Golden Rules for Holiday Shopping!

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If you bought the gifts in the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” it would cost a record $34,558.65, according to the 34th annual PNC Christmas Price Index. Few have a budget for all those birds and performers, but ‘tis the season to get carried away. Here are a few spending tips so you don’t overstuff the stockings— or your budget!

1. Be choosy: Identify your special partridge and pare down your list to those you’re actually close to. Don’t guilt-buy for those far-away relatives who will re-gift your tacky present anyways. If you can’t resist, create a funny e-card for free.

2. Create a budget: Don’t be one of the geese who lays a spending egg. Once you know who you’re buying for, decide how much you will spend per person. If $15 is all you can afford per person, then spend $15 – not $17 or $20. If that seems a bit Scrooge-like, tell your friends/family to set the same limits for you. Take advantage of online budgeting tools to set limits with text or email alerts to warn you.

3. Find the bargains: Be surfing while the swans are a swimming. Look for coupons and Groupons. When it comes to online shopping, there’s a cost for convenience. PNC calculates the online cost of the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” gifts is $45,096.00, which is 30 percent over the in-person approach. But you can save by watching for free shipping offers and no-hassle returns plus there’s Cyber Monday deals and Free Shipping Day on December 15, 2017.

4. Get crafty: Handy drummers are drumming up their own gifts. Whip up a few dozen batches of your special cookies, cake pops or brownies, package in pretty baskets with a bow and call it a day. Who on your list wouldn’t love a homemade treat over a store-bought gift?

5. Pay smartly: Like the maids, milk the most out of your money. Pre-paid cards mean you only spend a set amount and are perfect for kids to learn how to buy for others and stay on budget. Cash in on your credit card reward points to buy gifts. When using credit, make sure you have a plan to pay off your balance. For online payments, look for security or privacy seals first before submitting information. The payment page should have a lock icon and the address should start with “https”.

Be Aware of These 6 Holiday Ho Ho Hoaxes

Attention shoppers: a Monday Christmas holiday may mean an extra-long weekend for you to shop ‘til you drop, but fraudsters see it as more opportunity to trick innocent holiday revelers with holiday-related scams. From Black Friday to New Year’s Eve, take steps to help reduce the risk of fraud this season by learning about these common holiday scams and tips to protect yourself.

1. Gift Card Fraud

Gift cards – both electronic and plastic – are a popular option for gift-givers. For the eleventh year in a row, 61 percent of consumers want gift cards as a holiday present, according to the National Retail Federation. But gift cards also are highly prone to fraud. Because they do not contain customer information, they are not traceable and scammers can get money fast. In fact, downloadable e-gift cards carry the highest risk of fraud. According to Radial’s Annual Holiday Fraud Index, e-gift card fraud generally happens 10 times more during the holiday season but surges to 25 times more likely on December 26 and remains high until the new year. Guard against gift card fraud with these tips:

• Promptly use your gift cards. They are basically like cash sitting in your spare drawer – or your email inbox.

• With e-gift cards, confirm there is a legitimate sender and confirmation code you can use on the company’s website.

• Gift cards on unattended display racks carry more risk. Buy gift cards off of a company website or at the customer service counter where they are under surveillance.

• Look for gift cards in protective packing that have the number hidden, but make sure the seal isn’t broken.

• Watch the cashier activate your gift card and confirm the value after it is activated. And always get a gift receipt.

• Do not buy gift cards from an auction website or online marketplace, unless it is a verified exchange website.

2. Copycat Websites & Mobile Apps

Some say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not when it comes to websites or apps. Fraudsters like to be copycats and engage in cybersquatting, where they profit by imitating someone else’s trademark. They take well-known brands, create a website with a few extra words in the URL, market goods using words such as “hot-selling” or “discount” and voila – they are in business. You hand over your credit card number, but the fraudsters have no actual merchandise to sell. To guard against these copycat websites, search online yourself for the real company’s website. Double check information such as a company’s street address or phone number when you enter their website. As an added precaution, use Whois.net, which allows you to check domain names and registration of websites. Use caution when downloading mobile apps[1]. Always download and install apps from well-known stores, such as Apple® Store, Google Play Store, Amazon Store and Windows® Store. Some applications can house malware capable of stealing your data as you use your phone or charge money to your app-linked accounts without your knowledge.

3. Fake Shipping Notifications

Did you get an email saying a shipper is trying to deliver a package or a package is undeliverable, but you don’t remember providing your email address? It could be a scam. Attachments or links in these emails could be a phishing attack and pollute your device with malware in an attempt to steal passwords, personal information or worst case – your identity. PNC offers tips to help you learn how to identify a phishing attempt. Always visit the shipping services’ valid website to call and verify. Fraudsters may also place a “missed delivery” postcard on your door that could contain false numbers. Some lead to a fraudulent company overseas, which is one expensive call to make.

4. Phony E-Greeting Cards

If you receive an e-card in your inbox and can’t make out the sender’s name, chances are it’s not a secret admirer, but a fraudster. Always delete an e-card from someone that you don’t know. Legitimate companies also will never make you share personal information to open a card.

5. Help Wanted: Seasonal Job Solicitations

You or your teenager may be looking to earn some extra cash to spend over the holidays, and seasonal jobs are a popular option. During your job search, go to the company’s main website to apply or apply in person. Never pay or share personal information to get a job lead.

6. Travel Scams

See a travel deal around the holidays that seems too good to be true? Chances are it is. Fraudsters reel you in with fake travel websites and vacation rentals, and stop responding once you enter your credit card number. Guard against these scams by dealing with a reputable travel agency or directly with a property owner.