CHICAGO -- Tens of thousands of people across the Chicagoland area will hit the stores this holiday weekend, looking for to score Black Friday deals and check things off their holiday shopping list. The National Retail Federation expects the average shopper will spend over $900. And if you want to make sure that money is going towards goods you truly want, it pays to do your homework ahead of time.
Steve Bernas of the Better Business Bureau says his office processed more than 50,000 complaints from consumers in Chicago and northern Illinois in the last year alone. Here are some of his tips for avoiding scams this holiday season:
1. Comparison shop online and in print before you head out.
Don't just comparison shop your items, but comparison shop your stores. You're probably going to buy more than one thing when you head in for a special deal, so be aware of their other offerings ahead of time - this can save you from spending more money than you meant to in the heat of the moment. It happens.
2. "The big print giveth, and the small print taketh away"
Sometimes deals are limited in scope, like "door buster" sales advertised in newspapers, but near the bottom it will mention that only 10 or a limited number are available. They want to get in you in the store to bait you and switch you to buy something else. Keep these limits in mind before you head out.
3. Know who you're buying from
Regardless of if you’re shopping online or in a store, know the business you are dealing with. Do research and make sure it gets good ratings if you've never shopped there before.
4. Remember: sales are (probably) final
Refunds and exchanges in the state of Illinois are a privilege, not a right, so many times a consumer will go into a store and they won't notice that it says "all sales final. They have to have a return and exchange policy, and let you know what that is, but you have to ask that question too.
5. Use plastic if possible
Pay with a credit card if you can - even if you have cash. With credit your own money will be protected in the event of trouble.
6. Beware random links
If most of your shopping will be online this year, make sure you know your online retailer. Don’t follow links from emails or social media, and type in company web addresses yourself (or double-check your Googling), just to be safe. Don’t let somebody steer you to a website by clinking a random link - sometimes it's just a one-word change or subtle difference to the URL that looks like the retailer you're looking for.
7. Use online tools to track scams
If you feel like a scam may have fallen in your lap, the BBB has a new scam tracker online showing what is happening where. They can show what kind of scams are happening in your area. You can also look up different charities to see if they're reputable.
8. Trust your gut
If it seems like a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. It's better to save money now than pay for it later.