Deals or delusions? Beware of Black Friday rip-off tactics

More than 50-percent of Americans plan to do at least half their holiday shopping online this year. 

On Black Friday however, millions will flock to big box retailers and small shops alike, hoping to score an in-person deal.  

Whether you’re shopping online or heading out to do your holiday shopping in person, there’s plenty of scammers hoping to cut off a piece of the profits.

This year projections indicate most people will be out shopping in full force after two years of recession-crunched holidays. Some estimates put the number of Black Friday shoppers at more than 130-million. Now that consumers are once again flexing their buying power, retailers are in a frenzy to draw them in.

So, just don’t assume those great promotions you’re seeing are always on the up-and-up.  

The Usual Suspects

Year after year, customers show up on Black Friday to discover an advertised deal comes with enough red tape to wrap a city block. Although perfectly legal, these types of scams have caught the attention of the United States Attorney General’s Office and watchdog publications like Consumer Reports

The tactic is simple, widespread and undoubtedly frustrating. According to Consumer Reports, customers will spend an average of 15 hours slogging through the isles of retail stores. The stores themselves have plenty of methods to draw you in.  

A common tactic is to under stock blowout sale items. After all, half the battle is getting customers through the front door. They figure you’ll just keep shopping even after you discover that dirt-cheap plasma screen TV sold out at 6 a.m. Who wants to go through the hassle of finding a parking spot on Black Friday all over again with nothing to show for it?  

It’s Black Friday tradition to camp out overnight at bone-chilling temperatures with the dangling carrot being a massive flat-screen TV or video game system at a crazy markdown.

Yet, it’s all too common to discover the store you just slept outside of only stocked five-or-ten units. In fact, most of the mind-boggling deals on products like appliances and electronics are stocked at such low levels you might not even bother leaving the house if you knew in advance. 

There is however, usually still a chance to get the product you want later in the season. The under stocked items are usually shipped periodically throughout the holidays. So check back in a few days, or track the item down online. 

Mega-retailer Walmart is using its buying power to advertise a Samsung 40-inch LCD HDTV for under 500-bucks. However, consumer analyst Edgar Dworsky told CNNMoney this particular item raises some red flags.

For instance, Samsung doesn’t list the model on its website, which means the product could be a short-run item built specifically for Walmart’s Black Friday deal. 

This could cause some concern for consumers if the TV isn’t built with the same quality parts as models that make their way onto the sales floor throughout the year. So, if you’re looking at electronics, be sure to look for an original price on the ad, so you know how much is being knocked off. This also means you can be assured the item is always in circulation and subject to quality control measures.

Jewelry is a particularly hot item around the holidays too and there are plenty of words to look out for in the glut of advertising filling your mailbox. “Gold filled” and “gold overlay” is simply another way of saying the manufacturer cheaped-out on production. 

The Internet Shopper

Every year, more shoppers choose to skip the packed parking lots and endless lines in favor of shopping online. But retailers have learned to be just as sly in cyberspace as they are in the box store. The Internet is also rife with fly-by-night scammers ready to rip you off. 

However, you can get some amazing deals online, especially on black Friday when using reputable sites that offer great voucher codes. 

But remember, you’re fighting the battle on two fronts. Consumer experts say shoppers will be just fine, if they know the pitfalls. 

The US Attorney General’s Office says an important step to protecting your account and identity is to always use Paypal, or a credit card, and make sure you’re shopping at an established, secure website.

Plenty of less-than-reputable sites will try to suck you in during the holiday season and it’s all too easy to click the checkout button without taking all the necessary factors to mind. If you can’t find warrantee information, a business rating, or how long it will take to ship an item then it probably isn’t someone you want to order from.

Some online sellers will ask you for more information than they need. If someone’s asking for your bank account number, social security or driver’s license number, back out and buy from someone else. You should not have to give more than your name, method of payment, address and telephone number.   


Research is key and websites like, Savoo and the Better Business Bureau will tell you everything you need to know about who you are buying from and direct you to reputable websites. Just think of it as using the time you would have spent parking or standing in line. 

If a brick-and-mortar store you shop at in the real world has a website, that’s usually a good bet. You just have to understand the big-box stores are just as savvy online as they are in person.

Many retailers will tell you their Black Friday deals are available online, they just won’t tell you which ones. Others won’t tell you what time the Black Friday deals start. It could be midnight, or when the stores open. Either way, the store is in no big rush to let you know. They just hope you’ll keep shopping. 

Knowledge is key. Arm yourself with the facts on every thing you buy and you’ll end up getting deals instead of getting the shaft.

*Jonathan K, Dignity Chicago