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Watch Your Money this Holiday Shopping Season

November 16, 2017

With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season just around the corner, we all have late-night shopping and amazing deals on our minds.

While you flip through catalogs and compare prices online, keep an eye out for possible scams and don’t forget your budget. We know you’re busy planning Thanksgiving dinner and getting ready for the cold, but it’ll be a lot easier to watch for trouble now than it will be to clean up the mess later.

Check the Business

The first place to watch for holiday scams is with the business.

Buy From Reputable Companies

Check a business’s reputation on the Better Business Bureau’s website. Just enter the business name and location for an overall rating, customer reviews and complaints, and more.

Be aware, even a good rating might be misleading if the business has changed its name, or if it hasn’t been around for very long.

A few other quick steps you can take to verify a business’s reputation are:

  • Check for contact information
    If you can’t find the business’s contact information, consider it a red flag.

  • Check multiple sources
    Read reviews from a few websites and reviewers when available, and watch out for fake reviews.

Shopping online? Set a strong and unique password and check out the Federal Trade Commission’s online shopping tips. And if you like to shop from your phone, learn how to avoid fake mobile apps.

Verify Charities Before Donating

Many of us use the holiday seasons as a time to contribute back to our communities. And scammers know it.

A few steps to make sure your money goes to the right hands:

  • Don’t give financial information to telephone solicitors.
  • Investigate the charity’s website.
  • See if the charity is registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
  • Ask the charity directly to send you information like audited financial statements.

Charities often tug on our heartstrings and we’re all a little sentimental around the holidays. Just make sure to check the facts before making an emotion-driven donation.

Read more on choosing a reputable charity with the Federal Trade Commission. Check out Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s tips for charitable giving. And learn how to spot a fake charity from Consumer Ed.

Check Your Payment

The business seems valid. Next, think about how you pay them.

Use a Credit Card for Fraud Protection

Use a credit card whenever possible. Credit cards offer better protection against fraud than debit cards, checks, or cash. Also, know how not to pay. If someone’s asking you to pay with a gift card or wire transfer, that should send your alert sirens spinning.

And beware of credit card scams. In one popular scam, someone will call you, claiming to be from your credit card company or bank. Then, they ask for your card’s security code. Whatever the case, only give out your card information over the phone if:

  • You called them, or
  • You’ve verified that they are who they say they are. Hang up and call the number on the back of your card, then ask if the earlier call was legitimate.

If you think your personal information has been compromised, check out our tips for regaining safe finances.

Don’t Give Protected Information With Your Payment

If you’ve ordered anything online, you’ve probably been asked for a billing address. When you pay by card or check, businesses might need some additional information. But by Georgia law, there are some things they can’t do.

Business are not allowed to:

  • Imprint or copy your credit or debit card number when you pay by check.
  • Print more than 5 digits of your account number or your card’s expiration date on the printed receipt for electronic payment.
  • Require your personal or business telephone number when you pay by credit or debit card, unless for shipping, installment, delivery, or a special order.

Learn more about what information businesses can and can’t collect with the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit. And if you’ve seen a business violate this law, please file a complaint.

Check Your Finances

As you watch for scams, make sure you have the money for these purchases in the first place.

Create a Budget

Sure you have enough for gifts, plane tickets, and a new car? If you plan on making extra expenses this holiday season, use a budget to avoid overspending.

If you’re already keeping track of your spending, take a look at your records to see how much disposal income you have available every month. That’ll help you figure out if you have enough money for your plans. And as you factor in holiday expenses, make sure to include everything from wrapping paper and cards to parking and eating out. Also, you’ll want to consider whatever time you might take off at work, if that will affect your paycheck.

Learn more about budgeting and download a budget worksheet from Consumer Ed.

Cut Down on Costs

Get the most bang for your buck!

Research with comparison shopping sites and check for coupons when buying online. Take advantage of rebate offers and see what kind of warranty comes with your purchase.

If you don’t have enough money on hand, you might consider paying over time with a layaway purchase plan; just make sure to read the plan and verify the business first.

Looking for fun family activities that won’t break the bank? You might consider heading to one of Georgia’s beautiful state parks. All state parks are open Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, and they cost just $5 for parking. Several parks even have special events surrounding the holidays like a Thanksgiving Paddle at Hard Labor Creek State Park, and “Walk it Off!” hikes at Crooked River State Park. See all upcoming events and find parks near you on the Georgia State Parks website.

Find more money saving tips with America Saves.

Related Links

Stay Safe, Holiday Shoppers | Georgia.gov

Happy Holiday Shopping | Federal Trade Commission

Scam Alerts | Federal Trade Commission

Holiday Scams | Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit

Rachel Hart

About the Author

Rachel Hart is the User Experience Designer for Digital Services Georgia. On Georgia.gov, she makes government material approachable with writing, infographics, videos, and other imagery.

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