The holiday season is an often chaotic and stressful time. People are rushing out to shop, spending their money more freely than probably any other time of year, trying to get their hands on great gifts and deals, giving to charity, and generally being caught up in the excitement of the season. This excitement often leads to disctraction, which could make you a target for any of the many holiday-related scams and schemes out there.

First of all, there is the "high-pressure sale", which is perfectly legal, but can still lead to foolish decisions and regrets. We've all been pressured by a salesperson before, with phrases like "If you're buying these curtains, you really need the matching area rug. There's only one left, and we probably won't restock it", and "You need this shampoo and conditioner to keep the color in your hair, I'll add it to your bill". Now, in your normal, everyday shopping you would probably have the sense to politely refuse these things if you didn't feel that you needed them, or felt you couldn't afford them. Around the holidays though, especially if the things we're buying are gifts, we may get suckered in to buying extra or unnecessary items after a few convincing or urgent words from a salesperson. Watch out for these high-pressure sales that will warn you that "there is only one left" or offer you "a special deal". Try to stick to what you originally planned to buy and not fall into these traps that will convince you that you need more - your bank balance will thank you! Also, keep in mind that around the holidays, everyone wants more money, and many salespeople work on commission, so don't be so sure that they have your best interests in mind when trying to give you that "great deal".

This time of year, malls and stores are crowded with busy shoppers. You're probably busy juggling several shopping bags, plus personal items like a purse, wallet, keys, etc. You are also probably paying more attention to your shopping list than you are to the people around you. It's easy to get flustered and overwhelmed as you plod through the stores and try to get in and out as quickly as possible. What you should do, is take your time and pay attention. It's very easy to lose track of your items. Maybe you set your bags down so you could look at something on a sale's rack, or put your wallet or cell phone on the table while catching a quick bite to eat at the food court. All it takes is a few minutes for these items to be lost or stolen by opportunistic thieves just waiting for all the distracted busy people, who may neglect their personal items, or who may not realize that one of their shopping bags has gone missing. Help yourself out by making regular trips to your car to drop off the excess baggage - put your bags in the truck where they'll be locked up out of sight, and then go back for more. Not only will that reduce the chance of losing track of things, but it'll make you more comfortable too. Keep your personal items like your wallet, keys, and cell phone safe by keeping them in a closed purse, or in a front pocket. Remember that old-fashioned pick-pockets can be lurking in these crowds too, and with a little slight of hand, can easily help themselves to anything in your back pocket or in an open purse. In a busy mall, you may not think twice about someone bumping into you until you realize you're missing something, and by then, it will likely be too late to know who took it. Be alert when you brave the stores and malls this season and watch out for the unexpected!

You may think that doing your holiday shopping online is the safer, less stressful bet, and it's true that it can be, but the internet is fraught with scams and cons. There are countless internet scams out there, but one that online buyers should be especially wary of this time of year is online auction scams. Maybe you'll come across someone selling this year's hottest, must-have toy or accesory and decide that you need to have it. You get caught up in a bidding war and end up paying way more than you wanted to in order to beat out the competition. Feeling smug about your winning bid, you wait for your item to arrive. When it does however, it isn't what you expected. Maybe it's an older version of what you thought you were getting, or a designer jacket that turned out to be for a doll instead of a person. Even worse, it could not arrive at all. The trouble with online auction sites is that many of the sellers are simply individuals that you do not know - not any sort of reputable retailer or business. When buying online, stick to trusted sites and companies and avoid dealing with any one person.

Another very popular holiday scam is the "Name a Star" scam. You may have even seen commercials on tv advertising these sorts of scams. They will lure you in with a line like "What could be more special than naming a star after your beloved?" You can then pay up to $150 to "name a star", and the company will send you a certificate showing the coordinates of your newly named star, and promise that it will be entered into a "star registry". Sounds magical, doesn't it? Well, the main problem with this "gift" is that stars are named by the International Astronomical Union, and these names (which are usually numbers) are assigned based on IAU internationally accepted rules. Adding your star to a "registry" means adding it to a made up registry that is not in any way recognized by astronomers, which means there won't be any scientific data published about that "Grandma Edith" star you "named", because the entire thing is bogus. The IAU's website says, ""such 'names' have no formal or official validity whatever. Like true love and many of the other best things in human life, the beauty of the night sky is not for sale, but is free for all to enjoy." Save your money and print your own star-naming certificate, because it means just as much as going through one of these companies, and costs a lot less.

These are just a few things to watch out for as the holiday season swings into full gear. It may be a crazy and stressful time of year, but don't let it become more costly than it needs to be. Stay alert, stay smart, and try to keep things simple. Instead of getting carried away, celebrate the true spirit of the season with togetherness, warm wishes, and holiday peace.

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