DANVILLE -- Although Black Friday is now history and we have more shopping days until Christmas, Cyber Monday is just around the corner.
According to the Better Business Bureau, consumers will spend an average of $313 on gifts and other holiday items over the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. That average was tracked by the National Retail Federation, which says the most popular items are apparel, toys, books and video games.
Black Friday was named because retailers "go into the black," meaning no longer "in the red," which indicates losing money.
Heather Clary, BBB's director of communications, says whether it's Black Friday or not, shoppers this season should exercise precaution anytime they are shopping. She warns that companies advertising a high percentage off of any item -- like 75% off, for example -- could be inflating original prices just to make the sale look good.
Another thing many shoppers don't think about is being mindful of public WiFi, Clary says. Public WiFi is not secure, so checking your bank, credit card accounts or any other financially sensitive information should be saved for home.
But, Clary says, "As far as complaints, I would have to say that I think we hear more consumers who have issues with items they buy online" rather than in person. She says Cyber Monday, a day known for online discounts being offered, helps shoppers get some really good deals from legitimate businesses.
"It's the shoppers who go for whatever websites and ads they come across from unknown businesses that get into trouble."
Clary says she stays troubled by the fact that so many folks out there believe that just because someone has a website and is posting ads online and in social media, it must be totally "legit."
"And the scammers are very good at making their sites look like the real deal, easily fooling even the most savvy shopper," she says.
If a company is selling the hottest item of the year as a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is -- a huge red flag Clary is constantly reminding folks to watch out for on high-end items.
"Many times people who do receive something from sites selling those find that what they received was a 'knock-off' of poor quality. They were unable to return the item," she says. The same goes for hard-to-find hot toys and other items.
"One year, there was a website called Santa's Toy Shop offering toys from the popular movie 'Frozen' and other types of children's toys. People paid money via wire or prepaid card; they never got anything. The company appeared to not even exist -- we could find nothing on the site to indicate where it was located, and the site ultimately disappeared," Clary says.
She also says to watch out for false advertising and keep a close eye on the web addresses in your browser. Scammers love to create lookalike websites that, at first glance, appear to belong to a trusted retailer.
"We find that year after year, people continue to order items from websites that display no method of contact, other than email," Clary says. She says shoppers who get scammed online usually wait until Christmas is very near, and then "come to us for help. But if they have no information on where the business is located, we are unable to assist them."
Sometimes it turns out that the place they ordered from is located overseas, further adding to the problem.
So, Clary says make sure websites use the correct spelling of a business name and have legitimate contact information, customer service numbers and physical location. Shopping with trustworthy sellers on secure sites is the best bet, and always be cautious with businesses you aren't familiar with. Shoppers can also check out companies' profiles on BBB.org.
"Also, secure web addresses begin with HTTPS://, not just HTTP://," she says. "Never put personal credit card information in forms on non-secure web pages." Keeping antivirus software up to date will help with this.
When shopping online, Clary says it's always best to use a credit card rather than debit, because credit companies allow you to contest purchases. "Debit cards don't offer that same protection."
Clary says shoppers can lookup companies on the spot by using their smart phone and visiting bbb.org. "It's always best to look up a business to see what sort of record it has."