Florida’s top 10 ways to avoid scams this holiday season

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As Floridians wrap up Thanksgiving leftovers, consumers will soon head off to the annual frenzy known as Black Friday, which kicks off the holiday shopping season.

Now is also a time when they are more likely to fall victim to frauds, scams or buyer’s remorse.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers its top 10 tips for smart shopping, not just for Black Friday, but Cyber Monday and throughout Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons:

  1. Comparison Shop: “Sale” prices are not always the best price. Some companies may offer a sale price on the item you want just for a limited time while other stores may discount the same item every day.
  2. Beware of Recalls: Before shopping, find out which toys or products are under a recall, by visiting www.recalls.gov.
  3. Know Your Rights: Changes to federal law prohibit gift card issuers from imposing certain fees and expiration dates on gift cards.
  4. Know Return Policies: Each retailer sets their own policies, so make sure to understand each policy before you make a purchase, especially a large one.
  5. Keep Good Records: Keep receipts for your purchases, and ask for a gift receipt to include with your gift.
  6. Use Familiar Websites: If possible, stick with well-known, reputable companies that you or your friends and family have used the past.
  7. When in Doubt, Check Them Out: When shopping online through an unfamiliar merchant, it is important to verify that the merchant is authentic.
  8. Choose Credit Over Debit: Most credit cards offer purchase protection and are often the safest method for online purchases.
  9. Avoid Public Computers: If you plan to shop online, it is best to use your home computer or one of someone you trust.
  10. Look for the Security Lock: Never purchase anything or reveal personal information online from a website without secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption installed. You can tell this by looking in the browser box and seeing “https://” at the start of the website (where the “s” denotes a secure site).

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is committed to addressing customer complaints, protection, and information. Consumers who believe they are a victim of fraud can contact the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) for Spanish speakers. Staffing the call center are trained analysts ready to respond to questions, provide information on a wide variety of topics or direct callers to the appropriate government agency.

More information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is at www.FreshFromFlorida.com.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.