Bargain busters


POSTED: Monday, November 30, 2009

The Christmas wreathes are out, Santa Claus is here and the shopping rush is on.

Here's the deal: While the holidays are all about good will, as well as gift-giving and generosity, it is also the time of the year when scammers come out in full force. Before you take another sip of that eggnog latte, here's a reminder that the holidays are also a time when consumers need to be aware and vigilant of scamming scrooges.

Many scammers know that holidays are an opportune time for charities to tug on heartstrings and ask for money, according to These include telephone solicitors, people who knock on your front door and costumed solicitors rattling collection boxes.

Before you open up your wallet, do your homework or check out the legitimacy of the charity first, or stick with ones you know. Beware of charities with fake names that sound similar to a legitimate one.








Avoid giving to charities using high-pressure tactics that insist you make a donation NOW.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, scambusters also recommends that people keep an eye on credit card bills, the total tally while you're being rung up at the cash register (to avoid the shortchanging scam), and put your sales receipts away somewhere safe rather than leaving them in shopping bags.

Also, while shopping for all those great holiday bargains and deals, don't get swept up and lose sight of reality—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of holiday traps.

Consumer Reports' December 2009 issue of ShopSmart offers a few examples of holiday traps:

» Return fees: Before you buy a gift this holiday season, make sure you know the return policy. Many electronics items are subject to a 15 to 25 percent restocking fee if they are opened or not in a factory-sealed box. Some appliances not returned in original packaging also can result in a 15 percent restocking fee.

» Hidden debit-card fees: Using a debit card could end up costing you if the purchase costs more than you have in your account. Many banks will go ahead and process the purchase, then hit you with an overdraft fee.

» Unnecessary warranties: Some repairs are already covered by the standard manufacturers' warranty. Sometimes the repairs cost about the same amount. Don't pay more than 20 percent of an item's purchase price for a warranty.

On Cyber Monday today—the busiest online shopping day of the year—the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau offer the following tips for avoiding online holiday scams:

» Know which Web sites are naughty or nice: Plenty of bogus Web sites out there are offering bargain deals that are simply too good to be true. The FTC recommends that you know who you're dealing with by confirming the online seller's physical address and phone number so you can contact them with questions or problems. Beware of eGreetings card links or unsolicited e-mails that take you to a bogus site. Also, check out the seller's reputation with the Better Business Bureau (

» Pay with a credit card: This offers you more protection than cash. Under federal law a shopper can dispute charges if an item is not received.

» Use a secure browser: Look for the unbroken key or padlock symbol at the bottom of your Web browser. Also look for an “;s”; in “;https://”; in the address box before paying. You can also right-click on the Web page and select properties to look for the real URL.

» Know the privacy policy: When a Web site requests personal information, it also should post a privacy policy. Make sure you know the policy and that your information isn't being sold to others without your permission.

» Beware of phishing: If a business sends you an e-mail claiming a problem with an order or account, the BBB recommends picking up the phone to confirm it rather than clicking on the link.

» Keep records: BBB recommends keeping records of your online purchase. Federal law also requires that orders by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised, or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If not, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund.

”;Here's the Deal”; helps consumers stretch dollars in these tough economic times. It runs every other Monday. Contact Nina Wu at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).