Shop for the holidays without getting scammed

PHOENIX - My assignment: In 700 words or less, I'm supposed to keep you and your money safe while you're out shopping for the holidays. How about I do it in 17 words and two punctuation points: Do not buy gift cards, do not shop online and do not get talked into extended warranties!

Now, I know that will never fly. But it's true. Some of the major scams or needless holiday spending involves things most of us do. So be careful.

Gift cards:

People love them. So do scammers. There are cases where thieves write down the numbers they find on the back of gift cards sitting along store racks. Later, they'll call to see if the card has been activated and go shopping on your dime.

If you can find them, try buying gift cards from a customer service person or where people can't get their hands on them. Also, you may want to use the entire balance right after you activate the card.

Separately, never click on text messages promising free gift cards. They're all scams.

Online shopping:

More of us are shopping online. So how do you do it? Do you run an internet search using words like "cheap shoes" or "low cost TVs"? That can lead to sites that are fake. Sometimes those sites look like more legitimate websites, but in most cases, they get your credit card information and give you nothing at all. Protect yourself! Don't click on e-mail links about "great deals" from places you've never heard of. Make sure there's an "https://" before the web address or a green padlock to show the site is secure. For one-time buys, some credit card companies offer temporary numbers with smaller spending limits and less of a problem if stolen by thieves.

Extended warranties/service contracts:

These aren't scams. But in many stores, and online, you're going to be hit up to pay more for an extended warranty on a product. They are big profit centers for stores. In most cases, consumer experts say they're not good deals. Take appliances. Extended warranties can cost you more than a hundred bucks. But Consumer Reports says many of the repairs don't happen during the limited coverage time. They also don't advise these extended warranties with car purchases. I've seen people pay $4000-$5000 for extended car warranties that have been useless. Many of the parts that can go wrong aren't covered. And there are mileage restrictions.

When it comes to some computers, especially laptops, the warranty might be worth it though. I bought extended warranties for two different laptops and used them for both. Consumer Reports says they may be good ideas if your laptop is used on-the-go or if you have a Mac and need the extended tech support coverage.

Bottom line? Make sure you check out all websites carefully, read the fine print on any purchase contract, research extensively, keep all receipts and have a scam-free holiday season!

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