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BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota offers Black Friday tips

BURNSVILLE, Minn.—To ensure Black Friday shopping truly means big savings, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota has released the following tips for shoppers:

• Do your research. Visit bbb.org or call (800) 646-6222 to obtain free business profiles on retailers — both for brick and mortar stores and online retailers.

• Search for Black Friday ads ahead of time. Many retailers roll out their Black Friday specials well in advance of the shopping holiday.

• Ask the right questions. Be sure you're clear on the store's return policy. Companies are not required to give you your money back, but they need to post their return policy prominently near the cashier. Also, always ask about restocking fees, and ask for gift receipts.

• Watch out for online deals too good to be true. While many retailers offer 'doorbusters' — specials designed to bring customers into stores — some websites offer suspiciously low prices on in-demand goods in an effort to entice shoppers into turning over their credit card information. Stick to trustworthy websites and look for BBB's seal and other recognized "trust marks."

• Make sure you're getting a real deal. Do you know if a sale is really a sale? Many times companies boast "70 percent off," but 70 percent off of what? It always pays to comparison shop leading up to the holiday.

• Gift cards. Gift cards regularly top consumers' wish lists. Federal rules govern gift card sales, and those rules state:

• An inactivity fee cannot be charged until the card has not been used for 12 months. However, you may be charged to replace a lost or stolen card.

• Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years or five years from the last date additional money was loaded onto the card. No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month.

• The expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card, and any fees must be disclosed as well. You should also see a toll-free phone number or website where you can get more information.

• A one-time fee can be charged when you buy the card, though this generally only applies to gift cards purchased through your credit card company — not those purchased directly from stores and restaurants.

• If you receive a gift card, redeem it promptly if, possible. Doing so reduces the chance it will get lost — and you will get the value out of it should the store or restaurant later close unexpectedly.

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