July marks the official beginning of back-to-school season, and if you or your child are headed back to school, it may be an overwhelming time. The National Retail Federation predicts an average of $696.70 will be spent by families with students in elementary through high school, and an average of $976.78 spent by families with college students. Both amounts are higher than last year’s averages.

In addition to financial stress, parents also worry about keeping their children safe. Children and young adults often are targets of identity theft, as they have no credit history or questionable past banking transactions. If their identity is stolen, it may not be discovered for years.

Scammers are waiting to strike, but Better Business Bureau is here for you with tips on protecting your money and identity:

Make a list. While this may sound simple, having a list of everything you need to buy for the school year can help you from getting off track or getting tricked into buying something you don’t need. Find out if your school provides a list of needed school supplies. If not, take time to sit down and make your own.

Shop at home. It is always possible you have leftover supplies from the previous year and can save yourself money by crossing items off your list before you even leave the house.

Research bigger items. This is especially important for students leaving for college and moving into dorms. Items like laptops, mini fridges and microwaves will come with different types of warranties or optional insurance. Research different brands and customer reviews to be sure you’re choosing the right items for your specific needs.

Look for sales. Shop around and compare prices among different retailers, and look for coupons. Large items can be costly, and small items can add up quickly. If there are no sales or coupons advertised, you can ask if the retailer offers student discounts. A student ID or a valid .edu email address may be required to obtain student discounts. Finding the best deals possible can save you a good amount of money once all the shopping is done.

Shop in bulk. Sometimes teachers ask parents to buy items like tissues or crayons for an entire class. Buying in bulk can cut down on cost in situations like these. Bulk items also can save money for college students who need cleaning supplies for their dorm rooms.

Know return policies and save receipts. Before you purchase something, especially a large item, know the retailer’s return and exchange policy. And be sure to save receipts to prove that you purchased the item.

Shop safely online. Online shopping can provide convenience and sometimes deals that retailers don’t offer in-store. However, online purchase scams were the second riskiest scams of 2018. In Texas, nearly 300 were reported to BBB during the first six months of 2019, and one victim claimed a loss of $7,000. When shopping online, always look for the lock icon next to the URL, and the “s” in “https.” These things mean you’re shopping on a secure site. Consider paying with a credit card when shopping online, as credit cards provide additional protection to users.

Protect yourself or your child from identity theft. Scammers may use large purchases or other excuses as a reason to ask for your or your child’s Social Security number or Social Insurance Number (SIN). If someone asks for this information, ask plenty of questions. Never give personal information to someone unless you are completely certain of how it will be used, stored and protected. Asking this may throw off a scammer, who likely will not be able to give you solid answers.

For more information, visit bbb.org/backtoschool. From everyone at Better Business Bureau, good luck on the upcoming school year!

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