The Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation (OCABR) and the Office of the Attorney General (AGO) provide important tips about consumer protection, theft, warranties, and more so you get the most out of your gift buying.

  • Make a Plan Before You Shop — Make sure you shop smart by planning your trip before you leave the house. Compare deals ahead of time, and bring advertisements for deals with you. Before you make a purchase, learn the store’s policies on refunds, cancellations, returns, and layaways.
  • Understand Consumer Protection Law — Familiarize yourself with consumer protection law before you shop to help ensure fair business practices. Consumer rights include the right to be given true information about what you’re buying, to choose between various competitive goods, and to be protected from hazardous products. Businesses violate consumer protection law if they:
    • Charge customers higher prices than what is advertised
    • Do not post a return policy where customers will see it
    • Do not meet warranty agreements
    • Fail to provide relevant information about a product or service or tell customers misleading information

If you believe that a business has misled you or violated consumer protection law, you may want to take steps to resolve a consumer problem with the business or consider filing a complaint with the AGO. The AGO uses complaints to track unfair and deceptive business practices and also offers a free and voluntary mediation service that may assist in resolving your dispute.

  • Learn Gift Certificate Laws — Review gift certificate law in Massachusetts before you use your certificate. Gift certificates must be valid for a minimum of seven years and have no fees. If no expiration date is provided by the retailer, the card is good forever. Customers can take the remaining value on a gift certificate in cash after using 90 percent of the certificate.
  • Stay Safe While Shopping Online — Take precautions to keep your transactions safe if you decide to do online shopping. Pay with a credit card, which has extra consumer protection. Only purchase from known sellers, and check that the sites you visit are secure by looking for “https” before the URL.
  • Know What to Do in the Event of Identity Theft — Follow steps to protect yourself against identity theft if your credit or debit card is lost or stolen. Report the lost or stolen card to the card issuer right away. Call the three major credit bureaus and ask for a fraud alert to be put on your credit file. Change your credit or debit card, account, and PIN to prevent additional fraudulent transactions from happening.
  • Be Aware of Warranties — Make sure you know what types of warranties are on the products you buy. Consumers can be protected by both express and implied warranties (oral or written promises and implied ones) on products, and a warranty can exist even if a seller does not use the word “warranty.” Warranties ensure that products are sold as they are portrayed and that you are entitled to repairs, replacements, or refunds if the products are not functioning properly. It is illegal for a business to fail to honor a warranty.

By becoming an informed, prepared consumer, you can have a safer and more satisfying shopping experience this holiday season.

Questions about safe shopping? Tweet @MassGov or comment below, and share this post with friends and family.

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