PhotoHalloween is now the biggest shopping holiday after Christmas, and that's contributing to a rash of pop-up stores selling costumes, treats, and tricks. But consumer protection officials note that pop-up stores can vanish like ghosts when Halloween is over, leaving customers with no way to return merchandise or redeem store credits.

“We want consumers to be aware that these 'pop-up' stores come and go in a flash, so shoppers need to be extra careful when making purchases,” said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. “Know what questions to ask to avoid getting shortchanged.”

Too often, pop-up stores pack up and clear out of their rented space long before the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten, said Steve Lee, director of the New Jersey Divison of Consumer Affairs.

“When it comes to pop-up stores, it’s more important than ever for consumers to inspect merchandise thoroughly and know their rights ahead of time,” Lee said. “When a consumer returns to a store to complain about a defective item and finds the merchant has packed up and left without a trace, there is not much hope of getting a refund.”

What to do

Lee offers these tips to avoid a frightening shopping experience:

Ask store personnel how long they plan to occupy the building. If they can’t give you a clear answer, consider that a major red flag that the store may not be on the up and up.

Ask how you would be able to contact the store once it leaves, perhaps by website or an alternate address.

Ask for specific details on returns. What types of merchandise will the store take back? Are unworn costumes returnable after October 31st? Will you get a full refund or store credit? How is store credit redeemable after the shop has closed for the season?

Fully inspect and try on costumes before leaving the store. Halloween stores are busy places and mix ups occur. Don’t assume that the merchandise inside the box matches what’s on the label.

Save all your receipts and pay by credit card so you can dispute unsatisfactory purchases through the card’s issuer.

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