Watch Out for These 5 Black Friday Scams

Americans spent more than $59 billion on Black Friday purchases in 2012. Included in that total was more than $1 billion in e-commerce expenditures, marking the first time in history that people have spent so much on the Web on this shopping holiday. Given the near ubiquity of Internet use and consumers' growing propensity for shopping online, that figure will only rise as time goes on.

While businesses make a fortune on Black Friday, the increasing number of Americans who shop online on this day makes it lucrative for scammers as well. Fortunately, you're about to learn how scammers may target you so you can avoid those traps and save your hard-earned holiday budget. Here are five Black Friday scams to watch out for.

1. Bargain emails
A scammer using this tactic sends an email advertising some sort of bargain, which is often supposedly available for one day only, encouraging the recipient to act fast. It may appear to be legitimate, but if you don't recognize the sender and it sounds too good to be true, there's a good chance you're being targeted by a criminal. To be safe, never click an unsolicited email from someone you don't know.

2. Bogus e-tailers
A scammer might create a bogus retail site where you can "buy" something you'll never actually receive. What you will get, however, is a credit card bill for the phony item and possibly for that TV the scammer bought with your card. Play it safe and only shop online through established retailers or those you otherwise know are legitimate.

3. Gift card scam
Be wary when purchasing a gift card through a third party instead of directly from a retailer. It could be counterfeit, and there's very little chance you'll get your money back. If it is counterfeit, when you try to make a purchase with it, the merchant will deactivate the card and you'll be left empty-handed. When purchasing a gift card, always do so directly through the retailer.

4. Bogus classifieds
Online classifieds are a great tool for comparison shopping from sellers around the world. Unfortunately, they're also a great place for scammers to sell phony items.

Here's an example of how it works: You notice an ad for a seemingly great product at a very low price. Your instinct tells you it's too low, but maybe a little voice tells you the seller just wants to get rid of it without haggling.

First, the sketchy seller responds to your email by explaining that he's selling that barely used, high-end computer for $200 because he's in the military and needs to pay for an emergency flight to meet his sick mother back home. Get your violin out, because sob stories like this are classic in these cases!

Then you may notice that the sender suddenly got a name change and goes by a completely different moniker. Between his mother's illness and duties as a soldier, he just doesn't have the time to meet face-to-face, so he offers to ship the computer to you from his base in some faraway country, right after you send the money to him via Western Union. This could go on forever, but you get the idea.

If you're going to shop the classifieds, be sure to use a site such as eBay, with reliable reviews and dispute resolution options. Otherwise, stick to dealing locally and never buy an expensive item without seeing it firsthand.

5. Parking lot bait-and-switch
Scammers haven't completely abandoned the real world just yet. Some still lurk in parking lots looking for unsuspecting shoppers.

The scammer might try to sell you electronics out of his truck at a steep discount. He might claim they're leftover inventory or give some other bogus reason for why they're so cheap. Once you make the purchase, you'll probably end up with something that's counterfeit, defective, or even stolen. Ultimately, use common sense and never buy something from a stranger in a parking lot.

Final word
The Internet is a hotbed of Black Friday scams, including phony bargain emails, bogus e-tailers, and people selling counterfeit gift cards and merchandise. Even shoppers headed to bricks-and-mortar stores should be on the lookout for the parking lot bait-and-switch.

Common sense is the best defense against all of these scammers. By shopping at established retailers and taking basic measures to ensure others are legitimate, you'll avoid having to tell that embarrassing story at the holiday party about how you were conned because you honestly thought you were getting a new big-screen TV for $50!

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