BBB: Back to School Shopping Tips
Roanoke, VA – BBB has been receiving reports of parents across Western VA jumping with joy, and giggling with glee. There’s just one thing that can cause such peppy parents:
It’s time for the kids to go back to school.
That means it’s also time for the annual tradition of dumping out your purse and wallet and trading all your savings in for crayons, binders, backpacks, and clothes. The back-to-school shopping season has arrived. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from $634.78 last year.
Thankfully there’s some help on the way. Virginia’s annual August Sales Tax Holiday falls this weekend, August 1-3. During this three-day period, purchases of qualifying school supplies selling for $20 or less per item, and purchases of qualifying clothing and footwear selling for $100 or less per item will be exempt from sales tax. Retailers may also choose to absorb the tax on other items during the holiday period, but they are responsible for paying the tax on those items to the Department of Taxation.
But this time of year also attracts more than just shoppers. Phishing scams increase dramatically at the beginning of the school year in an attempt to take advantage of the rush on shopping and the wave of returning students.
Parents are inundated with advertisements this time of year, but some of these deals and “steals” are actually just that: attempts to steal your personal information. Scammers have been known to send text message advertisements posing as legitimate stores, often saying you’ve won a shopping spree or a special freebie deal. Shoppers are instructed to navigate to a website to input contact information. Scammers will then sell this information.
Another common scam is the use of fraudulent pop-ups and sidebar advertisements featuring amazing deals, offers and giveaways. These ads may look exactly like legitimate ads from well-known stores. Click on the pop-up and instead of getting a free iPad, you are actually getting free malware dumped onto your system.
“Getting the kids ready to head back to school can be stressful enough without the added threat of identity theft,” says Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western VA. “While it is important for parents to be diligent about where they shop and to whom they give their financial information, their children also need to be taught how to keep their identity secure.”
As students return to the classrooms, their social networks grow with an influx of new friends and classmates. With smart phones, tablets, and other social devices becoming common in the classroom, scammers target social sites with malware and viruses designed to steal personal information. Parents are advised to go over rules for social network use and the dangers of over sharing and accepting unknown friend requests.
BBB tips on saving some money at the counter and saving your identity at the same time:
Don’t trust the text. Most legitimate companies don’t use text message marketing. To see if the deal is real, head to the companies confirmed website to see if the offer is online.
Skip the Pop-Up. Install a pop-up blocker on your browser and ignore any that get through. Remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is.
Secure your devices. Make sure all your electronic devices have up to date security measures in place. Avoid saving credit and debit card information with sites for future browsing. Use a different password for each site you shop on.
Only use secured sites. Check to see if the website starts with https://. This means that it is a secured site.
For saving money at the register:
Take inventory. There’s always that endless supply of markers, crayons and notebooks around the house. Reusing these items can save hundreds of dollars over the years. Consider repackaging, sharpening, and cleaning out older, gently used items before buying new ones.
Look for the deals. Some retailers’ back-to-school specials are available for online and in-store purchase. Make sure to check out your local newspaper for deals. Retailers will put ads showcasing the special buy-one-get-one-free deals, and even coupled items like lunch boxes with backpacks to lure in customers. Shop sooner rather than later and save more.
Set a budget. Decide how much you are willing to spend per child, and include your children for a “teachable moment” on creating a budget. After taking inventory, create a shopping list and stick to it. This will help you avoid costly impulse purchases and ensure nothing is forgotten.
Know what your child's school allows. Schools will often provide parents with a list of required items for the school year, which can help determine what you need to purchase. These lists are also available at many retail stores and on school websites. Additionally, many schools have specific dress codes, so keep these restrictions in mind before spending money on clothes the school may not allow.
Check refund and exchange policies. Be sure you can exchange or return items purchased during this time period. Keep in mind some items may be non-refundable or have restocking fees associated with a return.
Set up email alerts at your favorite stores. Monitoring pricing early on is key to finding good deals on quality products. Many sites will have an informed community of savvy shoppers on their blog or in their forums who willingly share deals, exclusive coupons, rebates and insider information on where and when to find the best prices, popular models and links to helpful resources. These alerts will assure you don’t miss out on the hottest, and/or limited, opportunities.
The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution service, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information.
If you need additional information, contact the BBB at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501. You can also visit www.bbb.org. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/BBBWesternVA and on Facebook at facebook.com/BBBWesternVA