6 Black Friday Deals That Are Actually Scams

Too good to be true? Maybe so.

On Black Friday, shoppers will brave the crowds to save big. But not all Black Friday deals are created equal. In fact, some are scams.

Retailers are known to use a standard bag of tricks that turn Black Friday discounts into hefty profits. They promise “deals” that aren’t deals. They entice reluctant shoppers with impossible sales — and watch them leave with full-price items. 

To beat the retailers at their own game this shopping season, it’s important to know how to recognize a deal versus a swindle. Here are six of the most common Black Friday scams — and expert tips on how to spot them online. 

No. 1: No discounts

Black Friday means everything is on sale, right? 


Looking at a wall of reduced prices, you might assume that everything is a steal. But that’s not the case. Retailers slip in full-price items alongside the ones they slash. This can confuse shoppers, or create an everything-must-go frenzy that encourages impulse purchases.   

Before you buy, double-check the price tag. If the item doesn’t come at a discount, skip it. You can always pick it up later when it’s actually on sale. 

No. 2: Fake discounts

Prices can be deceiving.

One price you’re likely to come across while Black Friday shopping is the MSRP, or manufacturer suggested retail price. The MSRP is set by the manufacturer, but individual stores are free to charge less.

If you see a discount to an MSRP, beware. Many stores never charge the full price, so a discount based on an MSRP may not be a discount at all. 

To avoid this type of scam, do some comparison shopping. If other stores — or the store where you’re shopping — sell the same item below the MSRP as their regular price, you’re not getting the deal you think you are. 

No. 3: Last year’s price

Many stores recycle the previous year’s sale. For some items this isn’t a problem. For others, last year’s model is old news — and should be priced accordingly.

Electronics, for instance, lose value fast. So when a store sells a model for the same price year after year, you’re probably not getting a bargain, no matter how deep the discount. 

Keep an eye out for this type of scam when buying electronics, appliances, and even clothes, which age as soon as the styles go out of fashion.  

No. 4: Downgraded models, downgraded deals

Found a rock-bottom price? Make sure it’s a sale and not a downgrade.

Retailers will sometimes strip a product of its features and sell it at a steep discount price. (Think of a laptop that’s so basic, it’s almost unusable.) And while the price looks good, remember: You get what you pay for. 

Before you buy, price it out. Account for all the features you will need to make the purchase worth it, and make sure you’re still happy with the price. 

No. 5: Limited quantities

Ever seen people lined up outside a store on Black Friday? Chances are they’re hoping to score a deal with “limited quantities.”

Retailers offer these too-good-to-be-true deals on a select number of items. But once those are sold, the sale is essentially over. 

This type of sale is great if you’re one of the lucky few who get them. Everyone else misses out, and this is how retailers make their money. Once shoppers are in the store, they’re likely to make a purchase, even if it’s at full price. 

No. 6: Store gift cards

Stores will often sell an item for full price with the inclusion of a free gift card. It sounds like a good deal, right? So how is this a scam? 

If you don’t use the gift card at a later date, you’re not getting a deal, so consider if you are actually going to return to the store down the road. Is the store out of the way? How often do you shop there? 

Just think of all the unused gift cards sitting in your wallet. If the gift card you receive becomes one of them, you’re better off looking for a different deal. 

Expert tips to avoid online Black Friday scams

Cyber Monday rounds out the five-day shopping rush. In 2018, it was the biggest online shopping day ever, generating $7.9 billion. But scams abound, and shoppers face digital risks like data theft, too. 

To learn more, we talked to J.R. Skrabanek, Esq., an attorney with a background in consumer protection and a certified privacy professional.

Here are his three tips for staying safe online:

1. Avoid too-good-to-be-true deals

“First, consumers should avoid deals that seem too good to be true. If a deal seems too good to be true, it almost always is,” Skrabanek says. The same scams that retailers use in brick-and-mortar stores are used online. If it seems like an unusually good bargain, take another look to be sure it’s legit.

2. Purchase on secure payment websites

Second, consumers should only make purchases from sites that can secure your personal information with secure sockets layer (SSL) protection, Skrabanek says. SSL technology creates a secure, encrypted connection between a shopper and a website. This ensures that private data, such as credit card information, isn’t compromised.

3. Verify a company’s legitimacy

“Third, consumers would be wise to check a seller or merchant’s reviews prior to purchase,” Skrabanek says. “Though reviews can be faked, more reviews is usually a sign of legitimacy.”

The Better Business Bureau is a great place to start. Shoppers can view ratings, search reviews, and browse both resolved and unresolved claims against a business.

Bottom line 

Black Friday is a great time to save, but only if you do it right. Shop smart by watching for scams and taking advantage of deals that deliver real discounts. 


J.R. SkrabanekJ.R. Skrabanek, Esq. is senior counsel at Jones Law Firm, P.C. His practice focuses on all types of business and commercial litigation, including contracts, real estate, debt defense, and consumer law, amongst others. In his spare time, he loves exploring New York with his lovely wife, Diana, and his two dogs, Churro and Molé..

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