We as consumers should be wary of many things before we buy. After all, we are spending our hard earned money and we do have rights. Use this checklist BEFORE you make a purchase to avoid problems and make informed choices.
- Decide in advance exactly what you want and what you can afford.
- Do your research. Ask family, friends, and others you trust for advice based on their experience. Gather information about the seller and the item or service you are purchasing. We’ve all seen those online trading groups or Etsy shops and we get what we pay for. Be vigilant and vet these sellers before you buy,
- Review product test results from consumer experts and comments from past customers. That is exactly what I do when I shop on Amazon. I don’t care how many reviews there are, I read them all before I buy that product.
- Get price quotes from several sellers.
- Make sure the seller has all appropriate licenses. Doctors, lawyers, contractors, and other service providers must register with a state or local licensing agency.
- Check a company’s complaint record with your local consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau.
- Get a written copy of guarantees and warranties.
- Get the sellers refund, return, and cancellation policies.
- Ask whom to contact if you have a question or a problem.
- Read and understand any contract or legal document you are asked to sign or give agreement to online (by clicking “I Agree”). Make sure there are no blank spaces or incomplete terms. Insist that any extras you are promised be put in writing.
Quick Tips For Avoiding Fraud
There are many varieties of consumer fraud, but the most common ones are variations of fake check scams, credit repair, free trip offers, and sweepstakes. Here are a few tips to help you avoid being a victim.
- Don’t give out personal information. Be suspicious of anyone you don’t know who asks for your Social Security number, date of birth, credit card number, bank account number, password, or other personal data.
- Don’t be intimidated. Be suspicious of calls or emails that want you to provide or verify personal information immediately. Answer that you are not interested and hang up or don’t reply to the email.
- Monitor your accounts. Review bank and credit card statements carefully, and report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution immediately.
- Use a shredder. Tear or shred credit offers, bank statements, insurance forms, and other papers with personal information.
- Ignore unsolicited offers. Don’t respond if someone you do not know asks you to send money or money orders to claim a prize, lottery, credit card, loan or other valuable offers.
When Prices Aren’t Final
Retailers, both online and brick and mortar, sometimes use aggressive strategies to change the price of an item. It’s called drip pricing and it’s a pricing strategy where a seller adds fees, some of them mandatory, to the advertised price for the product or service. This practice makes it difficult for you to determine the full cost and compare similar options when all the fees are not disclosed up front. You can protect yourself by asking questions of sales personnel about fees before you buy, or asking for a complete price list.
Another strategy is dynamic pricing, when a retailer adjusts an item’s price multiple times over a few days, or even within hours. The changes may be based on inventory, changes in demand, your browsing history, and even your personal information. Dynamic pricing is common with online retailers and airlines. Make dynamic pricing work to your advantage by using price tracker websites to compare the prices at different retailers. Use price predictor websites to track if the price is expected to go up or down. Clear your internet cookies so online retailers cannot use your browsing history to adjust prices.
Look for Grey Charges
Have you ever seen charges on your credit card statement that you can’t figure out? These very well may be grey charges and there are several common types.
- Unintended subscriptions. You thought you made a one time purchase, but it was really a subscription.
- Zombie Fees. Membership fees that you previously canceled but the fees will not stop.
- Free trial to paid. When a free trial is over the seller converts it to a paid subscription.
- Negative option. You bought one product but did not realize you were buying others at the same time.
Take the following steps to protect yourself from grey charges:
- Read the terms of service before you buy. Disclosures about fees may be hidden or near the end, so read the entire document.
- Mark your calendar as a reminder to cancel free trials by a set date.
- Read your credit card statements closely. Pay attention to the names of companies and charges for small amounts.
- Contact the seller to have the grey charges removed.
- Dispute charges with your credit card company.
After You Buy
Even careful buyers can run into unforeseen problems after the purchase. Just in case, save all of the papers that come with your purchase. Keep all contracts, sales receipts, canceled checks, owner’s manuals, and warranty documents. Read and follow produce and service instructions. The way you use or take care of a product might affect your warranty rights. You may be able to get a refund for the difference if the price of the item you bought has decreased within a certain number of days. Find out how to dispute a purchase, based on if you paid with cash, credit, or a mobile app, or payment device.
Remember, be a savvy PROTECTED shopper
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*