Columbus, OH – Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday—oh my! This year brings even more opportunities for consumers to compare, share, and shop with an abundance of deals already in motion.
Judy Dollison, Better Business Bureau President, highlights a concerning trend: online shopping scams have surged by nearly 90% since 2015. “The increase emphasizes the importance of exercising caution while navigating the online shopping landscape,” reminds Dollison.
Despite this, retail experts are anticipating larger-than-usual crowds in physical stores and an uptick in spending on gifts, decorations, and other holiday items.
Whether shopping online or at brick-and-mortar stores, BBB of Central Ohio is here to provide insights into scams and offer smart shopping tips to help make the most of this festive season without being “Scrooged.”
Tips to shop smart this holiday season:
- Beware of fake look-alike websites. Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, search for contact information, and read online reviews.
- Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer. Scammers often steal photos from other websites.
- Ensure the website is secure. Look for the “HTTPS” in the URL (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “HTTP.” It is NOT secure.
- Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
- Be careful purchasing sought-after products. If something is sold out everywhere, don’t be tempted by a seemingly great deal. Scammers often trick shoppers by offering the most popular products at low prices.
- Pay with a credit card. It’s always best to make online purchases with your credit card. If any shady charges turn up later, the consumer will be able to contest them through your credit card company. Be very wary of any retailer that asks you to pay by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards, or other non-traditional payment methods.
- If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase and lost money was the price. Don’t shop on price alone.
- Report unsatisfactory purchase experiences to BBB. Consumers who are unhappy with a purchase should file a complaint at BBB.org/complaints. If a consumer never received an item, he/she should consider reporting it to BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed.
Black Friday: November 24
Black Friday arrives a little earlier this year, with many stores already advertising the big sale day. Dedicated shoppers are expected to look for deals online, similar to last year — that is if they haven’t already finished their holiday shopping. Shipping delays and hiring challenges continue to impact how people will shop.
Making The Most Of Black Friday Deals
Start with a list of items and use sale flyers and promotions to determine which store has the best price and stick to a pre-set budget.
Read the fine print. Some retailers may offer an additional percentage off the purchase, but could exclude certain deals or items such as “doorbusters.” Watch for companies boasting a high percentage off; the item may be “75% off,” but the original price could be inflated. Carefully check the price tags, terms, and conditions. Research online using a secure wifi connection to see if competitors have the item at a better price.
Plan out the excursion. Retailers often will release Black Friday flyers in advance, so consumers can plan their spree. Make a map of the stores to visit, at what time the promotion is, and what items are at which store. Some retailers only honor sale ads during a certain time frame, or on certain days, and could limit the amount of deeply discounted items available for purchase.
Sign up for email alerts. Many stores release their best Black Friday deals and exclusive coupons to people who have subscribed to their emails. Sign up ahead of the holiday season, and then unsubscribe afterward if needed.
Do your research. Read product reviews on extremely discounted items. It could be a cheaper model or brand advertised, and not what was expected. Check BBB.org’s business profiles of the stores and read what other customers have experienced.
Know the return policy and warranty information. Pass along any information about returns, exchanges, repairs, and warranties to the person who will use the item. Gift receipts are an easy way for recipients to return or exchange a gift if it’s not just right, but make sure the item is able to be returned before purchasing.
Small Business Saturday: November 25
After the flurry of Black Friday sales, many consumers explore the offerings of small, local, and independent businesses on Small Business Saturday (SBS). This dedicated day supports the significance of small businesses to their communities.
Judy Dollison, BBB President, suggests consumers Look for the Sign of Trust – the BBB Seal of Accreditation – in shop windows and online at BBB.org. “As communities rally around Small Business Saturday, BBB encourages the public to not only celebrate but also actively support those businesses who champion Trust. These establishments play a pivotal role in shaping the character of our communities, and consumers can offer meaningful impact through their support on Small Business Saturday.”
Created in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday – the day after Black Friday – is a perfect time to support local independent business retailers.
“Shopping Small” on Small Business Saturday
Get involved. Many communities are hosting special events to celebrate and support the businesses that make your hometown unique. Find out what local events are happening on the Small Business Saturday website, or visit local chambers of commerce or merchants’ associations.
Sign up for email alerts. Save a few dollars on holiday budgets by signing up for Small Business Saturday email specials offered by local merchants. Keep in mind, that consumers will probably get additional deals throughout the year, not just during the holidays.
Research the shops. Find out what past customers have to say by reading reviews online, such as those on BBB.org, and learn what shops are participating by going to ShopSmall.org.
Connect with businesses on social media. Many small businesses will advertise their sales via social media. Use #ShopSmall to search on social media platforms for information and share activities.
Invite your friends and family. Turn this shopping event into a “friends and family” extravaganza! Visit your favorite local stores or explore a new one. Take time to get to know the business owners and local community officials, and get a head start on the holidays while enjoying time with loved ones.
Don’t just shop small, eat small! Many people think that shopping at local retail stores is the only way to participate. However, small independently owned restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops would love to invite in new customers while they’re out and about.
Share your experience. Take a selfie at a favorite small business. Share it on social media with the hashtags #BBB and #ShopSmall to tell the world you’re a big fan of small businesses. Leave a review on BBB.org – these shops are open all year as well!
Cyber Monday: November 27
Inflation rates, increasing prices, and increased online shopping are likely to result in an increase of online purchase scams this year – making strategic, savvy shopping more important than ever. Online purchase (shopping) scams remained the #1 riskiest scam type in 2022 according to BBB’s 2022 Risk Report. Online purchase scams comprised 31.9 percent of all scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2022, with 74.0 percent reporting money loss.
Virtual Safety and Happy Clicking
Keep antivirus software up to date. Ensure antivirus software is installed on all computers or mobile devices and that it is up to date. This will help avoid non-secure websites and pop-up phishing scams and help keep personal information safe.
Price check before you buy. Dozens of online retailers will claim they have the best price on an item, but their offers can be misleading. Do your homework by comparing prices. Remember that the best deal may not be the real deal – If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Use a credit card. It’s always best to make online purchases with a credit card. If any shady charges turn up later, consumers may be able to contest them through the credit card company. Debit cards don’t offer this same protection. Never make purchases with online sellers by giving them prepaid debit cards or wiring them money.
Understand return policies. Online store policies may change specifically for Cyber Monday offers. Read the fine print before buying. Understand the return or exchange policy for the specific item. Be aware that stores may not allow returns for “final sale” or “closeout” items. Make sure to get gift receipts, so the recipient can return or exchange the item if necessary.
Giving Tuesday: November 28
The week following Thanksgiving isn’t just about shopping. Thanks to Giving Tuesday, it’s now a major time to support charity. The Giving Tuesday movement has helped raise more than $1 billion for online charitable giving worldwide since its creation in 2012. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org urges potential donors to research charities before giving to ensure their generous contributions are going to trustworthy organizations.
An interesting but concerning charity/cause trend is the encouragement of donations through cryptocurrency made popular through the #CryptoGivingTuesday hashtag. While a viable option in some instances, cryptocurrency scams take top spots in BBB’s scam reports.
Donating Wisely on Giving Tuesday
Watch out for name similarities. When charities seek support for the same cause, their names are often similar. Before giving, be sure to have the exact name of the charity to avoid a case of mistaken identity.
Review the website carefully. A responsible charity will include the following facts on its website: its mission and programs, measurable goals, and concrete criteria that describe its achievements. Look up information on their finances. Keep in mind, that the type of work a charity does will affect its costs.
Avoid on-the-spot donation decisions from unfamiliar organizations. The holidays bring a higher frequency of donation requests outside public locations. Don’t succumb to pressure to make an immediate giving decision. Responsible organizations will welcome gifts tomorrow as much as they do today.
Be wary of emotional appeals. Marketers have been known to exploit the holidays to make emotional pleas to donors. Instead of making an impulse decision based on emotion, do some research first to verify that the selected charity operates ethically.
Check with state charity officials. In many states, charities are required to register with the office of the attorney general before soliciting. Checking with the state’s appropriate office is an easy way to detect if an organization is legitimate or not. Find this information on the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) website.
Rely on standards-based evaluations. Charities can demonstrate they are trustworthy by agreeing to in-depth evaluations such as the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. Get free access to charity reports at Give.org.
Research tax status. Don’t assume every organization claiming to do good is a tax-exempt charity. Check an organization’s tax status with the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search tool. Also, make sure your contribution is tax deductible.
For More Information
Count on BBB to help you “Shop Safe, Shop Smart.” More tips are available at BBB.org/holiday-tips.
Learn more about avoiding scam social media ads when shopping online.
Report bad ads to BBB AdTruth.
Receiving packages from Amazon that you didn’t order? See our article on Amazon brushing scams.