Have Yourself a Safe and Scam Free Holiday

Have Yourself a Safe and Scam Free Holiday
By Robert L. Jaskulski
November 2007

It's that time of year again.  Malls and department stores have already put up holiday decorations.  Children's eyes are aglow with the prospect of the perfect gift.

But buyer beware.  This is the time of year when a few bad actors' eyes also light up with the thought of fleecing consumers.  Unfortunately, the negative effects of scams and dangerous products reach their peak at this time of year.

How are you to know if the gift you purchased for a loved one is covered with dangerous lead paint?  How are you to know if the manufacturer had your safety or increased profit margins in mind?

For decades trial attorneys have stood up for the public against these scams. Despite what some have claimed, trial attorneys aren't just interested in filing lawsuits.  As representatives of Wisconsin consumers, the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers wants to be sure everyone has a safe and happy holiday season.  To that end, here are few shopping tips to keep in mind.

Toxic Toys

Over the past year major manufacturers such as Mattel have recalled millions of toys tainted with high levels of lead-based paint.  While the recall is important, it should be troubling to any parent that these toys made it on to store shelves and into homes across the country in the first place. 

And while lead paint is dangerous, there was recently reported an even more troubling recall of children's toys.  Just last week 4.2 million Chinese-made Aqua Dots were recalled because a coating on the tiny toys can convert in to GHB, more commonly known as the "date rape drug".  In fact, there are reports of children vomiting and slipping into a comatose state after swallowing the small Aqua Dots.  As a result, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends throwing away these dangerous toys.

The bottom line is this: the best way for consumers to avoid dangerous toys is to be informed.  If you have questions, ask.  For a complete list of toys that have already been recalled you can visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website, www.cpsc.gov.

Gift Cards

If you're worried about buying dangerous toys, you might be tempted to purchase the ever popular "gift card."  The use of gift cards has exploded in recent years.  Some reports show more than two-thirds of consumers say they plan to buy gift cards this holiday season.  But unfair and somewhat unknown practices by some retailers can put a major damper on a gift card recipient's holiday cheer.

Some Grinch-esque retailers impose expiration dates on their gift cards.  Not so bad you say?  Unfortunately, many retailers fail to tell customers of this restriction.  So when Little Johnny goes to the store to use the gift card his grandma gave him, he may very well find out that the card is no longer valid.  Guess who pockets the remaining money?
Other retailers impose "inactivity fees" on their gift cards.  Since taking the entire value of the gift card back at once seems a bit slimy, these generous folks only take a little back at a time. 

States across the country have caught on, passing legislation to put an end to such unsavory practices.  Wisconsin, unfortunately, is not among them.  Therefore, if you run into your legislator over the holidays, urge him or her to pass legislation ending these retail scams. 

In the mean time, the best way to ensure your gift card is actually worth what it claims is to simply ask about the retailer's restrictions.  If you don't like what you hear, you'll probably be able to find a different store in the mall that offers gift cards without restrictions.

As a trial attorney who represents consumers, take it from me - be an informed consumer.  The few extra minutes it takes will help ensure that the gifts you give bring a full measure of joy this holiday season.

Our sponsors