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Five ways to avoid Black Friday tricks

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Jeff Chiu/AP/File

(Read caption) People shop during Black Friday at a Target store in Colma, Calif.

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There’s a lot to love about the holiday season. You may get time off work to spend with family and friends, and a spirit of giving permeates the air. But it’s also important to avoid some accompanying pitfalls.

For example, be careful not to overspend, wander unwittingly under mistletoe or wear that ugly Christmas sweater on a first date. But it’s crucial to be wary of tricks — particularly during the biggest shopping weeks of the year. Here are five ways to avoid ruining your holidays:

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1. Secure your online shopping cart

It might be tempting to use your phone to shop online or transfer money while you’re waiting for your venti mocha, but using public Wi-Fi for financial transactions is like putting up a billboard emblazoned with your credit card and banking information.

Use a trusted internet source to go online, and buy only from sites that encrypt your data. To check whether sites are secure, look at their URL, which should start with https — the “s” at the end is crucial. There also should be a tiny padlock icon in the menu bar. Otherwise, don’t enter your credit or debit card information.

2. Lock down your shipping location

If you plan to do a lot of your Black Friday shopping online and have packages delivered while you’re not home, consider having them sent to your office or asking a neighbor to take in your boxes. That could thwart thieves who carry off packages left by delivery trucks.

3. Be smart with your smartphone

Not all apps are created equal — or even legally. Last year, many people were duped by a fake Amazon deals app that installed malware on Android phones, ferreting out personal information and siphoning it to the developer. To ensure this doesn’t happen to your phone, download apps only from legitimate sources such as the Google Play store or Apple’s App Store.

4. Read the fine print

Doorbuster deals can be misleading, so double-check the ad before you set the alarm for 5 a.m. Does the price involve a mail-in rebate? Does the store carry more than one or two of the items you want to buy? What is the time frame on the deal? (Don’t expect to roll into Wal-Mart just before closing on Black Friday and find that bargain flat-screen TV waiting for you.) If you’re buying online, will the shipping fees eat up any discount? Can you return the merchandise if you need to?

5. Make sure the deal is real

That new cashmere track suit may seem like a steal, but not every Black Friday deal is actually discounted. Retailers tend to change prices and discounts throughout the season, so check several sources for benchmark prices and competing brands to determine if you’re getting the best deal before you buy. A well-researched gift will be the best bargain.

This story originally appeared on NerdWallet.