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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > August 2012 > Back-to-School Shopping Tips

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Back-to-School Shopping Tips

Back-to-school shopping season is in full swing, with notebooks, pencil cases, and binders lining many store aisles. While it can be exciting for children and adults to begin the school year with brand-new items, it also can be expensive. Take time to read advertisements closely and watch for potential scams to avoid the back-to-school buying blues.

Evaluate advertisements and know your rights:
  • Limitations must be disclosed in advertisements: All exclusions and limitations to an offer must be listed in the ad  or coupon. It is illegal to advertise a sale without listing specific limitations.

  • Rain checks: If a store runs out of an advertised product or service, you may have the right to a rain check. Rain checks allow consumers to buy the advertised good for the sale price at a later date. Sellers do not have to issue rain checks if the ad mentions the number of goods available or that the merchandise is seasonal or clearance and that no rain checks will be given. They also don’t have to issue a rain check if the consumer agrees to buy a similar item at the same savings or if the seller proves it had a reasonably sufficient supply.

  • Return policies: Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act doesn’t require businesses to have any particular return policy, but it does require businesses to clearly post their return policy, if they have one. Before making a purchase, read the refund and cancellation policies for that store or product, and keep your receipt.

  • Gift cards: Under Ohio and federal law, businesses must honor most single-store gift cards for at least five years from their issue date and generally they may not charge fees that reduce the card’s value for at least two years.

  • Credit card vs. debit card: Consumers who pay with credit cards have added protection if something goes wrong. Federal law allows consumers to dispute unauthorized credit card charges within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed. Debit card providers are not required to provide the same protections. Regardless of your payment method, carefully review your statements for errors.

  • Layaway: If you use layaway to make a purchase, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions. Find out what would happen if you fail to keep up with the payments. Consider whether layaway is your best purchase option.

  • Rebates: Follow rebate directions closely and make sure you complete all the requirements in the specified timeframe.

  • Online purchases: Shop carefully. If you buy gift cards or coupons from an online seller, research the seller’s reputation, and make sure the website is secure before you enter payment information such as a credit card number. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Watch for Scams

Scammers could pretend to be associated with a school, a government agency, or other educational organization to take advantage of consumers.

A Cuyahoga County consumer said she received a call at work from someone who claimed to represent the U.S. Department of Education. The caller said the consumer’s son had won a scholarship for tuition and supplies, but said the consumer needed to send $25 via wire transfer. When the consumer asked the caller for his reference number, he hung up — a likely sign of a scam.

Be wary if someone asks you for advance fees in exchange for helping you find or obtain scholarships. You usually can find scholarship information yourself for little or no cost by searching online. If a scholarship is legitimate, you shouldn’t need to pay an advance fee to receive the scholarship.

If you suspect an unfair practice or scam, file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.