Thursday, November 17, 2016

Abigail Lootens / Taylor Tavarez
Department of Consumer Affairs
(212) 436-0042

Department of Consumer Affairs Issues Holiday Shopping Tips

New York, NY—Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today issued the following Holiday Shopping Tips to protect consumer’s identity and money during the holiday season. This annual effort is set to kick off the holiday shopping season and make consumers aware of their rights–including new gift card protections, help them spend wisely, and protect them from scams.

“Americans are expected to spend an average of $750 on everything from gifts to food decorations this holiday season but, unfortunately, with that spending comes the theft of billions of dollars,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “As the holiday shopping season begins, we encourage everyone to follow these tips to protect themselves and ensure the holiday season is a time of joy and not frustration, or lost identity or money.”

Consumer Shopping Tips for the Holiday 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.
    • 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.
  • Be a smart shopper.
    • Use websites, smartphone apps (read our tip about fake apps before you download) and social media to research products, compare prices, and find sales and discounts before you start shopping.
    • Save your receipts to make returns easier and check with the store for extended return policies and/or free return shipping, and any restocking fees.
    • Think twice before you buy the “female version” of a product—it could cost more than a similar “male version.”
    • Many people take advantage of holiday deals to make non-gift purchases. Whether you’re shopping for a new TV, a used car, or to remodel your kitchen, get DCA’s tips first at
  • Gift cards are one of the most popular gifts…know the latest rules. The value of gift card must stay valid for at least five years from when the card was purchased or money was last loaded onto it. In New York, starting December 25, 2016, all fees must be listed and no inactivity or service fees can be charged if the card has been used within the past 25 months (12 months before December 25, 2016). 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. Visit for the latest information on gift card rules and visit to see if you have unclaimed funds because unused gift card values issued by New York corporations are required to be turned over to the Comptroller’s office as abandoned property after five years of dormancy.
  • 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, especially if they offer free things or deals that are too good to be true. Some common scams this year are:
    • Fake apps: A lot of fake retail and product apps are popping up this year, some even mimic real shopping apps. Fake apps can do anything from give you annoying pop-up ads to install malware or steal your personal and credit card information. Before you download an app, read the reviews and check the publisher to make sure they are legitimate. If you are shopping at a specific store, go to that store’s website to find its official app.
    • Gift Card Scams: Be careful of websites or social media sites that offer free or discounted gift cards. These sites often ask for your personal information or ask you to pay for a gift card that has no balance. Also be suspicious of anyone who asks you to pay a bill with a gift card – government agencies (e.g., IRS, FBI, NYPD, etc.) and public utility companies (e.g., Con Edison) will never ask for payment using gift cards.
    • Delivery Scams: Watch out for texts or emails that say you will be receiving a package but then ask you to enter personal information. If you have questions about a delivery, don’t click the email but contact the carrier directly. Some thieves will even come to your door with a package for you sign for but then ask you to swipe your credit card for a “delivery charge.” Also, package theft is often more common during the holiday season so be sure to have your packages delivered to a place where they will be safe.
    • Temporary Holiday Jobs Scams: If you’re looking for a temporary job during the holiday season for some extra money, be careful of jobs that are advertised online and ask for personal information or fee payment in order to apply.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCA licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCA protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCA empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCA also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCA and its work, call 311 or visit DCA at or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.