Tuesday, November 23, 2015

Abigail Lootens / Justine McGarrigle
Department of Consumer Affairs  
(212) 436-0042

Department of Consumer Affairs Announces 2015 Holiday Shopping Tips to Help Protect Consumers in New York City

NEW YORK, NY—Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Julie Menin today offered Holiday Shopping Tips to protect the identity and money of New York City consumers and visitors alike. This annual effort is set to kick off the holiday shopping season just in time for Black Friday to make consumers aware of their rights and what to look for when searching for the perfect gifts.

“The busy holiday shopping season is upon us and the Department of Consumer Affairs wants New Yorkers to be on the lookout for the best deals while staying away from the worst scams this season,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin. “I encourage everyone to use these tips as a guide when shopping to ensure that you are not only getting what you pay for, but also what you want out of this shopping season.”

Consumer Shopping Tips for the Season

  • Know your consumer rights.
  • Stores can set their own refund policy but they must post the sign with all conditions or limitations near the register where you can easily read it. If no refund policy is posted, you can return any unused item within 30 days, and the business must give you the choice of cash or credit.
  • In New York City, a business must give you a receipt for purchases over $20 automatically and upon request for purchases between $5 and $20. A receipt may not show a credit card’s expiration date or more than its last five digits.
  • Businesses selling goods must post prices either on the item or on a sign where the item is displayed. It is illegal to charge more than that posted price.

Download 10 Things Every Consumer Should Know from or call 311 to request a copy.

  • Create a budget and make a list. Don’t let holiday spending put you in debt. Decide what you want to buy and how much you want to spend in advance, start shopping early and watch your bank balance. You’ll be less likely to overspend if you pay in cash or with a prepaid debit card—but be wary of hidden fees with prepaid cards. If you’re struggling with debt and need help budgeting, make an appointment for free, financial counseling at the City’s Financial Empowerment Centers by calling 311.
  • Compare prices. Use websites, smartphone apps and social media to research products, compare prices, and find sales and discounts before you start shopping. 
  • Protect yourself when shopping online. Only shop on secure websites—use familiar websites or research and read reviews of new ones, and check that the website starts with https (not just http) or has a padlock icon. Avoid typing your personal information when using unsecured Wi-Fi. Also don’t click on shopping links from unsolicited emails or social media sites—type the address directly into your browser. Visit for more information on how to be safe, secure, and responsible online.
  • Know the rules about gift cards. Gift card funds must stay valid for at least five years from when the card was purchased or money was last loaded onto it. All fees must be listed and no inactivity or service fees can be charged if the card has been used within the past 12 months. If you’re buying an “experience” card (like a spa treatment, flight or hotel stay), buy one with a specific dollar value so you can benefit from these consumer protections. Even though there are more fee limitations, watch out for hidden fees; there is no cap on the monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity. Visit for the latest information on gift card rules. 
  • Be on alert for holiday scams. It’s a busy time of year and unfortunately some scammers try to take advantage of people and their generosity. Shop at stores you know, research charities before you donate, protect your personal information and be wary of suspicious calls and emails. One scam this year is the Secret Sister Gift Exchange, which is posted on social media and encourages you to mail $10 to the person on the top of the list and, in exchange, you’ll get presents from other participants. This is an illegal chain letter—don’t fall for it.
  • Shop local and don’t buy counterfeit or “pirated” goods. Support New York City’s local economy by shopping at local retail stores and not buying counterfeit and pirated goods, which are illegal and jeopardize local jobs.
  • Get a delivery date. Secure a delivery date in writing before you leave a store. If retailers don’t specify a “ship by” date for your online purchase, they must ship within 30 days. Also, be aware of delivery charges via unsolicited email that require you to provide payment or personal information in return for your purchased goods that are in transit or are being held for you.
  • Check for recalls. To check if a gift or toy has been recalled, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission at and click on the recall section.
  • File a complaint if you’ve had a problem the business won’t resolve. File a complaint with DCA at or by contacting 311. DCA mediators will help. You can file your complaint in multiple languages.

Additional shopping guides are available online at or by calling 311.

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) licenses, inspects, and educates businesses, assists and informs consumers, mediates complaints, and offers free financial counseling and safe banking products. DCA enforces the Consumer Protection Law, the Paid Sick Leave Law and other related business laws throughout New York City and licenses nearly 80,000 businesses in 55 different industries. For more information, call 311 or visit DCA online at or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.