Contact Kim: Holiday shopping safety

Practical tips will help you and your pocketbook stay safe this shopping season.
Practical tips will help you and your pocketbook stay safe this shopping season.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - While many shoppers got a head start on deal-hunting Thursday, Black Friday is the official first day of the holiday shopping season.

Be sure to keep a few practical tips in mind to help you make the most of your shopping experience and protect yourself and your money.

Do you have a Black Friday game plan? It might be a good idea to formulate one. Everything that looks like a great deal may not be upon closer inspection.

"You see a lot of offers, but you really want to do your homework to make sure you're getting a good deal," advised Michele Mason of the Better Business Bureau.

"If it says 70% off, check and see what that would be, and then compare it against other flyers and see where the best deals are going to be," Mason said.

Researching any businesses you plan to trade with can avoid headaches in the future.

"Check out the companies with the BBB and make sure there is no history of problems with advertising or with the businesses' transactions," Mason said.

If you plan to give gift cards this season, do your homework. Mason said a lot of people turn to gift cards, but make sure you know if there are any restrictions associated with them. It's also great to find gift cards that provide extra dollars or incentives when purchased.

By all means, be aware of your surroundings while you are shopping.

"When you are at the register, if you are having to put in a PIN or give additional information to the cashier, be aware of who is around, especially nowadays – with cell phones, people can record you both by video and audio," Mason warned.

You can be more vulnerable this time of year when you are making numerous purchases.

"Identity theft is something that takes place all year, but we do find that people could be more vulnerable during the holiday season, so it is something you need to stay on guard about," said Mason.

As for personal safety, Mason advises people with lots of gifts to make sure they are secured in your trunk to ensure they are not visible to thieves.

Mason said that one of the biggest complaints the BBB receives after the holiday season is from frustrated shoppers who tried to make returns and exchanges.

"Most people don't realize that the company is not obligated to set a refund or exchange policy. It is not the law. Most do as a courtesy to their customers, but it is your responsibility to know whether or not a policy does exist," she said.

Michele said there are many local stores that do not offer exchanges or refunds. Keep in mind, the store is not required to post their policy, so be sure to do your homework and inquire before making a purchase. Also, be careful when purchasing special-order items or furniture online. If you return them, you may be charged a restocking fee.

Copyright 2013 WAFF. All rights reserved.