The internet makes holiday shopping so easy—no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.
But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn’t without risks. These tips can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:
1. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there’s a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won’t have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can’t withhold payments—the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.
2. Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you’re using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it’s not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.
3. It’s risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.
4. Be careful if you’re buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.
5. Use caution buying digital assets like books and music—they can’t be given away as gifts if they’ve been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to “gift an item” but it varies depending on the provider.
For more advice on safe online shopping and being a savvy consumer this holiday season and all year long, check out the Consumer Action Handbook–the free government guide to protecting your money.
Up early to score some Black Friday deals? These tips can help you stick to a budget and avoid holiday debt.
Whether you plan to do all your holiday shopping online or you’re going brave the crowds at the malls, the Federal Trade Commission offers shopping tips to protect you from fraud, over-paying at the cash register and more.
Find tips to help you research a purchase, shop safely, and understand contracts and warranties.
Black Friday is one of the most popular shopping days of the year. If you plan to hunt for great holiday deals this year, use these tips from the Massachusetts Department of Consumer Affairs newsletter (PDF) to make sure you’re getting the best price:
- Comparison shop: What does getting the best deal mean? When you’re looking at sales, do not focus solely on price. Decide which deal will give you the best value, including shipping costs, layaway plans, and free gifts.
- Bring ads with you: Once you know what you want and where to get it, print or cut out any ads you’ve seen for the products. Before purchasing, make sure that the prices on the shelf and at the register match the advertised price. Many retailers will be price-matching their competitors, so you may be able to get an item at a different retailer for the same price.
- Know store policies: Refunds, cancellations, returns, layaways – be sure to check the retailer’s website for these policies before heading to the store. These also need to be clearly displayed in the store before checkout. Ask for a copy of the policies so you have them on file in case anything goes wrong.
- Shop smart with a Smartphone: Apps such as Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper give consumers more on-the-fly shopping information then ever. These apps can scan an item’s barcode, show reviews, keep track of deals, navigate between stores, and provide instant comparison shopping.
- Know the deal: Retailers typically advertise Black Friday prices as the lowest of the year, but this is not always true. Some items may be offered at lower prices other times during the year. Be aware of this when looking at sale prices and check around to compare one retailer’s deals with another.
- Watch for inflated prices and exaggerated markdowns: Some sellers will inflate the “regular” price of an item in order to increase the markdown and give the appearance of a deal when no money is actually saved. Watch out for overlapping price tags and know what the real normal cost is before making a purchase.
- Use Layaway: For an item that may sell out, putting it on layaway is a great way to pay at your convenience while not missing the deal because of limited supply.