We get a lot of complaints about people buying things from stores like Best Buy and Target and finding that once they get them home — there’s a bunch of bathroom tiles in the box instead of the item, or that the item is used, broken or smashed. When they try to return the thing, the store tells them that they’re out of luck. When you ask why they think they can get away with selling you a paperweight instead of an XBOX, they point to some bullsh*t policy and send you on your way. You don’t have to put up with this. In this post, we’ll tell you a) How to keep this from happening to you in the first place. b) How to equip yourself with tools that will help you in the event that this does happen to you. c) How to take advantage of these tools so that you never get stuck with someone’s old broken PS3.
Part I: Preventing the old switcharoo.
You should always assume that the other customers are criminals and scammers, and the store’s employees are Al Capone. Why should you assume this? Because that’s what the store assumes about you. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.
That’s why you should you always take the following steps when making a major purchase.
1) Pay with a major credit card that offers purchase protection and extended warranty protection.
You may not like credit cards. In fact, you may hate them. In that case, consider a charge card. For the small annual fee, a charge card will offer you many of the same warranty protections that Best Buy and it’s ilk are trying to sell you. If you eventually enter into a dispute with the store, it pays to have someone on your side. Do you think Best Buy is going to argue with itself on your behalf just because you bought a warranty from them?
2) Open the box before you leave the store and inspect the item. If you find old phone books or a severed head instead of your new laptop, it will be easier for everyone if the store knows that there’s no possibility that you were the scammer/decapitator. Otherwise, they will assume that you are the guilty party and no amount of arguing will convince them otherwise.
3) Check to make sure the serial number on the item matches the serial number on your receipt. If it doesn’t, the store will assume that you are the one who switched the item. Again, do this before you leave the store so there can be no question about it.
Part II: Self-Defense Tools
Credit Cards: Buy large purchases with a major credit card or charge card that has “Purchase Assurance,” “Purchase Protection” and “Extended Warranty Protection.” Purchase Protection is usually a 90-day window in which loss from accidental damage and theft are covered by your credit card company, provided that you paid for the item with the card. Extended Warranty Protection extends the manufacturer’s warranty. These are both good things to have.
Paperwork: Keep your receipts. You’re probably saying “duuuuuuh,” but that’s only because you don’t read our tipline. Buy a folder. Get a magic marker and write RECEIPTS on it. Put your receipts in it. Put the folder in a safe place.
Camera: If you have a camera, take pictures of whatever goes wrong. Lots of pictures.
Part III: How to take advantage of these tools so that you never get stuck with a pile of crap.
Now, let’s say that for some reason or other you’ve still managed to get yourself into a pickle. You’ve bought a box full of bathroom tiles from Best Buy and they’re refusing to take it back.
1) Document everything. Take photographs of everything, save all the paperwork.
2) Contact your credit card company and report the fraud. Selling people boxes of bathroom tiles, or used, broken piles of crap instead of the real product is fraud. Fraud, fraud, fraud. It is not OK to sell fake stuff just because you are a multinational corporation and have a policy that says it’s not your fault. “Policies” do not supersede laws.
3) Consider reporting the incident to your state’s attorney general and/or department of consumer affairs. You may also want to inform the local police. It’s possible that whomever put a ringer in your box is committing some sort of systematic retail fraud, and your report may help the police to catch them.
If you’ve followed these steps, your credit card company should be able to issue a chargeback. That’s what happened with the real bathroom tile guy. There’s no reason why you should be any different.
If all else fails, or you find yourself in a situation not covered here, consider small claims court. Small claims court can help you force a company to uphold a warranty, and they can help you recover damages if you’re unwittingly sold a used, defective, or broken product. Here’s a success story from one of our readers who sued Best Buy over a defective washer. Best Buy said it was their policy that they were not responsible for selling a broken washer because the consumer didn’t pay for their delivery service, but thankfully for our reader, policies aren’t laws.