“Holiday Shopping”

November 29, 2011

We're in the thick of the holiday shopping season and are running into stores for gifts and buying online. Below are some situations you’re likely to encounter this time of year and some helpful tips.


  • The Credit Card Act of 2009 specifically addressed gift cards and says that a gift card cannot have an expiration date less than five years after the card is purchased.
  • The retailer also cannot charge dormancy, inactivity, and service fees unless the card has not been used for at least 12 months. If fees are charged after this period, the details have to be clearly established on the card. Retailers also can’t assess more than one fee per month under any circumstances.


  • REMEMBER- stores do not have to make refunds, take returns, or offer exchanges, even if you have a receipt. The only exception is for items that are misrepresented or defective at the time of the purchase.
  • Stores in Pennsylvania are required to clearly post their return policy AND follow that policy.


  • Check the store's policies carefully, especially on larger items and electronics that may have shorter exchange times or restocking fees.
  • Keep your receipts in the event you do want to return something.
  • Get a gift receipt. A recipient who decides to exchange an item might be issued a gift card or store credit for the lowest price for which the item ever sold. You'll also need the receipt for warranty service. Note: Purchases made in November or December are often eligible for extended return or other privileges.


  • Check the dates on rebates—usually they apply only to purchases made in a specific time period and then must also be filed within that time period.
  • Make sure that you are complying with the terms and the requirements of the rebate. Keep receipts and packing materials and make sure that you keep UPC codes and proofs of purchase because you will likely need these as well.
  • Keep track of when you sent in the rebate, and if you don't receive it within the time frame specified, call the company.


  • Make sure you comparison shop and make sure you're buying from a reputable seller.
  • Some retailers that have physical stores will allow you to order an item online and then pick it up in the store.
  • Check to make sure that a seller is reputable. See how long they've been in business, if they have a phone number, physical address, etc.
  • Look for symbols from the Better Business Bureau, Verisign, and TRUSTe to make sure the site is safe.
  • Look for symbols in your browser like a key or a lock to show that the information is being encrypted to make sure others can't access it.
  • Check the retailer's privacy policies to make sure no one else will receive your information.
  • Check shipping policies to see if you can track the packages; check for refund/exchange policies as well.
  • Use a credit card for your purchases. You are only liable for $50.00 if you are billed for fraudulent charges.
  • Never send any financial or payment information through e-mail. It is not secure.

Be extremely cautious when facing any of the following – more often than not they are pitfalls for the unwary consumer:

  • Pleas for charitable donations from bogus organizations – research the charity’s background and check them with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Identity theft while shopping – either online or in the mall. Guard credit card numbers well and ensure that the site you are purchasing from is secure.
  • Purchasing “hot” items from private sellers – never give payment information/credit card numbers, etc. in an e-mail, and never wire money as a payment. Check on the seller as much as possible, and again – trust your instincts.

If you need a referral for an attorney, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.