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Susan Tompor: Have a merry, wary holiday season

Now that Thanksgiving is past, it's time to be on the lookout for deals that turn into turkeys and gobble up your money.

We're looking at busy days for watching your wallet. Pay attention to these warnings:

Sale signs can be sneaky

More than once, I've spotted great deals on the rack, only to discover that the bargain price applied to something else on that rack — not what I grabbed.

Yes, sale signs can, or should, have fine print. The other day, I thought I was getting anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent off a Detroit Tigers shirt, but my shirt rang up at 10 percent off. We later re-examined that sign at the store and saw that the bigger discounts applied to only Tigers Central Division Championship merchandise, not the Justin Verlander jerseys on the same rack.

Lesson learned: Know what you expect to pay before you hit the register. Scan the item ahead of time. Do the math if a discount is to be taken at the register. Take the purchase back if you later spot that you paid more for it than expected.

The whacked-out website

Not all shopping sites are legitimate. Some are created by con artists trying to capture your credit card information or identity. Take extra care if someone emails or texts an odd site that has super bargains on gifts.

"We're all seeing an overload of email touting the term 'Black Friday.' Shoppers should avoid making any purchases from stores they've never heard of," said Brent Shelton, a spokesman for Fatwallet.com.

Lesson learned: Do some research beforehand — for example, by checking out a site at the Better Business Bureau, bbb.org.

Deal on a gift card?

Watch out: You could be dealing with a disreputable third party, according to the Better Business Bureau. If there can be faux fur and faux cashmere, why not faux gift cards?

Some restaurants and retailers offer loyalty or promotional gift cards that can be used only during a short window of time, according to Odysseas Papadimitriou, founder and CEO of the personal finance websites CardHub and WalletHub.

Papadimitriou said regular gift cards cannot expire until five years from the date that the card is issued. But a gift card received through a promotional program can expire sooner. Read any fine print.

Consumers also need to watch the labels on their plastic. Did you just buy a gift card, which limits fees? Or did you just take a prepaid card off the rack? Prepaid cards can come with more fees, and you need to read those rules.

Lesson learned: Use gift cards promptly, and be careful not to lose them. Read terms of any bonus cards or prepaid cards carefully.

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

Susan Tompor: Have a merry, wary holiday season 12/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 9:34pm]

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