Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost offers these consumer protection tips.

It’s already October and before you know it, the holiday shopping season will begin. As like many things this year, in-person shopping on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other holiday promotions may be different than in years past.

This holiday shopping season, consumers should keep these tips in mind:

Check store hours: Stores that have previously been open may have reduced hours or may have limits on the number of customers in the store. Be sure to call or check the store’s website to confirm their hours and regulations.

Research products and sellers carefully: Search for complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Also, look up customer reviews online and find out what previous customers have said about the product or seller especially if it’s your first time shopping with a particular seller.

Beware of scams: Watch out for phony Black Friday coupons, such as those offering hundreds of dollars to spend at a store and other claims that sound too good to be true. Be wary if someone asks you to pay using high-amount gift cards, which are commonly requested by scam artists.

Know stores’ return policies: Under Ohio’s consumer protection laws, sellers can choose to set their own return policies, including policies of no returns, but they must clearly tell you their policies before you complete the purchase. Also, ask if a return policy is different due to COVID or around the holiday season, as some stores increase their return periods during this time.

Important exclusions and limitations should be disclosed: Ads should clearly disclose important exclusions and limitations of an offer, so check to see if limited quantities are available, if a sale is valid only during certain hours or if other terms and conditions apply.

Rain checks apply only in certain situations: If a seller advertises a product at a certain price but sells out of that product by the time you respond to the ad, you may have the right to a rain check. However, sellers are not required to provide rain checks if they clearly disclose the number of goods available at that price or if they clearly state that no rain checks will be given.

Understand differences between gift cards: Gift cards are the most requested type of gift, according to the National Retail Federation, but not all gift cards carry the same protections. A gift card that is branded by a credit card company and can be used almost anywhere may reduce in value faster than a single-store gift card. Also, promotional cards, such as those that come free with a purchase, may not carry the same protections as other cards and may last only a short period of time. If you receive a gift card, it’s generally best to use it as quickly as possible to reduce the chance it will be lost, stolen or diminish in value. Be aware that if a business stops operating, you may not be able to use the gift card or receive a refund.

Keep cybersecurity in mind: When shopping for deals online, don’t use free public Wi-Fi when entering sensitive information like your credit card number. Keep apps, software and operating systems up to date and use secure websites when you need to enter personal information.

Paying with a credit card usually offers greater protection: In general, with a credit card, your responsibility for unauthorized charges is limited to $50, and you have certain rights to dispute charges that you may not have with a debit card or other forms of payment.

If you suspect a scam or an unfair business practice, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.

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