It seems like every year retailers try to start the Christmas holiday shopping season earlier and earlier. No matter how hard they try, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are still the days that holiday buyers begin shopping in droves.
Whether you do your Christmas shopping by joining the hoards at the malls and big box stores on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) or you wait until Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) to search for online deals and bargains, we at the BBB want you to have a safe, scam-free holiday.
Here are some safe shopping tips for those Black Friday shoppers who brave the elements and crowds at the stores:
• Be prepared, and do your homework. Study the ads, make out a shopping list, set a budget and stick to it. By deducting your purchases as you go, you’re more likely to adhere to your spending limits and not buy impulsively.
• Protect your money. Always pay with a credit card. You don’t have to carry a bunch of cash. Credit cards have some terrific safety features that cash and debit cards don’t. Debit cards are linked directly to your checking account. If your debit card is lost or compromised, scammers can literally empty those accounts.
• Understand a store’s policy. Can the items be returned? Refunded? Do you need a receipt? Always ask the retailer so you won’t be disappointed later. Always get a gift receipt, if possible, in case the recipient needs to exchange or return the gift.
Shoppers have come to love Cyber Monday. Accounting giant Deloitte predicts 53% of people will rely on Cyber Monday sales to do their shopping. Deals get bigger and bigger, and cybercriminals will work hard to take advantage of the huge number of online shoppers. Here are some tips to avoid scams online:
• Use credit cards, not debit cards, to make your purchases. As we mentioned above, credit cards are much more secure than a debit card. You can easily challenge misrepresentations, problems and charges on credit cards.
• Be sure payment pages and forms are secure. Secured, encrypted payment sites will display “HTTPS” in the address bar. Never enter your personal data or pay if the website does not display “HTTPS.”
• Be immediately suspicious of seemingly too-good-to-be-true offers. Social media seems to be a conduit for fake coupons from your favorite retailers (Target, Kohls, Lowes and others). The coupons appear authentic, complete with the retailer’s logo, but in reality, these are often scams to get you to click through to a bogus site, where they harvest your credit card and other information. Go to the retailer’s actual website to double-check. Amounts much over 20% to 25% should ring alarm bells.
• Be cautious of company websites having no street or physical address, with email the only way to contact them. Legitimate organizations will always display vital contact information.
• There are some legitimate sites that do offer tremendous savings, but they are often not based in the United States — China, for example. The deals might be true but, because of overseas shipping challenges, you often run the risk of not receiving your merchandise for weeks if at all.
• Before clicking that “Checkout” button, research a company’s reviews by giving us a call at the BBB. You can look for unresolved complaints at www.bbb.org, then search BBB Business Reviews.
Whether you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the mall and big box stores or the ability to make your purchases online from the comfort of your sofa, keeping these tips in mind will help you have a cheerful holiday season!
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.