CHICAGO (CBS) — Holiday shopping will get into full swing this weekend, and before you start buying all those gifts on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you should make sure you’re not only really getting a big deal, but protecting yourself from scams and potential identity theft.
Nearly 70 percent of all holiday shopping is done between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, and this year shoppers plan to spend more, averaging $967 in gifts.
Better Business Bureau of Chicago CEO Steve Bernas has a few reminders before you swipe that credit card.
Whether you’re shopping in brick-and-mortar stores or online, Bernas said the most important rule is to do your research.
“Are you really getting a deal? So many times the Better Business Bureau gets complaints after, like ‘this is supposed to be a doorbuster sale, and I actually paid more than it is down the street.’ So you have to have that down pat before you go out. Do your research,” he said.
Bernas said the Better Business Bureau has seen a spike in complaints about an increasingly popular scam, in which people place ads for products on social media just to steal shoppers’ credit card information.
“That’s what we’re concerned about, because they’re not companies, they’re individuals, and they’re getting away with putting an ad on social media that you can buy it, but actually they just want your credit card number,” Bernas said. “They’re not even a company. You never get a product, because they have no intention. They want your credit card number. They steal your identity.”
Before buying from any company, shoppers can check the Better Business Bureau website, which provides three years of information about complaints about various businesses, including grades from A+ to F, and customer reviews.
Bernas also said it’s important to set a budget for your holiday shopping, so you don’t spend more than you should.
The holiday shopping season also is a busy time of year for hackers, and Bernas said one thing you can do to protect yourself is to use a credit card instead of a debit card.
“Your credit card is still your safest way to pay, because you’re protected under federal law to get the money back. If you use your debit card, though, it’s your money, so it may take a few months to get your money back, and you can’t pay your bills,” he said.
Also, make sure to check the fine print on those big sales.
“The big print giveth, and the little print will taketh away. So you’ve got to be very careful on those situations,” Bernas said.
Bernas also warned people to be wary of phishing emails, such as those claiming someone tried to deliver a package to your home, and asking for your personal information and credit card number to get the package.
“Those are phishing emails. Deal directly with the sites directly. Don’t let a popup steer you somewhere. If you want to go to UPS, type in UPS, or any of your favorite stores, go to them directly. Don’t let an ad take you somewhere, because that’s where we see a lot of the problems, especially this time of the year,” he said.
“Criminals are seizing this opportunity to try to steal your information – which also includes your cash,” said Special Agent Garrett Croon of the Chicago FBI office.
“If you’re receiving an email and it doesn’t look right, and it’s just your gut instinct, like, ‘I don’t know…This email is telling me I won a $500 gift card and this is a major retailer sending it to me, maybe I should investigate this a little more.’ Do that.”
Croon said in phishing, if you click on the link, it exposes your computer to malware and somebody else gets control of your computer.
He sais if you do think you’re a victim of a scam, let the FBI know at ic3.gov.