Author Archives: tomas

What is the return policy?

Rueckgaberecht

Have you recently placed an item in your shopping bag that you did not really need? Have you discovered a defect in a new clothing item? You can try to replace or return the product. Merchants are not required by law to accept returns. Therefore, you should always look up the merchant’s return policy.
Usually, a sales contract is binding. Nonetheless, most sellers permit the exchange of products.
Return policies at local retailers
A retailer is not required to offer returns or replacements for clothing or other products unless the customer did not notice that the product was damaged or defective at the time of purchase. Warranties and guarantees pursuant to current laws apply in these cases. But what about the common accidental purchase? Are retailers required to accept returns of intact products? Legally – no. This service is at a merchant’s own discretion. The receipt usually states if and within how many days a return will be accepted.
Return policies of online merchants
If you plan on sending back a product you have purchased online, you can count on return policies being in place. The right to return items is protected by law. The item can be sent back within two weeks. You do not have to give an explanation for doing so although many online merchants will provide forms that you may want to use. The same rules also apply to products that are purchased by phone.
These return policies do not apply to perishable and custom made products. Audio and video products such as CDs, computer or video games cannot be returned.
Cash refund
Online stores typically offer a cash refund. This is also easiest for the customer. The clothing item can be returned without having to provide a reason for doing so. At a store, the customer will receive cash or the amount will be refunded to his or her account. If the item was sent by mail, the customer has to make sure to return the item prior to a specified date. Customers are typically required to return the item within one to two weeks. If they mail back the item too late, the return will not be accepted anymore.
Refund for store credit
This method allows you to return the unwanted item, but you will not get your money back. Instead, you will receive store credit that you can use within a certain time period. You are required to purchase something else and may have to pay more in order to get something you actually want.
Replacement
This last method has even more limitations. The merchant will only allow you to exchange the product with a comparable item that may have a different color or slightly different specifications. You are not even able to purchase a product from a different department, i.e. returning a household item and purchasing a fashion item instead. For example, you may have purchased a crockery set in “Chinese red” and will only be allowed to exchange it for a set in “Chinese blue” or “Chinese violet”.
Check the return policy of each merchant before you finalize the purchase so that you will not regret it after Christmas!

Secure online payments

Bezahlen im Internet

Direct debit, credit card payments and Paypal – online payment methods have changed and numerous methods are now available. “Cash or credit” is now a question you will only hear in a regular store. The number of choices makes it difficult to choose an online payment method.

Pay by…

Credit card

Online payments with credit card are available worldwide. Keep in mind that unlike in France or the U.S., customers in Germany often do not have a credit card. The process is easy: you simply enter the credit company, name, address, credit card number, expiration date and security code (CSC) in order to complete your payment. It is easy to pay foreign service providers. Secure transmission of data is necessary. The symbol of a lock should be displayed in your browser if the data transmission is encrypted and secure. The so-called SSL protocol is usually used.

HINT: If the credit card payment is not verified with a signature, the payment can be disputed and the money may be refunded.

Electronic direct debit

This method requires the buyer to give the seller permission to withdraw funds from the account. The risk for abuse is pretty low because it is possible to dispute transactions within a certain time period. There is some risk for the seller in case the buyer’s account does not have sufficient funds. This payment method is usually only used during domestic transactions. It is not ideal for small amounts because a written signature is required for the direct debit authorization, thus requiring additional written correspondence.

Invoice

This method is the most secure payment method for buyers. Some retailers allow customers to pay for products ordered online after they receive an invoice. This is the most secure payment method for the customer. The customer transfers the due payment amount to the account listed on the invoice after he or she receives the product. The seller assumes the main risk of this payment method because some customers may order products despite not having the funds to pay for the item. Therefore, the total value of products purchased using this method may be limited.

Prepayment

This method is the opposite of paying an invoice is issued. The risk is assumed by the customer because the transferred amount may not easily be refunded. Some small businesses may only offer prepayment because their items are made to order. You should only agree to this option if you are purchasing products from a reputable seller.

Cash on delivery

This method used to be common, but it is barely used anymore. Customers pay the purchase price when they receive the product. The money is paid to the mailman. This payment method is not much safer than prepayment because you can usually only inspect the product after you have rendered payment.

Paypal

Paypal is a part of eBay and is the largest provider for online payment services. After the customer has registered with Paypal, the American company acts as a third party between the seller and the bank. The customer’s bank account or credit card is connected to the Paypal account, and the email address serves as the account number. If customers do not have a credit card, they can still use Paypal by transferring money to their Paypal account. Then they are able to send and receive money. The Paypal account is free, but a fee must be paid for funds received.

Firstgate

The online payment system Firstgate is well established. Once registered, one can pay for purchases at affiliated online stores with a simple click of a button. A small fee is charged for this service.

Spam mail and Malware

Spammails und Malware

Not a day goes by without armies of Amys or Lisas bombarding our email inbox in an attempt to get in touch with us, legal departments sending last notices or banks advertising their incredible credit offers. Unfortunately, it is not possible to get rid of these fraudulent emails once and for all.

About 100 million spam mails end up in inboxes each day. They adapt to the security measures and spam filters of email providers and are, therefore, not recognized as spam. It seems to be impossible to catch up with the senders of spam mail. The notorious Viagra ads from Russia are easily detected. Personalized phishing mails are phrased differently and are often sent from private email addresses.

Less than 0.05 percent currently bypass the filters and are read by the user. However, if you consider that about 50,000 spam mails are opened per 35 million users every day, the number seems much more daunting. The goals behind these spam mails vary greatly. Some were created to uncover user data that are subsequently sold. Others spread malware through the links included in the email body. They are also used to sell fake medications or drugs or for the purpose of phishing in order to access online banking and account data. The difference between spam and advertisement is often not clear.

How do I react to spam mail?

1. NEVER click on a link in an email body, even if you think that you recognize the sender. It is easy to disguise the true sender address in HTML emails. The reference and not the text in the link determines which site is opened after you click on the link.

2. If you happen to open and unknown email and are not sure if it is spam, closely check the sender address, language and content. Any entrepreneur will use language that is easily understood by people who are not technically inclined. Also check if contact information like telephone numbers or mailing addresses or provided in case you have further questions.

3. Public authorities, banks, law firms and other service providers will send important documents in the mail and not in an email. If you are still not sure if the sender might not have good intentions, google the first sentences of the email or the email address. If it is a spam mail, you should quickly find complaints online.

When in doubt, you should mark such emails as spam and then delete them if this has not automatically occurred. The spam filters of email inboxes are now able to recognize emails marked as spam and they will automatically direct similar emails to the spam folder in the future. Most email providers have settings that permit the automatic deletion of the spam folder at regular intervals so that your inbox does not become too crowded.

How can you recognize fake online stores?

Bezahlen im Internet

It is easy to end up on the website of dubious online stores when you are looking for good deals on the internet. Their websites are often very well designed or modelled after websites of reputable online stores. This makes it difficult to quickly recognize them. Unfortunately, these stores often sell products of questionable quality or require advance payment while not mailing out the purchased product at all. If they respond to the customer‘s complaints at all, they often explain the latter with unexpected shipping issues.

The owners of these online stores are typically difficult to identify. This makes it very difficult to get your money back. They are often located in a foreign country, which makes the criminal prosection difficult.

Be careful and remember the following tips in order to determine if you can trust an online store.

Contact

A dubious online store usually provides little contact information and the identity of the owner is usually not clearly stated.

Publishing information

Dubious online stores usually use fake publishing information. The information is usually incomplete or often not provided at all.

URL

You should check if the URL matches the name of the store or if it is the usual URL. The browser might not display “https://“ with the lock that is associated with reputable online stores.

Payment methods

Fake stores usually list several payment options although usually only prepayment or money transfer.

Customer reviews

If you are not certain, try to search for customer reviews of this online store. The website itself usually only shows very positive reviews.

Order confirmation

The order confirmation will also differ from confirmations provided by reputable stores. They usually contain incomplete and insufficient information.

Realistic prices and product variety

The offered products are usually unbelievably cheap. A selection of a wide variety of single items is also suspicious.

Lists of fake stores

Certain websites list widely known fake stores. You should certainly review these lists.

Browser extensions

Technology can also help you identify dubious online stores. Install a browser extension that can access a large database and uses the information to signal the security of a website with the image of a traffic light.

Lastly: use a different password for each website. If you happen to order a product from a dubious seller, the crook will not be able to gain access to your other accounts.

How to save money in spite of rising energy costs

stromkosten sparen

Energy prices continue to rise, and you likely get upset each time you receive a high energy bill in the mail. The following simple tricks will help you save some money which you can then spend on something nice.

Heating

Turn down the thermostat in the winter. Temperatures around 18 degrees Celsius in the bedroom and 21 degrees Celsius in the living room are still comfortable. You can lower the temperature even more at night or when you and your family are out. However, it is not a good idea to turn off the heat for a long time because this can contribute to the development of mold.

Ventilation

Ventilation is very important during the winter. When it is cold outside, you should open all windows for a few minutes several times a day to allow fresh air into the room. Old air with lots of humidity should frequently be exchanged with fresh, dry air. This will avoid the development of mold.

Simply leaving the windows cracked is not a good idea for your wallet. Way too much of the precious heat will escape, and you will need to heat even more.

LED lights

LED lights are much more expensive than halogen bulbs, but they are more efficient. Compared to halogen lamps, LED lights can help you save up to 85% of electricity. You will notice the benefits in your electric bill within six to twelve months. In addition, LED lights are environmentally friendly and brighter than halogen bulbs.

Stand-by mode

Even when they are turned off, almost all electronic devices such as television sets, computers or lamps use power when they are plugged in. This adds up to an additional expense of 50 to 80 Euros each year. It is advisable to unplug devices when they are not in use or to buy power strips that you can switch off when needed.

Ideal location

Appliances like refrigerators or freezers should not be placed next to a stove or other warm places. Remember that the local temperature influences the device’s power consumption because the device is programmed to keep a constant internal temperature. Regulating the internal temperature due to fluctuations in external temperature will cause an increase in power usage.

Extra tip:

Defrost your freezer regularly. This will avoid hoar frost that can lead to an increase in power consumption.

Flying with children – overview of airline rates

Fliegen mit Kindern

If you have ever flown with children, you have probably asked yourself what items you can bring onto the airplane and how much it will cost?

Guidelines and fees for special luggage items vary between airlines. Every airline will require that children above 2 years of age sit in their own seat. Parents of children younger than 2 years can decide whether they want to purchase an extra seat for their child. The return flight is the determinative date: if the child is under the age of 2 on the date of the first flight, but will be 2 years old on the date of the return flight, the child must fly in his or her own seat. Tickets for young children are usually cheaper than for adults.

Here are the rules of some airlines:

Air Berlin

Luggage: One free baggage item per child up to 11 years of age. This does not apply to the Economy Light rate. Strollers, car seats and travel beds are transported free of charge.

Seat: The normal ticket price is reduced by 15 to 20 percent for children under 2.

Condor

Luggage: Parents may bring items required for the care of small children in addition to their own carry-on luggage. Children under 2 are allotted 10 kilograms of luggage for Economy, Premium and Business Class. Children under 12 are allotted 25 to 30 kilograms, depending on the rate. The same rules apply for adults and children over 2 years. Two special baggage items such as a stroller or a bassinet can be transported free of charge.

Seat: There is a 10 percent discount for children under 2.

Easyjet

Luggage: Two special baggage items such as a stroller or a car seat are free of charge. Just like adults, children over 2 can bring along one carry-on item without a weight limit. 

Seat: Children under 2 fly for about 28 Euros per flight. The full price must be paid for children over 2.

Eurowings

Luggage: One special baggage item such as a stroller or bassinet per child is free. Children are also allotted a baggage allowance for one item weighing up to 23 kilograms.

Seat: Just like adults, children up to twelve years of age will not pay extra for one baggage item up to 23 kilograms. One special baggage item such as a stroller or bassinet per child will be transported free of charge.

Lufthansa

Luggage: Aside from the Economy Light rate, children under age 2 can transport one baggage item with a weight of up to 23 kilograms free of charge. Strollers or car seats can be checked in free of charge.

Seat: Young children under 2 that do not require their own seat pay 10 percent of the regular price. There is a special rate for children up to 11 years; almost all rates cost only about 75 percent of the regular price.

Ryanair

Luggage: Stroller, booster or car seat are transported free of charge. A fee must be paid for other special baggage items up to 20 kilograms.

Seat: The Family Extra rate includes a 50 percent discount for checked luggage items and the priority boarding for children between 2 and 15 years of age that is usually subject to a charge. Parents have to book this service. Children up to age 2 travel for a fee of 20 Euros, older children will have to pay full price.

Tuifly

Luggage: The Pure rate does not include luggage for children under 2. The Perfect rate includes up to 29 kilograms of luggage. The transportation of strollers and car seats is free, but the airline should be notified in advance. Bassinets can be transported; the fee depends on the weight.

Seat: Children under age 2 pay 15 Euros per flight for international short and medium distance flights and 50 Euros for long distance flights. Older children have to pay the regular ticket price.

Shopping on vacation – guidelines for destinations within the European Union

Einkaufen-im-Urlaub-–-Richtmengen-innerhalb-der-EU

Can you just bring wine from your vacation destination back home? What about tobacco, medications and cash? Souvenirs like cigarettes and alcohol as well as animal products such as cheese or leather clothing can cause problems at the customs office. You can find out here what you need to know about souvenirs purchased within or outside of the EU.

If you travel through EU member states, there are very few limitations, if any. Thanks to one of the fundamental laws of the EU, the “right to freedom of movement”, almost anything can be transported across borders as long as it is intended for private consumption.

General guidelines

There are a few exceptions and limits to be aware of:

Alcohol and tobacco are considered to be so-called “semi-luxury foods” for customs purposes. Therefore, the traveller’s allowance is limited. All packages need to have a label showing the tax stamp and information about nicotine and tar contents.

Cigarettes 800 per person

Cigarillos 400 per person

Cigars 200 per person

Smoking tobacco 1 kilogram per person

Please note

Until 31 December 2017, an individual may only transport up to 200 cigarettes purchased in Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria for the purpose of private consumption without paying duties.

Spirits 10 liter per person

(e.g. brandy, whiskey, vodka, rum)

Alcoholic sweet drinks 10 liter per person

(e.g. alcopops)

Non-classified products 20 liters per person

(e.g. sherry, port wine, marsala wine)

Carbonated wine 60 liters per person

Beer 110 liters per person

There is no traveller’s allowance for wine that is brought to Germany from other EU member states for the purpose of private consumption.

In Germany, there is a traveller’s allowance for coffee and products containing coffee. Each person may import 10 kilograms of coffee and 10 kilograms of products containing coffee from other EU member states.

If the quantities of transported goods exceed the traveller’s allowance, it may be suspected that they have been purchased for commercial purposes. You should try to prove that the goods you are transporting are intended for private consumption. Otherwise, you will need to pay the required taxes.

The above mentioned guidelines only apply to private individuals who personally transport goods from one EU member state to another. Taxes must have been paid in the member state where the goods have been purchased in the usual manner.

Travel within the EU through non-member states

If your trip requires you to pass through a country that is not a member of the EU, e.g. Switzerland, you should research whether traveller’s allowances are lower or if there are any other rules you should be aware of. You will not have to pay duties when you bring goods within the above mentioned limits back to Germany as long as you can prove that the products were purchased in the EU. A receipt should be sufficient proof.

Shopping on vacation – guidelines for destinations outside of the European Union II

Englisch außerhalb eu

Food items

If you plan on importing animal products for private consumption into the EU, you should research the strict guidelines.

Meat and milk as well as sausage products or cheese might have to be checked by a veterinarian before they can be brought into the country. You may have to obtain certain certifications and keep documentation with you at all times.

Other goods

You have to declare any goods that you have purchased on your vacation if the total value exceeds EUR 300. This amount is EUR 430 if you travel by air or sea. Travellers under the age of 15 may bring products with a total value of up to EUR 175. The value of more expensive items cannot be split between individuals.

Cash

Cash amounts of more than EUR 1000 require prior written customs declaration. Coins and paper money that are legal currency as well as coins or paper money that are not legal currency, but can be exchanged for legal currency, count as cash.

Animals and plants

Protected animal and plant species may not be imported into the EU! You should check which products are prohibited before your trip. Local merchants might offer to issue you a so-called export certification. However, such a document may only be issued by the responsible customs authority of the respective country. If you attempt to bring back any prohibited products, they will be confiscated.

Luggage

If you travel with expensive items such as professional photography equipment or jewelry, the customs officers might get suspicious. You can expect to be asked to provide proof that you have not purchased these items abroad. You can bring along receipts or take photos of the items that show the registration numbers.

Fake brand products

Replicas and copies of brand products may only be imported for private use. If the quantity of these articles is unusually large or if the customs officers are suspicious, there could be consequences. Owners of trademark rights can request all fake products to be confiscated.

Shopping on vacation – guidelines for destinations outside of the European Union I

Einkaufen im Urlaub – Richtmengen innerhalb der EU

If you have travelled to a country outside of the European Union, a special territory or Heligoland and want to avoid paying taxes on goods you have purchased there, you will have to adhere to guidelines limiting the quantity or value of items that may be imported.

The two most important rules are:

1. The traveler is personally transporting the goods

This means that the goods are transported in the same manner as the traveller. If the goods are transported in the luggage by any other method or if they are mailed, this does not count as being transported by the traveller himself.

2. The goods are intended for private consumption

The goods may only be used by the traveller, close relatives or as a gift. It is recommended to keep any proof, i.e. a receipt.

Remember that alcohol and tobacco products may only be brought into the EU by individuals aged 17 and above.

Maximum quantity of tobacco products

Cigarettes -> 200 per person

Cigarillos -> 100 per person

Cigars -> 50 per person

Smoking tobacco -> 250 grams per person

Maximum quantity of alcohol beverages

Spirits with more than 22 vol% -> 1 liter per person

Alcoholic beverages with up to 22 vol% -> 2 liters per person

Non-sparkling wine -> 4 liters per person

Beer -> 16 liters per person

Maximum quantity of medications

The traveller is allowed to carry the amount that is needed for his or her personal use only.

Maximum amount of fuel

Aside from the amount inside the vehicle’s tank, 10 additional liters may be transported in a portable container.

Exceptions to maximum quantities

  • Check if guidelines regarding limited quantities only apply to certain people, i.e. residents of areas near the border, individuals commuting across the border, airplane or ship crews or drivers of tour busses.
  • The value of the goods including the value added tax applicable in the country where they were purchased is used when determining whether the allowed limit has been exceeded or not
  • The allowed quantities or value limits of several individuals cannot be combined.
  • Traveller’s allowances can only be claimed once for each trip

You missed your flight – what now?

Flug verpasst
It happens quicker than you think. You are on your way to the airport and should have had enough time to get there. Now you are stuck in traffic and will miss your flight. A sick child or a forgotten backpack can also cause you to miss your flight. You need to stay calm and try to find a solution to your problem.

You should go to the airline’s desk right away so they can try to book a new flight. However, this is usually associated with additional costs.

You should call the airline soon as you realize that you going to miss your flight. They can try to change your reservation. You should also expect to pay additional fees.

If you want to be safe and avoid additional fees from the get-go, you should book a flight that will allow you to cancel at the last minute at no cost. These tickets usually are usually more expensive than a regular ticket.

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