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Five Steps to Happy Returns

YONKERS, N.Y. -- Socks again? As consumers scramble to purchase gifts this holiday season, shoppers also need to keep in mind that nearly 20 percent of Americans plan to return at least one holiday gift, according to a Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll conducted last year.

And though most shopping policies are more lenient than they were before the recession, some companies have fought fraud and abuse with stricter policies. But there are ways to prepare for a hassle-free return process with the least amount of headache, according to the January issue of Consumer Reports on newsstands Dec. 7 and online at http://www.consumerreports.org/.

Items such as computer software, video games, CDs and DVDs aren't generally returnable for another title after the seal has been broken. If an item comes with a rebate offer, make sure it works before removing the UPC code to redeem the rebate.

5. Know where to go. If the item was purchased online and the merchant has a walk-in store, check the website to see whether the store accepts returns to avoid repacking, a post-office trip, and shipping fees.