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Shopping smart at fall fairs

CROMWELL -- Connecticut Better Business Bureau is recommending that fall fair-goers be careful about letting down their guard when buying big ticket items.

Some people go to fairs for the food, others go for the rides, while some go to watch competitions or buy crafts, t-shirts and trinkets.

Fall fairs also provide vendors the opportunity to promote their services or showcase their latest merchandise. Some of those items can cost thousands of dollars, such as hot tubs, RVs, and trailers.

"Any time we buy something on impulse, we are taking a chance," according to Connecticut BBB spokesman Howard Schwartz. "Consumers can lessen the chances of having problems by avoiding making on-the-spot buying decisions."

Click here for a full list of fall fairs and festivals in Connecticut.

Risks include losing money to vendors who travel the fair circuit and have no fixed address, overpaying for merchandise and having trouble cancelling a service contract or sale.

Better Business Bureau offers these tips to protect yourself if you intend to purchase an expensive item at an outdoor location such as a fair:

Compare prices - Just because vendors set up shop at a fair does not mean they have slashed their prices.  Do some research to determine whether you are getting a good deal.

Verify with BBB - You can check a vendor's marketplace reputation by checking their Business Review at  Dishonest vendors sometimes display the BBB seal, even though they are not BBB Accredited Businesses.  You can pull up their BBB Business Review from your smart phone.

Get seller's refund/exchange policies - The devil is in the details and so is other important information on warranties, terms and conditions of the sale.  Ask for a copy of the seller's policies and make sure you understand the fine print before signing a contract or putting down a deposit.

Don't give in to pressure - High pressure sales techniques include offering a time-limited discount or saying there are a limited number of items in stock.  These "special" discounts are designed to lure you into make a decision on the spot.

Look to the future for a better price - Ask the merchant if any sales are coming up and if so, how long will they last.

Be selective about what information you give out - There are often raffles and other offers at fall fairs and they typically require contact and other information to qualify.  However, give some thought as to how much personal information you want to give out.

Your name, address, telephone number and email address provide valuable marketing information for vendors.  The problem is once you give out that sort of information, you don't know how that data will be protected, whether or not it will be shared with third parties and how that information will be used.  Provide as little personal information as possible, and consider opening a second email account so that your personal email inbox doesn't get deluged with promotional emails.

If you suffer from buyer's remorse, the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to change your mind and cancel the sale.   Ask for a cancellation form when you buy.  If the seller doesn't have any at the fair, you can write a cancellation letter and either send it by registered mail before midnight on the third day or drop it off in person.  Make sure you have valid contact information from the merchant before you sign a contract, put down a deposit or buy.

You can find out more about the Cooling-Off Rule at the FTC website.  If you have problems with a seller, you can file a complaint with your BBB to try and resolve the dispute.