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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

BUFFALO — As the holiday season winds down, many consumers will head back to the stores for returns. While all of us have accidentally bought the wrong size, color or style at one point or another, stores are cracking down and tightening their return and exchange policies this season because of an increase in fraudulent returns.

The National Retail Federation estimates that retailers lost $9.1 billion to return fraud in 2013. Fraudulent returns during the holiday season accounted for $3.4 billion of the total. Return fraud comes in many forms, including purchasing merchandise for short-term use and then returning the item, returning stolen merchandise, or using reused, stolen or falsified receipts to return merchandise for a profit. But in most cases, consumers are just trying to return wrong sizes or items.

BBB offers the following tips for returning holiday gifts:

Know and understand the seller’s return policy. BBB recommends asking about return policies at the time of purchase. Make sure to fully understand what’s required for a return or exchange, and if you have questions, call the store directly to ask about your specific situation. You can often find return policies listed on a company’s website or on the back of the receipt. Brick and mortar stores may have different return policies than the online counterparts.

Keep the receipt. Include a gift receipt with all gifts, so it’s easier for the recipient to return or exchange the gift if it’s not the right fit.

Keep original packaging and ask about restocking fees. Some stores may require products be returned in original purchase condition, unused or un-opened. Also, some merchants charge a restocking or “open box” fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items.  There’s a trend developing where more products are hit with restocking fees, particularly those from internet based businesses.  Make sure you read about these policies and ask questions through email or live chats to make sure you understand the policy.  Restocking fees can be as high as 25% of the purchase price.

Bring identification. Because of return fraud, some retailers will ask for identification when making a return. If you’re returning or exchanging a gift that you bought, bring the credit card used to make that purchase.

Read product warranty first. In some cases, retail stores are not liable if the product turns up defective or damaged. They may require consumers to mail the product directly to the manufacturer in order to receive monetary refunds, credit or product replacement.

Don’t delay. New York State allows 30 days from date of purchase for returns and retailers are required to post their policy. Retailers can also adjust the time frame policies during the holidays so it’s important to check the date details. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance at returning the item.

Read the fine print before purchasing a rebate-eligible item. Rebates are great for getting a good deal, but can come with strict requirements. Make sure you understand how the rebate will be issued. Some rebates need to be redeemed immediately and expire after a certain period of time. Read the instructions carefully and check the return policy. You may experience difficulty returning an item if the rebate requires you to open or send in part of the packaging, such as the UPC or box top.  Keep a copy of the submitted rebate materials and note the date on which you sent it in.  Mark your calendar for when you should receive the rebate.

For scam alerts, tips and other information you can trust, visit, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

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