Stay Safe Shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – has been long established as the biggest shopping day of the year. In recent years, as more and more retailers have a presence online, the consumerist extravaganza has begun to spread through the entire weekend all the way to Cyber Monday, a day people when gnaw on leftovers as they surf digital deals from their work computers.

While Black Friday is hailed by many stores and shoppers alike as a tribute to capitalism, the sad fact is that every year there are too many stories about shoppers getting trampled in the excitement, or tempers getting overheated with the prospect of not being able to take advantage of some deal or other. On top of that, some of those “deals” may not be all that great, with markdowns on cheaply made products (or even products that have been recalled) that can break easily or become dangerous after purchase.

With that in mind, we’ve put together some of our favorite tips for having a safe Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. Whether you’re venturing out at 4 am to stand in long lines while still digesting your turkey and yams, or kicking back in your comfy chair while checking out the online discounts, these suggestions will help prevent the most common mishaps.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Aimless wandering is not a virtue on Black Friday. Planning ahead and knowing your route not only means you will get done faster, but it also decreases the likelihood that you’ll run into trouble. The more places you go, and the longer you hang around, the likelier you are to run into someone who’s having a really bad day – which could mean you’re having a bad day yourself.

Sites like BlackFriday.com can help you navigate the deals so you can plan your routes. Prioritize the items you want in advance, and try to figure out where in the store they are likely to be located. Having a plan of action can

The Deal’s Not Worth the Danger

Look, I get it. I’ve stood in a long line outside of Best Buy in the hopes of getting my hands on the latest new bit of technology. I may have even engaged in a bout or two of shopping-cart jousting to maneuver my way ahead of a few others, just to make sure I actually got the items I wanted. Not saying I’m proud of it, but I’ve done it.

But it’s important to keep in mind that no deal is worth physical injury. If it looks like things are getting ugly, that’s your cue to get out of the store and find someplace safe. Confrontations can turn heated (and physical) quickly, and when large groups of people get spooked or excited – which can happen for reasons ranging from an announcement about a “flash sale” to signs of danger, like smoke or fire – it is best not to be in the way of the stampede.

Do a Safety Check

This goes for both physical and digital security. In brick-and-mortar stores, make sure that security guards and store personnel are alert and paying attention. Look out for dangerously stacked displays, precariously shelved items, and any breaks, spills, or other potential hazards. Also, don’t venture into dark corners of the store, and if you do have to use the restroom (Pro Tip: Go before you leave the house!), make sure it’s clean and well lit.

When shopping online, check to make sure you are using a secure connection. Most browsers employ a little green padlock icon to indicate that a site is secure. You can also tell a site is secure by the https (note the “s” which means “secure”) at the start of the URL. Only shop from trustworthy sites, and make purchases using known secure payment methods, such as PayPal or Google Wallet, with two-factor authentication, such as sending a text to your phone in addition to requiring a password.

Check for Recalls and Bait and Switch Schemes

If a deal seems too good to be true, it very well may be. Stores frequently advertise a certain deal, knowing they will sell out quick, and then have employees try to convince you to buy something else instead. Note that the “something else” isn’t always something that costs more; it might actually cost a bit less than the advertised product and be of a much poorer quality, making the profit margin on the product that much better for the store.

Also, stores are required to pull recalled products off the shelves, but there are many cases where this does not happen. For example, just this past October, Best Buy was fined $3.8 million for selling many recalled products over a period of five years! In the same vein, online retailers like Amazon have been found to be selling recalled or expired products, leading to cases of salmonella poisoning and other potential dangers. Doing a quick search on the model number and checking manufacturer (not just retailer) websites are good ways to make sure there’s nothing fishy going on.

Watch the Phishing Traps

Believe it or not, the weekend from Black Friday and Cyber Monday is one of the biggest periods of the year for phishers to send fake emails hoping you’ll click on them. They know that amidst the receipts, shipping confirmations, digital catalogs, and a flurry of other emails you’ll be receiving that weekend, their chances of getting you to click on an unsecure, identity-stealing link is much greater than at any other four-day stretch of time on the calendar.

The rule of thumb: If it looks suspicious, delete it. Also, if you do get an email you think is legit, spend a few extra seconds typing in the website URL directly (or search for it on Google, which will automatically correct any spelling mistakes). It’s safer and less likely to lead to a bank account-draining experience in the middle of the holidays.

Hide Gifts in Your Car

Nothing says “Break the window and steal me!” like a brand new bag of Black Friday goodies sitting in the passenger seat. If you’re going to be going in and out of stores all day, make sure the trunk is clear so you can fit all your bags in it. If you don’t have a trunk, such as in a wagon or an SUV, use a blanket to cover your purchases, or find another way to hide or disguise them.

Pro tip I learned from a 911 dispatcher: If you’re at a shopping mall and run out to drop off some bags in your car, it’s also a good idea to move the car to a different parking lot on the other side of the mall. Believe it or not, nefarious ne’er-do-wells will follow and watch shoppers to see who drops off packages before heading back into the mall. Then, once you’re gone, it takes them less than a minute to break in and pop the trunk. But if you put your bags in the trunk and drive somewhere else, they’re more likely to think you’re leaving and won’t bother watching anymore.

Shop Smart, Have Fun, and Stay Safe

Ultimately, Black Friday and Cyber Monday should be enjoyable days, when you can get gifts and products for yourself at discount prices. Whether you’re heading out or staying in, just make sure to stay safe, have fun – and get a few steps in to work off those extra Thanksgiving pounds.