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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > August 2014 > 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 new items, it can also be expensive. Take time to read advertisements closely and watch for potential scams to avoid back-to-school-buying blues that may violate your rights.
  • Disclosure of limitations: An offer’s exclusions and limitations 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 that enables you 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 them to have any particular return policy, but it does require businesses to clearly post their return policy if they have one. If businesses do not accept returns, that must also be clearly posted. 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 offer the same protections. Regardless of your payment method, carefully review your statements for errors.
  • Rebates: Follow rebate directions closely and make sure you complete all of 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. To do this, look for “https” (rather than “http”) in the website address. And remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It’s also important to be especially watchful for scams this time of year. Scammers may pretend to be associated with a school, government agency, or other educational organization to take advantage of consumers. Or they may claim that the school district supports their efforts, which was the case when individuals were selling businesses advertisements on folders they said would be given to Ohio high school students. (The schools had no knowledge of the solicitation, and some never received folders to distribute.)
Also, be wary if someone asks you for advance fees in exchange for helping you identify or obtain scholarships. You usually can find scholarship information yourself for little or no cost by searching online.
Consumers who believe they have been treated unfairly should file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or by calling 800-282-0515.