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Think Twice Before You Buy These Things from Groupon

Who doesn't love a good deal? But like the old saying goes, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." Some of these deals aren't just duds, they could be unsafe to your health.

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Buying makeup from a cosmetic brand you’re not familiar with is one of many things you should never buy online. Besides the fact that the shades or colors represented on your monitor can be different in person, you may be sensitive to the ingredients. Shoppers should avoid buying makeup from third-party vendors like Groupon,” says Carson Yarbrough, savings expert at Offers.com. “It can be hard to know where it’s been or what the ingredients are if it’s a generic or foreign brand, which can be dangerous especially for a product that could harm your skin.” Always buy from a reputable retailer than a third-party or counterfeit makeup could be make you sick.

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Hair services

Don’t buy hair services without reading the fine print. You may be charged extra—like $30 extra—if you have long hair, a fact that is not likely advertised in big, bold type. Other things Groupon users may overlook is the experience level of the stylist. Typically, you will be seen by junior stylists at larger hair salons so that they can gain more experience. That may not be an issue if yo’re getting a blowout, but you may want to think twice if you’re going in for cut and color. Find out all the secrets your hair stylist won’t tell you.

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Restaurant certificates

“Once I bought a Groupon for a French restaurant, and my husband and I arrived early, around 5:30 p.m. for dinner,” shares Samuella Becker of New York City. “Well, they had an early-bird special which included glass of wine, appetizer, dessert, and coffee in addition to an entree for less than what we had paid Groupon for our two entrees at 50 percent off,” says Becker. Check out the restaurant’s website and recent reviews before purchasing. Check out these tips for saving some bread while dining out.

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Hotel nights

Groupon does provide significant discounts on hotel and resorts, but they’re not always the lowest deals compared to other well-known services such as Expedia or Travelocity. But if you can’t resist the tempting discount and meal vouchers, click the “fine print and details” tab before you buy. This is where you’ll find that the great deal isn’t so great: Random “extra fees” (no description of what is deemed “extra”), daily resort fees, parking fees, extra person fees, blackout dates, and cancellation fees. And think twice about those meal vouchers: They could be a money saver, especially if it’s a free breakfast, but if it’s $20 off your meal, check the menu prices first. The restaurant could have high markups, and you could eat elsewhere for less money. Here are other booking secrets you should know.

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Cosmetic treatments and procedures

Wow! Fifty-two percent off Botox injections! That’s way cheaper than a plastic surgeon, right? Maybe, but what price will you pay later if you’re not a good candidate for the procedure or if your treatment is done by someone with little experience? “When it comes to elective procedures, it’s never a good idea to cut corners or price shop. These treatments should be done by or under the supervision of trained aesthetic dermatologists,” says Doris Day, MD, dermatologist, Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “The physician should always be the one to do the assessment and determine if you’re a good candidate for the treatment and to review your options, the risks and benefits.” Whether it’s Botox, Dysport, or Xeomin, it is the proper tools and aesthetic training that yields beautiful results, not the product itself. Buying these services from Groupon doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be treated by technicians who have the latest updates on the devices used, and they may not know how to recognize or treat adverse reactions. (Better read this Botox primer first.)

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Lawn care and gardening services

Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, has first-hand experience of how this type of discounted service doesn’t pay. “Margins in the lawn mowing service business and gardening services industry are pretty thin as it is,” says Clayton. “The pricing you’re getting in the marketplace is already as tight as it can be and when you layer on the deep discounts that Groupon offers as well as its take, there is simply no meat left on the bone for the lawn service provider to do a decent job.” Clayton says vendors wind up doing a rush job in half the time to cut their losses, often leaving the customer feeling ripped off.

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Goods like toys, housewares, and tools are tempting to buy on Groupon, especially when you see the higher “strike-through” price is significantly lower than the sale price. By the way, that alluring “strike-through” price could be a high markup making the sale look even better, so don’t automatically think it’s the best deal available. “I was so excited to buy a dog bed for my husky mix, and then I did a search on Amazon. Not only was the bed several dollars cheaper, but the shipping was free and faster,” says RaShea Drake of Salt Lake City, Utah. Check out these money-saving Amazon hacks before you fill your cart.

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If you’re familiar with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, you probably would have laughed if you saw this Groupon offer a few years ago. According to a 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report, Groupon was offering a $18 admission to the museum. Locals know the museum operates on a suggested donation admission. Technically, you can get in free, but the museum would appreciate you paying the full price suggested donation (currently $25 for adults) if you can. Do your research and visit the museum, amusement park, and other similar venues to see what the admission prices are before buying on Groupon.

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Cleaning services

If you want to clean your kitchen, you may want to find out how the pros clean houses instead of buying a cleaning service offer on Groupon. As with lawn and gardening services, margins are slim. Deep discounts don’t usually mean return business for cleaning companies because a buyer may just treat themselves to cleaning on the rare occasion because it’s such a good price. Worse, Yelp is filled with poor reviews of cleaning services bought on Groupon. Most of the complaints stem from the cleaning companies not answering the phone or returning calls to set up appointments before the expiration date or a doing a poor cleaning job when they did arrive.

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What you see isn’t always what you get. “Groupon often advertises seemingly huge discounts on diamonds and other fine jewelry, but many times the deal is for lower-quality or damaged jewelry products,” says Yarbrough. Diamonds and other gems look stunning and flawless in the photos but according to Yarbrough, there are many Groupon stories of customers not getting the quality they were hoping for. Cloudy, damaged, and poor clarity and cut are just some of the more common complaints. “Last year, the BBC’s Watchdog program found that Groupon was misleading users to buy knock-off costume jewelry at ‘bargain prices’. In one incident, Groupon advertised a pair of gold sapphire earrings said to be worth $400, that were marked down 95 percent. The earrings contained no real gold or gemstones,” says Yarbrough. Buying costume jewelry and accepting it for what it is one thing, but if it’s precious jewelry, don’t buy it unless the jewelry offered is from reputable brand or retailer you trust. Find out the secrets your jeweler won’t tell you.

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Don’t get shortchanged

It’s always a good idea to dig a little deeper about who you’re buying from. “Check out the company’s website along with their social media pages. If they aren’t active and engaging with their customers, or they don’t respond to questions in a timely manner, it may be best to avoid them,” she says. When Drake was looking for carpet cleaner, the vendor had one for $10 less than Groupon and even offered an additional add-on. And always check out reviews on sites like Yelp.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.