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RISMEDIA, December 8, 2010—(MCT)—Whether you’re trekking to the mall or shopping online, the holiday season is a time when many consumers get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and fall prey to holiday scams and financial missteps. Here are some tips to keep your holiday spending in control.

Shop from a list: To avoid impulse buys, write down the people you’re buying for and how much you can spend for each person.

Make it: Baking, crafting, sewing, woodworking. A homemade gift from the heart might not break your bank.

Skip the plastic: To stay within budget, ditch the credit card and use cash. Withdraw what you can comfortably spend, and when it’s gone, head home.

Credit vs. debit: A credit card can be safer than a debit card as most credit cards offer better protection if a card is lost or stolen, or if an online purchase doesn’t arrive. But if using credit cards, think ahead to avoid piling up holiday debt.

Watch your wallet: Keep your ID and credit cards inside a secure purse or pocket. Don’t get distracted or let credit cards out of your sight at the counter. Keep receipts in one place for easy returns.

At the ATM: When withdrawing cash, be aware of your surroundings and passers-by. If something looks odd on the ATM itself, notify the bank or business.

Give wisely: There are many worthwhile, needy causes seeking donations this time of year. Whether you’re asked by phone, mail, online or at a shopping center, be sure the donor is legitimate. Check charities with the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org).

Don’t get scammed: Some scams are holiday-related, others tried and true. A Sacramento, Calif., woman recently fell for a classic scam in which a Canadian caller persuaded her to wire $6,500 by posing as a grandson in financial distress. If you get such a call or e-mail, verify the situation with family, friends or your bank.

Be online-savvy: Look for deals at sites like Dealnews.com and Pricegrabber.com, as well as your favorite retailers. Confirm the site is legitimate: Look for a padlock symbol and be sure there’s an “https” in the browser when making a payment. Check if the store name is spelled correctly. The more safety indicators, the better.

Use your cell: Cell phones can help you compare prices and access coupons while shopping. Download apps from sites like RedLaser and ShopSavvy.mobi that let you scan bar codes, and get product reviews, in-store discounts and competing prices from other retailers.

Be Wi-Fi wary: Browse but don’t buy when using public Wi-Fi connections to avoid hackers who could steal your financial information.

Don’t get suckered: If you’re buying $50 worth of merchandise but need to spend $75 to get free shipping, be sure you really want that extra $25 purchase. Check out http://www.freeshippingday.com for retailers offering free shipping with guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery.

(c) 2010, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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