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Despite Economy, Malls and Stores Jammed

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NEW YORK - Malls and stores were jammed for pre-dawn discounts on everything from TVs to toys on the official start of Christmas shopping as consumers shrugged off worries about rising gas prices and falling home values.

The aggressive tactics , bigger discounts and expanded hours like midnight openings , apparently worked Friday. Based on early reports, Macy's Inc., Toys "R" Us, K-B Toys Inc. and others that pushed big price cuts, reported bigger crowds for the early morning bargains than a year ago. Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said they were also pleased with the shopper turnout.

Electronic gadgets, particularly the hard-to-find Nintendo Wii, topped shoppers' wish lists, though frustrations were high among consumers who couldn't get their hands on the limited bargains.

With the economy relying heavily on the consumer, however, it's crucial that the Black Friday euphoria lasts throughout the season, expected to be the weakest in five years.

"I'm really looking for the bargains this year because I'm losing my job; they're moving our plant to Mexico after the first of the year, so I have to be careful," said Tina Dillow of New Richmond, Ohio, who camped out at a Best Buy store near Cincinnati at 3 a.m. because of a great deal on a laptop.

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Tips for Tackling Check Fraud

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"NSF," "Account Closed," "Counterfeit" -- each time retailers see these words on a returned check, they know they have lost money. According to the National Check Fraud Center, check fraud and counterfeiting are among the fastest growing problems affecting the U.S. financial system.

  • When accepting a check, make sure a name, address and phone number are printed on the check and the written and numeral amounts correspond.

  • Pay attention to the "feel" of the check; most check paper has the same weight and texture.

  • Watch the check-writer sign the check and have the customer print the name below, if the signature is illegible.

  • Compare the signatures, photo and physical description of the ID with that of the check writer.

  • Check the driver's license, which should be smooth all over with no ridges that indicate an alteration or modification. Verify that the ID is still valid.

  • Ninety percent of returned checks have low check numbers (100 to 500). While low check numbers indicate a recently opened account and a potentially more risky check, particularly for business or dba ("doing business as") checks, that is not always the case.
    More useful information on the check is the account's opening date (month and year), usually indicated by four numbers to the side of the account holder's name and address.

  • Don't accept second-party or third-party checks.

  • The four-digits following the magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) number at the bottom of the check should match the four-digit number at the top right hand of the check.

  • All checks, except government checks, should have a perforation along one side of the check.

  • You can try calling the financial institution to confirm if funds are available, but there is no guarantee that the check will clear.

  • Use a check guarantee or verification service.

Written by From Melody Vargas,
About.com, full story (http://retailindustry.about.com/od/lp_retailstore/a/check_fraud_lp..htm)

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Wake up call for online business

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Can you imagine going into a store and carefully selecting your purchases, then walking up to the checkout counter only to have the sales clerk tell you to start over again? You wouldn’t stand for it.

But in the online world, it happens all the time. And it’s annoying.

A recent Harris Interactive Survey found that a large percentage of people who do business via the Internet have a less than favorable experience. These frustrated consumers say they are unwilling to put up with e-commerce that fails to live up to their expectations.

The survey of 2,420 adults was commissioned by Tealeaf Technology, which sells software that lets companies see how users are interacting with their site. The results should be a wake-up call to business. They show that poor customer service will not only hurt sales, it could also permanently cost them customers.

Web-based businesses need to realize the importance of the online experience, said Tealeaf CEO Rebecca Ward. “There’s a big disconnect between what consumers expect and what businesses are providing,” she said. According to the survey, 83 percent of the people surveyed expect the offline and online experience to be the same. But most companies don’t deliver.

The Tealeaf survey found that 87 percent of the people who do business online have some sort of problem. They have trouble logging in, difficulty navigating the site, receive error messages, get kicked off the page, or get caught in endless loops.

Full story...
by Herb Weisbaum
MSNBC contributor
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Credit Card receipts

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Credit card receipts that include full account numbers and expiration dates are a gold mine for identity thieves. In some states, printing of the full account number is already prohibited. For the future, FACTA sets a national standard requiring truncation of credit card information.

FACTA says credit and debit card receipts may not include more than the last five digits of the card number. Nor may the card's expiration date be printed on the cardholder's receipt.

However, the effective date of this provision is a long way off, and there are a couple of loopholes:

This section does not apply to receipts for which the sole means of recording a credit or debt card number is by handwriting or by an imprint or copy of the card.

For machines in use before January 1, 2005, the merchant has three (3) years to comply.
For machines in use after January 1, 2005, the merchant has one (1) year to comply.
Another FACTA section allows consumers who request a copy of their file to also request that the first 5 digits of their Social Security number (or similar identification number) not be included in the file.


Gift Cards Popular With Givers, Merchants


Consumers will spend an average of $203 on gift cards during the 2007 holiday season, up from $186 in 2006, according to Comdata Stored Value Solutions.

Card recipients will most likely redeem their cards over two visits, so there will probably be more store traffic and sales potential.

“Consumers are finding more things to like about gift cards, including the increasing availability of gift card malls, special packaging and expanded uses, such as budgeting tools and discount opportunities," said Bob Skiba, executive vice president of Comdata, in a statement.

Most gift cards are still purchased in specific retailer locations. The Comdata study, like others, confirms that the second most popular purchase location for gift cards is online.
More than one-fifth of gift card buyers in 2006 made their purchase at gift card malls. More than one-quarter are expected to do so this year

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