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Do your homework before Black Friday

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - We're headed into the big holiday shopping season. Chris Thetford from the Better Business Bureau has safe shopping tips.

While online shopping can be a way to avoid crowded stores, shoppers need to be careful of the sites they patronize. When shopping online, be sure to:

1. Protect your personal information. Check to see how your information may be used online. When shopping at stores, keep your card out of sight and make sure you get it back and safely in your wallet before you leave the store.

2. Check the site`s security settings and privacy policy. If the site is secure, its address should start with https://.

3. Know the company`s refund and return policies. Are there restocking fees? Do you have to pay shipping costs on returns?

4. Do not rely on pictures of a product. Read the description and check model numbers, if applicable.

5. Be cautious of free or very-low-price offers. Often, free offers are followed by an open-ended enrollment in a program that automatically bills your credit card account. Before ordering anything online, make sure you click on and read all terms and conditions.

6. Pay with a credit card. If you suspect fraud or don`t receive your order, you can challenge the charge. It`s also possible to dispute charges to your card.

7. Obtain a tracking number for shipments. If you need the product before the holidays, find out when the seller intends to ship it and if possible, how it will be shipped.

8. Print out the order or save it on your computer. Make sure you have the documentation page for online orders and save it until the order arrives.

9. Be aware of phishing. Don`t respond to emails that ask for your credit card, bank account number or other personal information. Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming there is a problem with an order or account to lure you into revealing financial information. Call the company or find the customer service form on the company website to confirm any problem.

More information: www.BBB.org/STLouis