This year, the holidays feel especially important to those searching for a sense of normalcy in an abnormal time.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), shoppers anticipate spending nearly $1,000 on gifts, decorations, food and additional “non-gift” items for themselves.

Thanks to COVID-19, online shopping has evolved from a convenience to a necessity, and many will turn to their computers to complete their holiday shopping.

Unfortunately, scammers are waiting to strike. A recent BBB reportreveals a spike in online purchase scams, which have made up nearly 40% of all scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2020, costing victims an average of $93.

The holiday shopping season officially kicks off during Thanksgiving weekend, which provides opportunities to find unbeatable deals, support your community and find the perfect gifts for your loved ones.

Use these tips from your Better Business Bureau to shop safe and smart during the holidays:

Black Friday

• Read the fine print. Be sure to check if discounts on your purchase exclude certain products, ask about return policies, and always request a gift receipt.

• Plan your approach. Many brands now advertise their Black Friday deals in advance, so take note of which products will go on sale, when the deal ends and if other retailers are offering better deals.

• Do your research.Read product reviews for all the items on your list, especially bigger-ticket items such as appliances and electronics.

Small Business Saturday

• Shop safe. Remember to continue social distancing practices while shopping. Utilizing curbside pickup or online options is an effective way to stay safe and avoid large crowds of holiday shoppers.

• Refer friends and family. Recommend your favorite local businesses to your friends and family as they shop. If you are unable to bring your friends and relatives to a business’ brick and mortar location, share their website and social media pages.

• Shop small, eat small.Continue supporting your community by dining with locally owned restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries or by purchasing gift cards for your loved ones.

Cyber Monday

• Watch for false advertising. Watch out for too-good-to-be-true offers, especially if you’re searching for the season’s hottest item. Avoid lookalike websites created by scammers by checking that the site is secure, the business’ name is spelled correctly and working contact information is provided.

• Beware of phishing scams. You may receive unsolicited texts and emails prompting you to click a link to claim a prize or check on delivery statuses. Avoid opening these messages, as they could be part of a phishing scam. If you think it could be legitimate, hover your mouse over the link to see the true URL.

• Update antivirus software. Keeping the antivirus software up to date on your devices gives you more protection against malware downloaded by phishing scams, pop-ups or unsafe websites.

Giving Tuesday

• Look for name similarities. Copycat charity names are commonly used by scammers looking to steal money from those looking to give back. Avoid mistaken identities by double checking the charity’s name before you donate.

• Take time to research. The end of the year is a common time to make donations, and you may start receiving requests from unfamiliar charities. Research the organization’s mission and learn how your contribution will be used before donating.

• Use standards-based evaluations. The best way for a charity to prove it is trustworthy is agreeing to in-depth evaluations. BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance has 20 standards for accountability, and you can visit Give.org for free access to charity reports.

Happy holidays from everyone at BBB Serving the Heart of Texas!

Amy Rasor is Fort Worth regional director of the Better Business Bureau.

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