9 ways to avoid holiday rip-offs: before you shop 'til you drop, check this list of buyer-beware precautions.

Author:Whigham-Desir, Marjorie
Position:Consumer News

No other season generates as much business--or money-for retailers, creditors and assorted others as the 31 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With stores open from dawn to midnight, you have plenty of opportunity to spend your entire Christmas bonus.

But beware--the holidays are ripe for consumer fraud. Here's a list of tips to keep in mind when you're perusing the racks and shelves.

  1. Keep all your receipts. Just in case you need to make a return or get an adjustment for items marked down after Christmas. They can be used to verify how much you paid and the method of payment you used. A good rule of thumb: Keep them for at least 30 days,

  2. Know the store's return policy. Find out--before purchasing a gift--how long you, or the recipient, have to exchange or return it. Ask for details: Will you get a complete cash refund if you purchase with cash or a check; a credit to your charge card; a merchandise exchange only; or a store credit? Also, ask if the item can be returned without the merchandise receipt.

  3. Be wary of buying things you don't need just to get a "free" gift. A plethora of in-store and cosmetic company promotions at holiday time make these specials very attractive. They can be good values and gift buys--but only if you need or can use what's being offered.

  4. Be careful of items marked "sale." Make sure the item marked sale is really a good deal. Comparison shop to see if you're really getting a good buy.

  5. Beware of misleading ads. Avoid the old "bait and switch" routine. Merchants lure you into a store on the pretext of having a certain item on sale, only to say they're "sold out" of that item but can substitute it for a higher-priced one. Leave immediately and report the merchant to your local Better Business Bureau.

  6. Make purchases at reputable stores. Shop at businesses you...

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