While you might feel like Halloween just closed its haunted doors and it’s too early to hang the lights for Christmas, you’re mistaken, at least according to the National Retail Federation’s 2019 holiday shopping trends.

As consumers, we watch the cyclical nature of the holidays wax and wane year after year in every store. Before the pumpkin decorations are even put away, Christmas stockings are for sale. Why? Because consumers like a head start. In fact, 43% of buyers start their holiday shopping in November, according to the National Retail Federation. Some, however, already started while things were still spooky, with 39% of consumers holiday shopping in September and October.

At Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific, we know how important it is to get the most bang for your buck this time of year. The last thing a consumer needs is to be scammed out of hard-earned money, and believe me, there are a lot of Grinches out there who will attempt it.

The National Retail Federation predicts that this season, individual consumers will spend an average of $1,048. That number includes money spent on gifts for friends and family, decorations, holiday food and beverages, as well as “other” nongift items related to the holidays.

In other words, compared to 2018, consumers will spend more. Last year, shoppers spent $1,007. Retail trends show overall, we’ve spent more every year since 2016. And, as we’re merrily shopping, scammers are cooking up new tactics to steal money and personal information.

Follow these tips from BBB NW+P to ensure you shop smart this holiday season:

• Look out for email phishing: This time of year, expect to get a ton of promotional advertising in your inbox, but be careful not to open any emails from senders you don’t recognize. To check, hover over the email address to verify the domain name matches the company name. Also, hover over any links in the email to ensure you’re being directed to a legitimate website before clicking.

• Ask about return policies: Understand that returning and exchanging is a privilege, not a legal right. Laws on returning vary by state and, of course, by company. Make sure you read these policies before buying. Also, with all the gift-giving, always opt for gift receipts to make it easy for your friends and family to return, exchange or receive store credit if they need to.

• Beware of shipping time frames and thieves: Federal law requires that orders made by phone, mail or online be shipped by the date promised or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If goods are not shipped on time, shoppers can demand a refund. Be sure to check with the U.S. Postal Service to understand timelines and delivery expectations, which the service outlines in detail every year. Also beware of “porch pirates” – these are scammers who steal packages right off your property. It’s best to have gifts delivered to a secure location or set up a camera on your property to check in.

Shop with trust: Finally, when it comes to online shopping, don’t jump at the first deal you spot. Take a moment to verify the seller and check complaints on their BBB profile at bbb.org.

Sheron Patrick is communications manager for the BBB in Anchorage and writes alerts on tips to help keep consumers safe.