NY officials: Shop smart, be aware of fine print

AP News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2009 4:02 PM

As New Yorkers load up their shopping bags and click through their favorite online stores, state officials are warning consumers to be cautious during the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush.

The state Consumer Protection Board wants them to understand potentially costly offers like warranty coverage and financing and to beware of less than stellar deals on "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday."

The board warned that shoppers can be duped into spending more than they have to if they don't understand all the terms and conditions of purchases, or if they don't take the time to comparison shop.

Mindy Bockstein, the board's executive director, said that some consumers can get tripped up by stingy refund rules and high shipping costs. Reading store policies at the register or online can help avoid the pitfalls.

And consumers should protect their personal information by shopping only on sites that have a secure connection and an adequate privacy policy.

The board recommends extra care for certain purchases, such as gift cards and big-ticket items. It recommends reviewing the terms and conditions of gift certificates, and to watch for fees, expirations and diminished values if the card isn't used.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also urged New Yorkers to use up the gift cards they received last year during this holiday season _ before they start to lose value. State law prohibits gift card sellers from charging inactivity fees for the first 13 months after a card is purchased.

On expensive items such as vehicles, or expensive electronics, shoppers should look for warranty coverage, stock availability and financing options. Such expensive products really merit a read of the fine print.

Another thing to watch out for is layaway plans. The board recommends reading all of the contract terms carefully, especially details on payment schedules, refund policies and penalties.