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For Immediate Release

Media Contact:
Raquel Guillory, 410-576-6357
rguillory@oag.state.md.us

Holiday Shopping Safety Hints and Tips
Be Aware of a Store’s Return Policy; Know the Terms and Conditions Before Purchasing a Gift Card

BALTIMORE, MD (December 16, 2008) - Because the “perfect gift” often isn’t, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is advising consumers to find out a store’s return policy before they make a purchase. Despite the best intentions, refunds and exchanges of gifts are common during the holiday season. A retailer is allowed to set whatever policy it chooses for returns or exchanges, as long as it posts the policy. The refund rule says that if a store imposes limitations on refunds or returns, the merchant must disclose its policy in writing so consumers are aware of the policy before making their purchases. If you don’t see a posted sign, ask an employee. Also, ask for a gift receipt at the time of purchase to enclose with any gifts. If the store does not offer gift receipts, keep your receipt as evidence to support a refund request.

For example, a store can choose not to accept any returns at all, accept returns only within a certain period of time, or allow returns for exchange or store credit only–as long as it posts the policy. If the retailer doesn’t have a posted policy, the consumer may assume there are no refund limitations and must receive a merchandise exchange or a refund. Also, if a purchased item is defective, the store is required to repair it, exchange it or give a refund, regardless of its return policy.

Before setting out on that next shopping trip, Attorney General Gansler advises consumers to be aware of the following shopping tips:

  • If you don’t see a return policy posted, ask the store what it is. Some stores put their policy on their receipts only, which you wouldn’t see until after you made a purchase.
  • If an employee seems vague about the store’s return policy, ask the manager for specific details.
  • When shopping online, check the website for the return policy. You may have to pay a shipping fee to return the item, and some sites charge a re-stocking fee.

“We all take the time to pick out that perfect gift for a loved one,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Knowing a store’s return policy is just one simple way to make sure our family and friends are able to return or exchange that gift without a problem.”


GIFT CARDS
One of the most popular gifts for any occasion is a gift card. Prior to purchasing a gift card, ask if the gift card has an expiration date or fees after initial use and if the recipient can make online purchases with the card. Since 2006, store-specific cards may not expire less than four years after the date of purchase and may not impose fees or charges of any kind during that four year period. Any terms or conditions concerning an expiration or fee that takes place after that four year period must be printed clearly in a visible place on the card or on a sticker permanently affixed to the gift card or envelope containing the gift card.

DEFECTIVE MERCHANDISE
Unfortunately, some of the best presents can be well-received but defective. Purchases are covered by an implied warranty – a guarantee that the item works when you buy it – regardless of the store’s return policy. Implied warranties require that goods be in operating condition and fit for sale, and that they continue to work for a reasonable period of time. Merchants must honor the implied warranty whenever they sell a new or used product. A product sold “as is” does not fall under Maryland’s implied warranty, other than used cars that have been driven more than 60,000 miles and are more than six years old. Dealers selling such a car “as is” must give you a written disclosure stating that the implied warranty does not cover automobiles.

If consumers have any questions, they should contact the Consumer Protection Division’s hotline at 410-528-8662 or visit the website, www.oag.state.md.us. Additional information regarding store return policies can be found online in the latest edition of The Consumer’s Edge. The Office of the Attorney General distributes The Consumer’s Edge free to more than 800 businesses, agencies, schools and community associations. Groups interested in receiving a monthly issue should call 410-576-6956.

   

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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