THE CHRISTMAS shopping season starts in earnest next weekend, with UK consumers predicted to spend more than £3 billion between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

According to discount website Topcashback, Scots typically expect to part with £375 during the four-day spree and almost 70 per cent will make their purchases entirely online.

They will snap up heavily promoted ‘sale’ bargains, including clothes and accessories, toys and games, health and beauty products, household electronics and white goods, but many could soon regret it.

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According to price comparison site GoCompare, just 15 per cent of bargain hunters plan ahead by comparing prices before big sale events, leaving them vulnerable to fake deals.

Georgie Frost, the site’s head of consumer affairs, said: “There is a huge amount of hype around Black Friday in the UK now. Get ready for all manner of retailers urging you to ‘act quickly’ before ‘unmissable deals’ on ‘must-have’ products end, but be careful not to get caught up in the frenzy.

“Think about what you actually want and can afford before you buy and set yourself a limit. There are some genuinely good deals to be had, but make sure you do your homework. With sales on all year round, check other websites to see if you can’t find the item for a cheaper price elsewhere.”

Use a tool such as MoneySavingExpert’s MegaShopBot, which combines data from services such as Kelkoo and Pricerunner, to compare prices.

And consider temporarily abandoning your online shopping basket. According to MoneySavingExpert retailers such as Tesco, Asda and Currys monitor incomplete transactions and may email codes for further price reductions in the next day or so to lure potential customers back.

If you do not want to wait, do an internet search for relevant discount codes before checking out.

Be wary, though, of deals that look too good to be true. The items may be counterfeit or the site selling them could be a fake set up to steal financial details.

Copycat sites can be initially convincing but subtle differences with spelling and grammar give them away.

To check if an offer is genuine, Google the retailer’s correct address and type it into your browser. If you are uncertain about a site, use independent review platforms to research other customers’ experiences. If anything makes you nervous, do not buy.

Never share PINs or passwords. Use a different password for every site you access and ensure they have at least six characters, including capitals, numbers and symbols, to make them difficult to guess.

Do not shop from shared computers or using public Wi-Fi. Keep the software on your device up to date so you benefit from security upgrades. Install effective anti-virus protection and check the firewall settings are on.

Buy only from secure websites – these have an address beginning ‘https’ rather than just ‘http’. Also look for a closed padlock symbol in the address bar.

Before making a purchase, read the terms and conditions, delivery information and returns policy, and note the contact details in case of problems. Reputable businesses should provide a head office address, not just a PO box, email address or mobile number.

Never let a site store your card details for future purchases. The few extra seconds it takes to input them each time could stop you falling victim to fraud.

For purchases of over £100, using a credit card provides additional protection. If the goods are damaged, faulty or fail to arrive, or the company goes bust, the card company must reimburse you.

For smaller transactions, paying via PayPal means you do not have to share card or bank details. It is free to use and setting up an account takes just a few minutes.

Always save and print the confirmation email as proof of what you have bought. And do not forget to log out of the site, so no one can sneak in afterwards and spend using your details.

Remember, too, to keep a close eye on your bank statement. It is easy to miss unusual transactions in among festive purchases. If you spot anything you do not recognise, contact your bank immediately, as it could mean your account has been compromised.

If you change your mind about an online purchase, provided it was not specially personalised and is unused with the original packaging intact, you have up to 14 days from receipt to return it for a full refund.

If anything you buy online does not arrive, is damaged or not as described, you have the same rights to a refund, repair or replacement from the seller as if it was bought in store.