The holiday shopping season is almost here; but be careful out there.

The holiday shopping season is almost here; but be careful out there.

Happy holiday shopping: be careful out there

There are deals to be had as the holiday shopping season starts; but make sure to do your homework.

The holiday shopping season officially kicks off on November 25 with Black Friday, with literally billions of dollars spent around the world. While most businesses in the real world and online are trustworthy, the onus is still on consumers to protect themselves.

“Take your time, do your research, and make sure you’re shopping with reputable companies, especially online,” says Evan Kelly, senior communications advisor for the Better Business Bureau serving Mainland BC (BBB). He advises that canny consumers can often find better deals throughout the rest of the year than those advertised in the run-up to Christmas.

Kelly says that it’s important to be aware of return policies before you buy. “It is very common for stores not to accept returns between now and January.” Store return policies should either be displayed or available in-store, or printed on the back of the receipt; don’t be afraid to ask about them before you buy.

Be sure to keep all receipts, and ask for gift receipts so that the recipient can ask for a refund or exchange if necessary. The BBB notes that many stores now ask for information such as your e-mail address at the point of purchase, but that customers are not obligated to give this information out.

Online shopping can present challenges for unwary consumers. “Use reputable payment methods such as credit cards or PayPal,” says Kelly. “And don’t shop online using public Wi-Fi. People try to hack into other’s people’s computers when they are using Wi-Fi in a public place, to get personal information or install malware or ransomware on your computer.” Malware can be used to mine your computer for personal information or contacts, while ransomware can lock your computer, making it impossible to use. You will then get a message requesting payment to unlock it.

When shopping online, make sure the site is reputable, and not a “spoof” of a legitimate site. When you get to the payment page, make sure it is secure by looking for “https” at the beginning of the IRL, and checking that the address contains the lock icon. Also beware of slick-looking pop-up ads; go to the company’s website instead of clicking on the ads.

An online scam involving Amazon will send messages saying your order is stuck in transit, or that you are due a refund, and that more information, such as a credit card number, is required from you. If you receive one of these e-mails, check your account or contact Amazon directly to verify the message.