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BBB on homes: Follow suggestions for safe, secure holiday season

November 17, 2017 GMT

The Thanksgiving weekend is the traditional kick-off to the holiday shopping season, starting with Black Friday. This busy holiday shopping weekend also includes Small Business Saturday and concludes with online shopping on Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday begins the next day. The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas is offering these tips to shoppers and donors to ensure consumers remain safe during the holiday season:

Research: Read product reviews, check BBBHouston.org for Business Profiles, look at the sales flyers and ads, compare prices, read customer complaints and reviews, and look for early promotions and “flash sales.” Black Friday is known for “door-busting” sales, but sometimes quantities are limited or there are other restrictions. Before you wait in line for hours or brave the boisterous crowds, be sure you know what’s really being offered. Shop around since not all of the best sales or the best prices are in the big-box stores. Thousands of small and independent businesses are participating in Small Business Saturday, too.

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Return policies: Inquire about the store’s return policy before purchasing. Also, be sure to pass along any information about returns, exchanges, repairs and warranties to the person who will use the item. Always ask for a gift receipt.

Online shopping: Cyber Monday is one of the biggest online shopping days, but be cautious. With all the promotional emails received during the holidays, scammers will be prevalent. It’s best not to click on links from senders you don’t recognize. When shopping online, look for a small lock icon and an extra s in the URL (https - the extra “s” is for secure). Watch out for lookalike websites that mimic famous brands. Use a credit card for online shopping, as it has more fraud protection than a debit card. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date and avoid clicking on links in unsolicited email and social media messages.

Mobile security: With so many shoppers using their mobile devices to research and make purchases, it’s important to have a secure device. Be sure you’re using the recently updated version of apps and operating system on the phone. Public Wi-Fi is vulnerable to thieves and fraudsters looking to steal your info. When in stores or restaurants, avoid using banking or other apps that access sensitive personal information.

Look out for scams: If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for holiday-related cons that require you to link to a website and share personal information. Scammers take advantage of bargain hunters, seasonal job seekers, and parents looking for the hot new toy or latest gadget. A popular holiday scam comes in an email claiming to be from a package delivery service. If you suspect a scam, check out BBBHouston.org/scamtracker.

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Charity disclosure: In preparation for Giving Tuesday and throughout the giving season, check out BBBHouston.org to find BBB Accredited Charities that have fully disclosed information to BBB. Although participation is voluntary, you may want to be cautious of charities that don’t disclose the requested information. Also, be on the lookout for name similarities. Dubious charities often pick a name that sounds like a more famous charity. Before you give, be sure you have the exact name of the charity you want to support.

The Better Business Bureau is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Every year, more than 87 million consumers rely on BBB Business Reviews and BBB Wise Giving Reports to help them find trustworthy businesses and charities across North America. For information or to check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit www.bbbhouston.org, which includes our BBB Accredited Business Directory, or call 713-868-9500. Leah Napoliello is senior director of Investigative Services with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas. Send questions regarding homeowner issues to Leah Napoliello, Better Business Bureau, 1333 West Loop South, Suite 1200, Houston, TX 77027, or e-mail her at lnapoliello@bbbhou.org. Include mailing address and phone number on letters and emails.