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Halloween is a time for tricks and treats, but shopping for decorations and costumes shouldn’t be a scary experience. Shoppers should rely on trusted merchants and research unfamiliar stores or websites before buying.

BBB received 88 complaints last year, and received 40 complaints so far in 2021, about masquerade costume businesses, which include Halloween stores and websites. Many complaints involve orders that never arrived or were missing items.

Getting a great deal on a costume is nice. But when possible, you should examine merchandise carefully before you purchase it. Some consumers have complained to BBB about the poor quality of products, such as costumes that ripped as they were being tried on or removed from a package.

In several cases, store employees told customers they could not return items because they had been used, were broken during the unpacking process or were returned after a posted store deadline. Other retailers failed to mention there were no returns.

Some customers found stores closed when they returned to report a problem or customer service numbers that had been disconnected.

It pays to check a website’s reputation before you place your order. BBB has issued warnings in the past about specific websites that sell human and animal costumes. BBB offers these tips to help you avoid being haunted after Halloween is over:

• Location. If you’re interested in trying a new or unfamiliar online merchant, ask the company for its physical location (address and phone number) so you can check its BBB Business Profile at

• Customer satisfaction policy. Determine the company’s refund and return policies before you buy. If online companies can’t offer concrete commitments on how they will handle any potential problems you may have with their products or services, reconsider doing business with them.

• Leave nothing to chance. Be sure you have a thorough understanding of everything involved before placing an order. Be clear on the price and any shipping and handling charges, as well as the merchant’s shipping schedules if you need an item by a specific date. Know the terms of any product or service guarantees. Find out how long it will be before you receive your order. Federal law requires that goods and services be delivered within 30 days, unless a different delivery period is specifically stated by the merchant.

• Guard your personal information. Only provide your credit card number online in a secure environment. On pages where you enter a credit card number or PayPal account login, look for the prefix “https://” in the URL box listing the website’s address to be sure that the site you are using is secure.

• Ask how long a store will operate. If you’re buying from a seasonal store, ask whether it will be open after the holiday and whether it will accept returns when the season is over. If not, consider buying elsewhere or taking more time to be sure the item is exactly what you want before making the purchase.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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