BY MARIBETH WARD
The holidays are upon us.
With Thanksgiving and the all-important "Black Friday" only days away, the Indiana Bankers Association has released some tips to protect you, your belongings and your finances.
First, prepare a list of who you plan to give to, how much you want to spend and what gifts you have in mind before you hit the mall.
Be determined to stick with your list. You are more likely to stay within your budget if you pay with cash, but it may be safer to pay by check, credit or debit card instead of carrying a large sum of cash with you.
In any event, keep track of all of your expenditures to avoid "the gift that keeps on giving "-- large credit card balances.
The Bankers Association tips include shopping online.
This allows you to save travel costs and avoid the mad rush of crowds at the mall. Be sure to purchase only from trusted Web sites and print out copies of your receipts with the contact information in case you have questions or have items to be returned or exchanged.
If a store offers "no interest, no payments for X months," be sure you can pay for the purchase prior to that date.
These offers generally require that you pay finance charges from the date of the initial purchase, unless you pay in full before the end of the "no payments" period.
If you're making a large item purchase and the seller encourages you to buy the extended warranty, be cautious.
In most cases, extended warranties are a significant source of profit for the seller, and are rarely utilized. Take time to research the product, and buy products with proven records of reliability.
Gift cards have become very popular with people of all ages. While these cards are easily available, make sure you understand the terms.
Some cards have an expiration date or deduct a percentage from the value of the card if it is not used within a certain time period. Keep the card's account number and a customer service number in a safe place in case the card is lost or is stolen.
It might be safer to purchase gift cards from merchants that store them behind the counter, rather than purchasing them at a kiosk. Scammers have been known to hang around the kiosk, memorize the gift card number, wait until the card is purchased, and call to confirm the amount on the card. Then they go online and spend the funds from the gift card.
In addition to shopping wisely, be sure you take personal safety precautions during the holiday season. Sadly, criminals find ample opportunities to "ply their trade." Some simple steps can help you avoid being a victim.
Put your purchases in the trunk and out of sight of would-be thieves. Park your car in a well-lit and well-trafficked area. Stay safe by shopping with a family member or friend. If you shop alone and have lots of merchandise or cash, ask security to be escorted to your car.
Lock your doors as soon as you get in the car, and be sure your windows are rolled up. When walking to your car, have your keys in hand. Crooks look for those who appear distracted or talking on their cell phones. Keep your finger on the alarm button of your electronic door opener in case there is an emergency.
Keep your drapes drawn at your home if gifts are visible from the outside to discourage potential burglars.
Make sure any financial contributions are to legitimate charities or organizations. And, never drink and drive.