With Holidays Upon Us, BBB Offers Travel Insurance Tips

The Better Business Bureau is trying to help travelers avoid headaches when purchasing travel insurance this holiday season.

Before you finalize your travel plans, be sure you have given careful thought to whether you need to purchase travel insurance. There are circumstances that could cause you to cancel your trip, return home early, or force you to seek emergency medical treatment while traveling. Travel insurance may provide the extra protection you need.

Before you purchase coverage, check your homeowner’s or medical insurance policies to avoid any overlapping. For instance, expensive items such as your camcorder, laptop, computer or jewelry may be covered by your homeowner’s insurance should they be stolen while you are traveling. If the airline loses your checked luggage, they are required to reimburse you for your bags (up to a certain dollar amount). Or, if you become sick or injured while traveling, your personal medical insurance firms differ in what they cover, so be sure to ask.

“Be sure to read the insurance plan. Make sure you understand what it covers, and more importantly, what it doesn’t cover”, says Ran Hoth, BBB of Wisconsin CEO & President. “Check to see if your homeowners or renters insurance covers travel. Some credit cards also offer trip protection. BBB encourages doing some homework before purchasing.”

Some of the different types of insurance available include:

Trip Cancellation/Interruption (TCI) – If your plans suddenly change and you have to cancel or end your trip early, TCI will cover you for this. But, it will only reimburse you for reasons on the insurer’s acceptable list, such as, injury, sickness, death of yourself, a family member, a traveling companion or business partner. Some policies will cover only medical reasons and some will not cover pre-existing medical conditions. It is very important to read the fine print.

Emergency Medical Evacuation – If you are going on an adventure vacation or to an area that is far from modern medical facilities, it may be a good idea to buy this coverage. If adequate treatment is not available at a local hospital, you would be transferred to the nearest adequate medical facility.

Baggage Loss – This coverage reimburses you for lost, stolen or damaged bags. Before packing, be sure to make a list of everything; if your bag is lost, you may be reimbursed for some contents, but not all.

Before purchasing travel insurance, the BBB advises:

  • Read the fine print. Know exactly what coverage you’re getting and what it includes.
  • Comparison shop. What is the difference between buying your travel insurance from an independent travel insurance firm, rather than from your travel agent, the tour operator, cruise line etc.
  • Costs vary. It’s wise to compare costs before making a final purchase decision.
  • Protect yourself further by paying for travel insurance with a charge card.
  • Baggage-loss protection is only necessary if you are carrying more than $2,500 worth of items in your bags. Be sure to check your homeowner’s policy.

Before doing business, check a Business Review for free with BBB.org. Look for the BBB Seal. Find Accredited Businesses in any type of business category through BBB’s Accredited Business Directory.

For an online version of the story click here

Do you know an ethical, outstanding organization? Nominate them for a BBB Torch Award for Ethics!

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

Help Us Help You Avoid Tax Prep Fraud

MADISON – Prepping for tax season is enough of a challenge…you shouldn’t have to fear
getting ripped off when you go to file. But among the many legitimate tax preparation
businesses in the state, there are a handful of shady companies that collect personal financial information under false pretenses or that file a customer’s tax return without consent and keep all or part of any refund. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks for help from the public to be on the lookout for questionable tax and loan practices and to report any suspicious activity to the agency.
“If you see any questionable tax preparation practices, contact our agency immediately,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Your formal complaint can help us take quick action against fraudulent tax preparation businesses.”
One type of tax and loan scam that has repeatedly surfaced over the past couple of years
involves tax preparation businesses filing returns on behalf of consumers without their consent.
These businesses initially solicit the consumers’ business with a promise of providing short-term loans. In November, the Wisconsin Department of Justice took legal action against Instant Tax Service, Inc., a Milwaukee-based business, for providing loans to consumers and then filing their taxes without permission and taking exorbitant fees from the tax refunds.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming the victim of tax preparation fraud:
? Be alert to promotions such as “holiday loans” or other short-term loans that can be
used to gain the personal financial information needed to file an individual’s tax return.
? Be careful providing personal financial information to a business unless you want the
preparer to file your taxes. Make sure you provide clear direction and that the company
specifically advises you on whether they intend to file your tax return.
? Never sign an authorization permitting a company to file your taxes if you do not want
the company to do so.
? Never sign a document without first reading and understanding what it says.
? Always insist upon receiving copies of all documents that you are required to sign or
that identify the terms of a transaction and the charges you will be required to pay.
Confirm, before signing, that you will receive copies. If a business does not agree to
provide copies, don’t sign.
DATCP works with the Wisconsin Departments of Justice and Revenue to detect tax
preparation fraud. Anyone suspecting fraudulent activity is encouraged to file a complaint
with DATCP. Complaints can be filed online through the DATCP website
(http://datcp.wi.gov) or a complaint form can be requested by calling the state’s Consumer
Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128.

Watch for Gift Card “Gotchas”

MADISON – Available everywhere and prized for their convenience, gift cards are a big hit for shoppers and gift recipients alike. In fact, the National Retail Federation expects that the average shopper will spend more than $172 this year on plastic or digital gift cards. If gift cards are on your shopping list this holiday season, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection suggests that you follow some simple tips to ensure that both you and the gift recipients receive the full value of the present.
“Gift cards and online store credits are easy to buy, easy to give and easy to use, but there are a couple of ‘gotchas’ that need to be considered when purchasing these items,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “First and foremost, scammers know that shoppers love gift cards and are on the hunt for great deals, so be especially skeptical of any too-good-to-be-true offers for free or heavily discounted gift cards.”
Text message and social media scams from the past couple of years promise a $500 or $1,000 gift card from a major retailer in exchange for completing a survey or paying a shipping charge. Within the message is a link to start the redemption process, but clicking that link will load malware to your device or send you to a site that is set up to capture your personal or banking information. If you receive a similar message, delete it and do not click any links.
It is best to buy gift cards directly from the retailer or from an authorized merchant, but if you are considering buying an unused card second-hand, purchase it from someone you know and trust. Used or unwanted gift cards show up for sale online through auction sites and classified ads, and while some cards may be legitimate, others may be counterfeit, may be drained of their value, or may have been stolen from a store and never activated at a register. If the gift card merchant discovers that your card is fraudulent, the merchant will deactivate the gift card and refuse to honor it for purchases.
Consider these additional tips to ensure that the user gets the full value of the card:
  • Inspect the packaging before you purchase a card to ensure that no protective stickers have been removed and that the pin number has not been exposed. Report any damaged cards to store management.
  • Read the fine print on the card to ensure that you understand any rules on usage and any associated fees. Federal rules require fees to be disclosed prior to purchase. Dormancy, inactivity and service fees are allowed only if the recipient has failed to use the card for more than one year. After that, fees are limited to one per month, but there is no limit on the amount of the fee.
  • Always give a gift receipt with the card to verify its value and the date of purchase. Make sure gift recipients hold onto their receipts until they have spent the entire value of the cards.
  • Keep your cards safe. Make a copy of the front and back of the card and keep it with the original receipt. Contact the issuer immediately if you lose a card or if it is stolen, but be aware that you may not be able to replace it. Some issuers may replace the card for a fee.
  • If your loved ones or friends shop online, consider giving them electronic gift cards by email rather than physical cards. Many retailers offer this gifting option and the messages can often be customized with personal messages or images. These cards can be saved in an email account for future use without fear of losing or damaging a physical card.
  • If you receive a gift card, try to use it right away to ensure that you receive the card’s full value.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail todatcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

How Scammers Turned a Letter from Santa into a Con

The holiday season is here, and so are the scams. Watch out for fraudulent website offering “Letters from Santa.” Some of these sites promise a custom letter from the man at the North Pole but don’t deliver.
Milwaukee, Wis. – How the Scam Works: You get an email selling a “Handwritten letter from Santa to Your Child.” It encourages you to make your child’s holiday by purchasing “Santa’s special package” for $19.99.You click on the link, and it takes you to a website. The site promises the special package contains an “official” nice-list certification and customized letter from Santa. There’s even a free shipping special that ends (not coincidentally) in just few hours. You decide to purchase and enter your credit card information.

Don’t do it! In the best case, you are simply out the $19.99. In the worst case scenario, you just shared your credit card information with scammers, who can now use it for identity theft.

In another version of this scam, the site promises a free letter from Santa. It doesn’t request any credit card information, but it does require plenty of personal information, such as your full name, address and phone number. These sites can then turn around and sell your personal information to spammers.

“BBBs have seen complaints from consumers in several states regarding this scam,” said Ran Hoth Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin CEO and President. “Remember, there are legitimate Santa letter websites out there. Check out a company, first, with BBB.org. BBB Business Reviews are completely free.”

How to Spot a Scam Website: 

Follow these tips for spotting an online scam:

  • Ignore calls for immediate action. Many scams try to get you to act before you think by creating a sense of urgency (including the scam above). Don’t fall for it.
  • Hover over links in emails to check their source. Scammers will make links look like something else. Place your mouse over hyper-linked text and the true destination will appear.
  • Make sure the website has (real) contact information. If something goes wrong with your order, you need to be able to contact the business. When in doubt confirm that the address and phone number are real.
  • Do your research. Check out the business on BBB.org and do a quick web search.
  • Make sure you pay through a secure connection. When entering credit card information online, be sure that the URL starts with “HTTPS” and has a lock icon in the browser bar.
  • Watch for poor grammar and spelling. Scam emails and websites often are riddled with typos. This is often a giveaway that you aren’t dealing with a real business.

For More Information

To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper.

Toy safety is nothing to play around with

MADISON – In the rush to pick up the hottest toys for the kids on their lists, shoppers may not stop to consider the appropriateness of a particular gift for the intended child. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection asks consumers to put safety first when shopping for kids this holiday season.
“Many shoppers will jump at a chance to pick up the season’s hottest toys if they are in stock, but a toy’s popularity should not be the guiding factor in gift giving for children,” said Michelle Reinen, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The child’s development and the age of other children in the family needs to be considered when judging a toy’s appropriateness within a household setting.”
When you are circling the store aisles or shopping online for gifts, look for the following labels on the toy packaging or on the product page:
? General warning labels listing the potential for small parts, magnets, suffocation hazards, etc.
? Age grading: use the manufacturer’s suggested age range as a foundation for whether a toy is appropriate for the physical and mental skills of a child.
? All toys: “ASTM F963” – this label indicates that a toy meets the latest toy safety standards. All toys sold in the U.S. must meet this standard. ASTM F963 includes guidelines and test methods to prevent injuries from choking, sharp edges and other potential hazards.
? Art materials: “ASTM D4236” – this label indicates that art materials have been reviewed by a toxicologist and are labeled with cautionary information, if necessary.
? Toys with fabrics: “Flame resistant” – this label means that a material will resist burning and should extinguish quickly once removed from an ignition source.
Some things to think about when shopping for gifts for children:
? For homes with younger children, avoid toys with small parts, magnets, cords or strings.
? Choose gifts that are both age and skill appropriate for the child.
? Check for recalled toys at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website: www.CPSC.gov
? Avoid no-name products. A manufacturer’s name and address is not a guarantee of safety, but it means you can track down a legitimate company to remedy problems.
? Pick up any safety items that go along with a toy such as a helmet for a bike or scooter.
? Make sure that art supplies such as crayons, markers or paints are labeled as non-toxic.
? Look for hidden dangers such as sharp points, loud noises or projectiles.
? If you are purchasing wooden toys, look for splinters or sharp edges.
? If you are purchasing used toys, skip ones with chipped paint in order to avoid possible exposure to lead.
After the gifts are unwrapped, immediately gather and remove plastic wrapping, twist ties, zip ties, clamshell containers and other potentially dangerous toy packaging materials. Be mindful of younger children and keep small or pointed toys and accessories out of their reach. Lastly, make sure to read any battery charging instructions that come with toys as chargers and adapters can overheat and pose burn hazards to young children.
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.
Connect with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wiconsumer.

Second guess shipment emails over the holidays

Following Cyber Monday and a strong online sales push by retailers over the Thanksgiving weekend, many people are awaiting delivery of items purchased on the internet. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) warns consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent package delivery and “order status” emails and to avoid clicking links or opening attachments in these emails.

“This is prime time for package deliveries, and criminals are taking advantage of it,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Look out for emails or texts that warn you about a problem with a delivery, that ask for account information for security purposes, or that ask you to open an attached ‘shipment label’ in order to claim a package from a local office.”

These spam emails are an attempt to expose consumers to malware or to gain access to a victim’s personal and banking information. Scammers often use the names, logos and color schemes of major shipping companies and retailers to add legitimacy to their messages, and they may also spoof the company’s web address (URL) in the sender’s email address.

If you question whether an email link is legitimate, hover the mouse over the link (but don’t click it!). At the bottom of your browser, you can view the URL where the link will take you.

Look out for the following red flags in your inbox this holiday season:

  • Poor grammar and spelling errors in emails that claim to come from major organizations. If the message is sloppy, it likely did not come from a legitimate business.
  • Sender addresses that don’t match the URL for the company that supposedly sent the email. For example, the “From:” line in a recent fake FedEx email read:
    “From: FedEx Express Saver (support@myfasthair.com)”
  • Shipment emails that lack specifics about the sender or the package’s supposed contents.
  • Messages claiming that there is a “problem” with a shipment or your account. These emails will ask you to provide personal or banking information or to complete a form on a linked page in order to fix the supposed problem. Do not reply or click any links in the email!
  • Emails containing threats that a package will be returned to the sender and you will be charged a fee for not responding to the message.

In actuality, there is no product waiting for delivery, and the alarming language in these

emails is intended to make recipients act quickly without considering consequences. By clicking on any of the links in the email, a recipient risks downloading malware or handing over personal information to the scammers. If you receive a similar email, delete it and do not click any of the links contained anywhere in the message.

If you are expecting a shipment that may be delayed, contact the shipper directly to inquire. Some e-commerce companies offer package tracking features right on their website. If you made an online purchase, log into your account on the site and see if these options are available.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

Connect with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wiconsumer.

Consumers urged to use caution when making charitable donations

MADISON – The holiday season is a time of the year when many Wisconsin consumers open their hearts and wallets by donating to charitable causes. Two state agencies are encouraging would-be donors to do their homework before making donations, especially to appeals that are unsolicited and made by phone or over the Internet. “Resist high-pressure, emotional appeals,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “Criminals know that many people make year-end charitable contributions for tax purposes, and they will try to push you into making a quick decision to donate.” George Althoff, Communications Director for the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), encouraged consumers to do some homework on charities when considering whether to make a donation. “Before giving to a charity, we encourage consumers to check out how much of the organization’s donations are used for programs and services,” Althoff said. “Well-run charities generally are ones that are spending a higher percentage of their funds raised on programs and services, as opposed to administrative and/or fund-raising costs.” Financial information about charitable organizations’ level of spending on program activities can be found on the DFI website at www.wdfi.org/CharitableOrganizations, Althoff said. DATCP and DFI offer up these tips for donors considering a donation to a charitable organization: · Before donating, check to see if the charity is registered with DFI. · Ask a solicitor to explain the purpose of the organization, what services are provided, how much of the donation goes to fund-raising expenses, whether the donation is tax-deductible, and whether you will be sent a receipt. · Donate to charities that you trust and are well-established. · Be wary of unsolicited requests for donations, especially ones received via the Internet. · Never write out a check or give cash to an individual solicitor. Write out checks to the name of the organization or use a credit card. · If contacted by phone, avoid being pressured to make an immediate donation. Don’t hesitate to ask the caller to send you information about the organization and its programs. For more information or to file a complaint, consumers may contact: · DATCP on the web at datcp.wi.gov; by phone (Consumer Information Hotline) at 800-422-7128; by e-mail at datcphotline@wisconsin.gov; or at www.facebook.com/wiconsumer. · DFI on the web at www.wdfi.org/CharitableOrganizations; by phone at 800-452-3328; or by e-mail at DFISecretary@wisconsin.gov.

Tips for wise shopping Black Friday, Cyber Monday

Thanksgiving is almost here and Black Friday shoppers are preparing. Some may even get a jump start with various retailers opening their doors Thursday evening. With U.S. holiday shopping expected to be moderately better this year, price competition is expected to remain fierce.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin is offering tips to people planning on taking advantage of Black Friday - traditionally the day after Thanksgiving – sales offers.

“Some people are so eager to get big ticket items, they plan their Thanksgiving around Black Friday sales”, says Ran Hoth, President and CEO. “The crowds this year will be no different. Ease your shopping day by making a game plan, sticking to your budget, and understanding each stores return policy.”

Black Friday shoppers should keep these tips in mind:

  • Compare deals. Do you know if a sale is really a sale? It always pays to comparison shop. Take the time to check prices on the same items at various stores.
  • Create a budget and stick to it. Make a list, determine how much you can afford to spend on each person, and…stick to it!
  • Search for Black Friday ads ahead of time. Newspapers often have coupons that give discounts for Black Friday. Black Friday ads may also be posted on the Internet. Some sites post ads for Black Friday before they’re published.
  • Maximize advance alerts. Do you have favorite retailers? Sign up for their email alerts and take advantage of special social network opportunities. Many stores work to reward your loyalty and you may get a jump on special offers.
  • Return policies, restocking fees and refunds. Ask for the store’s return policy before you make your purchase. Also, ask about restocking fees, and save your receipts in one place so you don’t lose them. Many stores will require you to produce a receipt for a return.
  • Be sure to ask for gift receipts. Without proof of purchase, the recipient may be turned down for returning or exchanging an item or risk receiving a refund at a lower price.
  • Gift cards. Gift cards regularly top consumers’ wish lists. When buying gift cards in a store, check the packaging and any security seals to be sure they are intact and haven’t been tampered with. Be sure to check the terms and conditions of each card.
  • Check out the company. Visit BBB.ORG before doing business for FREE Business Reviews on local and national companies. When shopping, look for the BBB Seal.

For an online version of the story click here

Nominate a deserving Wisconsin business or non-profit for the BBB Torch Awards for Ethics.

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

After Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, savvy shoppers go online to take advantage of Cyber Monday specials. Cyber Monday, which takes place the Monday after Black Friday, has grown increasingly popular among consumers in recent years, as they look for clearance sales some retailers offer online. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers their top ten tips for people doing their shopping online, be it on December 1 – Cyber Monday – or throughout the holiday season:


1. Protect your computer – Your computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.


2. Stick to trustworthy websites – Research the seller’s reputation and track record for customer satisfaction at bbb.org. Look for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized “trust marks” on retailer websites. Always remember to click on the seals to confirm that they are valid and check out customer reviews online, including those offered by Better Business Bureau.


3. Protect your personal information – Take the time to read the privacy policy of websites you visit and understand what personal information is being collected and how it will be used. If you don’t see a privacy policy posted, be aware your information may be sold to others without your permission.


4. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true – Offers found on less-traveled websites and in unsolicited emails sometimes advertise suspiciously low prices. When visiting a website, look for misspellings and grammatical errors, as these are signs the site might be fraudulent. Trust your instincts and be leery of unsolicited emails, as they may contain viruses or malware. Don’t be afraid to pass up “deals” that might wind up costing you money instead of saving you money.


5. Beware of phishing – Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order or a past transaction to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. If a consumer receives such an email, BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the retailer you dealt with or your credit card provider to get to the bottom of the matter. Stay calm, don’t panic and always be protective of your personal and financial information.


6. Confirm your online purchase is secure – Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying.


7. Pay with a credit card – It’s often best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charge if he or she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card or merchandise they receive is damaged or defective.


8. Keep documentation of your order - After completing the online order process, there should be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by email. Save a copy of that as well as any emails for future reference and as a record of your purchase.

9. Check your credit card statements often – Don’t wait for paper statements; the BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by checking statements online regularly or by calling their credit card companies if fraud is suspected.


10. Know your rights – Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2013, people turned to BBB more than 132 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org/wisconsin. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 112 local, independent BBBs across North America, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation. BBB Serving Wisconsin was founded in 1939 and serves the state of Wisconsin.

BBB Offers Tips to Black Friday Shoppers

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner, and some retailers have already announced at least some of their Black Friday deals. Though more and more stores are opening their doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day, the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – will remain one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is offering advice for people making plans to capitalize on Black Friday savings offers.


“Though the impact of Black Friday shopping might be at least somewhat diluted with some stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, we still believe it will be a day where many folks will focus their holiday shopping – and bargain-hunting – efforts,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.


The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday sales will increase by more than 4% this year. As always, retailers will compete feverishly to get shoppers to visit their stores – and their websites! Whether you’ll be doing your holiday shopping on Black Friday or beyond, be sure to keep these BBB tips in mind to help ensure a satisfactory experience:


· Research the company. Visit bbb.org or call 800-646-6222 to obtain free Business Reviews. Remember, BBB Business Reviews have been optimized for smartphones.


· Getting the real deal. Do you know if a sale is really a sale? Many times companies boast “70 percent off,” but 70 percent off what? It always pays to comparison shop. If a company is advertising a “Going out of Business” sale, don’t automatically assume they are offering the best prices in town. Take the time to check prices on the same items at other stores.


· Search for Black Friday Ads Ahead of Time. Some retailers have ‘gone for it,’ announcing their Black Friday specials well in advance of Friday, November 28. Newspapers often have coupons that outline store discounts for Black Friday, and some specials are posted on the Internet. By keeping your eyes open and nose to the ground, you can sniff out deals others might miss.

· Return policies, restocking fees and refunds. Ask for the store’s return policy before you make your purchase. Companies are not required to give you your money back, but they need to post their return policy prominently near the cashier. Also, always ask about restocking fees, and save your receipts in one place so you don’t lose them. Many companies will require you to produce a receipt for a return. Ask for a gift receipt.


· Watch out for deals too good to be true. While many retailers offer ‘doorbusters’ – specials that are eye-opening – some websites offer suspiciously low prices on sought-after goods in an effort to entice shoppers into turning over their credit card information. Stick to trustworthy websites and look for the BBB seal and other recognized “trust marks.” Be sure to click on the seals to confirm they are valid.


· Gift cards. Gift cards regularly top consumers’ wish lists. Federal rules govern gift card sales, and those rules state:


o An inactivity fee cannot be charged until the card has not been used for 12 months.

o Gift cards cannot expire for at least 5 years.

o No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month.

o Information printed on the card must disclose fees and expiration date and provide a toll-free phone number or website where you can get more information.

o A one-time fee can be charged when you buy the card, though this generally only applies to gift cards purchased through your credit card company – not those purchased directly from stores and restaurants.

o If you receive a gift card, you should redeem it promptly if, possible.


Finally, consumers should keep in mind there will be many more opportunities for savings as we go through the long holiday season.


Call from ‘Steve Martin’ not funny

The Consumer Information Hotline at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has received a number of inquiries about a government imposter phone scam. Wisconsin residents statewide are receiving prerecorded calls from “Steve Martin” with the “U.S. Treasury.” If you receive a similar call, hang up immediately and do not call back the number noted in the message.
Unfortunately, this type of government imposter scam is quite common. Scammers will call consumers out of the blue claiming that they are with the IRS, law enforcement or another government agency. The caller will threaten the consumer with arrest or financial penalties for supposedly failing to pay back taxes or unpaid loans, for failing to report for jury duty or for “check fraud.”
If you receive a similar call:
? Hang up and do not return the call. Federal government agencies don’t ask people to send money for unpaid loans.
? Remember that scammers can make your caller ID say whatever they choose. Do not trust that the information on your call ID display is legitimate.
? Never give out personal or banking information on an unsolicited call.
? There’s no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay back a debt.
? If you still feel unsure about the call, look up the official number of the agency the caller is pretending to represent so you can get the real story.
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.