Black Friday Scams on the Rise: 5 Tips to Avoid Being Ripped Off

This holiday season crooks, scammers and thieves will be looking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Below are five ways shoppers can protect themselves this holiday shopping season.

Gift Card Scams

Gift cards are a prime target for scammers, according to the Better Business Bureau. This year gift card use is expected to reach an all-time high, with 80 percent of shoppers expected to buy at least one this shopping season.

One way consumers could become a victim is when a person copies the numbers of the gift cards while they are still on the gift card rack. Then they check online or by calling the customer service number to see if the card has been activated. Once activated, the thief is able to use the card.

Consumer advocates advise shoppers to stay away from discounted gift cards sold online and to buy from a reputable retailer. Also shoppers are advised to check the packaging and keep gift card receipts, as it will help them get a refund should the card become compromised.

Package Theft

With the increase in online shopping, consumer advocates are warning people not to leave packages unattended on their doorsteps. Around the country there have been reports of criminals following delivery trucks into neighborhoods and taking the packages once they are delivered.

In order to prevent such an incident, require a signature for the package and if no one is going to be home have it sent to the nearest service center to be picked up at a later time.

Counterfeit Retailer Websites

Federal authorities are warning that many websites that appear to be selling popular brands could actually be fake. Officials say counterfeiters have become better at hiding their fraudulent activities.

"What consumers need to be aware of is that as these networks have become more sophisticated, their ability to defraud consumers and legitimate businesses has increased significantly," Lev Kubiak, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, told Huffington Post.

Many of the websites look just like the retailer's webpage complete with similar fonts, graphics and layouts. Consumers can protect themselves by looking for a working customer service number or the address for a physical store.

Consumer advocates also advise using a credit card rather than a debit card because it is easier to dispute the charges.

Social Media Giveaways

Security experts are warning social media users to be wary of giveaway offers. Researchers at the security software firm Trend Micro say suspicious pages advertising "raffles" or other "giveaways" could be a scam.

Consumers should be mindful of the websites they are visiting and to research the raffle before participating. Consumer advocates also advise consumers to only sign up for promotions offered by reputable retailers.

Special Online Offers

Malware e-cards are email greeting cards that appear to be sent from someone you know but actually contain a link that will download malicious software onto your computer. The BBB also advises consumers to watch out for coupons or discount codes that are sold at a fraction of their face value because they could be fake.

"The best way to avoid holiday scams is to educate yourself about what to look out for, and to be cautious in every situation," Carrie Hurt, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, told NBC.