Ed's Blog

Shopping? We've got your back, online and in the store.

By Ed Mierzwinski
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

Whether you're shopping for toys or anything else this holiday season, we've got your back. The state PIRGs have new resources to help you make better, safer choices. We also have tips to protect your privacy and your wallet from online scams and rip-offs. Here are some highlights of our new resources:

Shopping for toys? This week, at news conferences around the country, we released our 28th annual Trouble In Toyland report. Over the years, the report has resulted in over 150 recalls and other corrective actions by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and manufacturers. It includes our annual list of examples of potentially hazardous toys. For example, this year one toy tested at 29 times the maximum allowable levels of the dangerous toxic metal lead. But remember this: the list only gives examples of some toys that may pose choking, toxic or noise hazards. Other hazards may be on the shelves at either big box stores or dollar stores. So, take our toy safety quiz at our new ToySafetyTips.org page and check out the detailed tips. Although toys are safer than ever before, hazards do exist.

Shopping Online? If you are out shopping online, you'll need to read CALPIRG's Tips for Safe Online Shopping. It will tell you how to save money by comparison shopping and how to avoid online tracking. It also describes your rights. For example, your best consumer protections against fraud or misuse come with your credit card. The banks promise some similar protections for debit cards, but the protections aren't embedded in law. Worse, if you're a victim of debit card fraud, while the bank will most likely get your money back, if you meet the reporting deadlines, it will take 10 days-2 weeks or more for a reinvestigation. Meanwhile, your money is missing.

Surfing Online? Whether you are shopping online or simply surfing online, Oregon PIRG's got a new Guide To Online Privacy. It explains how to set your privacy settings on popular sites, including Google, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. It also explains how to make strong passwords, avoid phishing scams, block cookies and prevent viruses. Worth a look.

Beware Holiday Charity or Gift Card Scams: As I told the McClatchy newspapers this week, Holidays, like disasters, are a common time for scams to increase." Don't respond to email appeals for charity, even if forwarded by a friend. Check out the charity first and if you do decide to contribute online, don't click an email link; instead, type the charity's address yourself in a browser window. Watch for copycats with similar names. I also give some tips on how to avoid non-charity scams, such as gift card rip-offs. Always inspect gift card packaging and make sure that the secret password and account numbers haven't been exposed and copied by a scammer, who will attempt to use it online as soon as you've loaded it at the checkout.

We've got your back, year-round, with our new Consumer Tips HQ page:

Finally, we've also created a new index page containing links to all of our consumer tips pages. Whether you want to know how to choose a bank, avoid identity theft, shop for a car, exercise your landlord-tenant rights or pick a cell phone plan, we've got the tips, right here. We also explain how to use government consumer resources and how to complain to key government watchdogs, including the CPSC (toys and other consumer products), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (cars, trucks, tires), the USDOT (airline hassles, from lost luggage to flight delays) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Earlier this month we released Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes, the third in our series of reports drilling down into the CFPB's public Consumer Complaint Database. It's getting results for consumers.

Happy Black Friday, Happy Cyber Monday and safe shopping this holiday season and all year round.

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