Black Friday ads seem to creep further forward each year, with “leaked” ads coming out in the weeks or even months before Thanksgiving. Most shoppers are keen to get the best deal possible on Black Friday specials from their favorite stores, but may not know how to get the most out of these leaked ads. Here are a few simple tips to help you evaluate Black Friday sale ads so you can prepare for the big day.

Is the ad for real?

Most leaked ads that show up online are fairly accurate in reflecting the deals a store will offer come Black Friday, but watch out for unofficially leaked ads, which may be fake, incomplete or otherwise compromised. If a leaked ad looks poor-quality in terms of graphics and resolution – in short, if it looks like someone has swiped a draft ad from a manager’s desk, snapped a cellphone photo and then released the image online – it might be inaccurate. If a leaked ad is backed up by an official press release elsewhere on the web, it’s likely for real.

Terms and conditions apply

Most big-box stores offer some eye-catching, deeply discounted deals on Black Friday. These are often the leading items highlighted in Black Friday ads. In recent years, retailers have offered flat-screen televisions or other in-demand electronics at less than half regular retail price. In 2012, several stores offered 55-inch HDTVs at an advertised price of under $500; however, each store may have stocked only 10 or fewer TVs. So even though this great deal was correctly advertised in Black Friday ads, only a handful of shoppers who managed to be first in line at the store would actually be able to buy the TV at this price.

The good, the bad and the rebates

Other fine-print to watch out for in Black Friday ads involves rebates. Many retailers advertise “free” products to a limited number of shoppers on Black Friday. However, “free” often means that the consumer must pay for the product upfront, then wait for mail-in rebates to be processed. If you put an expensive item on your credit card in late November, but then have to wait weeks to months for the rebate to process, that free item could end up costing you a fair amount in interest charges.

Too good to be true?

Some of the deals shown on leaked Black Friday ads seem too good to be true, and some of them really are. Sometimes stores legitimately make mistakes in their advertised pricing and products. In 2011, Best Buy advertised a Black Friday deal of $100 iTunes gift cards for $60 – shoppers snapped up this unbelievable deal. It turned out Best Buy had made a mistake, and the cards were intended to have been priced at $80. The $60 transactions were canceled and the accidental pricing was not honored.

Double check

Some of the easiest ways to assess and evaluate Black Friday ads involve simple double-checking of facts. Before you dust off your camping gear and attempt to be first in line at a store, call and double-check the store’s opening hours on Black Friday, and whether they will be handing out numbered tickets to waiting shoppers a certain time before doors open. Compare the leaked ad to the previous year’s ad from the same store – the specifics of ads change, but the overall style and structure of a store’s ads do not change much from one Black Friday to the next. If this year’s ad seems wildly different to last year’s, you should confirm details before making your Black Friday plans.