A new year is just around the corner, bringing with it new opportunities … to get scammed.
Oh, there I go again with my gloom and doom. But someone’s gotta say it, and that “someone” is me: You don’t have to be a victim in 2013.
You can avoid the schemes, swindles and shady deals and almost always get the best price when you go shopping, too.
Here are a few strategies you probably won’t read anywhere else:
Keep it simple.
Steer clear of gimmicks like zero interest financing (which, by the way, are not free) and focus on the price of the item you want to buy.
Merchants will hate you, but your finances will love you.
Follow the FTC.
The Federal Trade Commission offers lots of great information to help you become a better customer.
Question your loyalty.
Loyalty programs are designed to reward the company more than they do you.
Most customers would be better off cutting up their frequent flier cards and booking their tickets based on the price.
I repeat: cut up your cards.
Install a mobile price-comparison app on your phone.
They are the kryptonite to every bricks-and-mortar business, because you can find out instantly if there’s a better price. Here’s a list of apps.
Get to know your local Better Business Bureau.
The BBB isn’t without its critics, but I do believe the merchants involved in their BBB mean well.
Having a friend at your area BBB may be extremely helpful if you ever have a dispute with a merchant.
Set a budget and stick to it.
It’s a lot harder to get ripped off if you aren’t spending money you don’t have. Mint.com is free and helps you plan and keep a budget.
Learn how to say “no.”
As I warned recently, you’ll get hit with everything from investment scams to job scams in 2013.
Consider working on your “no” script. (I’ll have details soon.)
Stay current on the latest crimes and cons.
You can subscribe for email updates from the FBI and you can visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s blog — both will offer insights into the perils consumers face.
Learn their tricks.
Businesses don’t want you to know about the clever ways they’ve figured out how to manipulate you.
That’s one reason I wrote my book, Scammed: How to Save Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals.
Whether you buy my book or not, I can guarantee you’ll have an easier time as a consumer if you know what the opposition is thinking.
Control your impulses.
So-called “impulse” buys are the Achilles heel of customers. (I know, because I regularly go shopping with my three young kids and they always manage to convince me to buy something we don’t need.)
Control the urge and you will have no trouble avoiding trouble.
Know where to go when you get into trouble.
If a business or a con artist rips you off, you’ll probably instinctively turn to local law enforcement.
In the unlikely event you’re scammed in 2013, cast a wider net. Remember, businesses are often regulated on the local, state and federal level.
And when that fails, you can always go to court or take it to a consumer advocate like me.
Read this site.
Shameless plug, but I’m going to stay on top of all the rip-offs you’ll face in 2013. I promise.
When in doubt, don’t.
That’s my new motto for next year. Seriously, consumers like you are going to be faced with unprecedented scams as the economy swings back, and your own conscience may be your best barometer of something’s scamminess.
If you have any misgivings about a purchase, walk away.
Here’s to a great 2013.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.