Online Shopping Scams
As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, one thing people have been doing a lot more often is shopping online. In some cases, it’s to generally avoid going to stores in person, but for many people, spending extra time at home has made them more prone to making impulse purchases as they browse the internet. But a sad reality is that in times of crisis and uncertainty, scammers are all too eager to exploit the situation. Online shopping scams were already on the rise in 2019 and the pandemic only made things worse.
In July 2020, the FTC announced that more people had reported problems with online shopping during the months of April and May than during any other time on record. In the early days of the pandemic, many scammers were setting up websites claiming to sell items that were in high demand and were hard to find at the time, like face masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning products. Often, those sites looked polished and professional enough to seem legitimate to shoppers who just wanted supplies to protect themselves and their families. Unfortunately, a lot of those orders were placed and paid for but never arrived. Over half of the complaints the FTC received in April and May involved undelivered products.
But pandemic supplies haven’t been the only target for online scammers. The FTC says they have also recently received many complaints involving purchases of day-to-day items like clothing and electronics. And it can be extremely easy for even savvy internet users to fall victim to scams while shopping online. So what can shoppers do to protect themselves?
1. Be Careful Where You Order From
Generally speaking, one of the safest ways to shop online is to stick to sites that you know and trust. However, it’s extremely important to exercise caution even if you think you’re buying from a company you’re familiar with. Keep in mind that scammers can be good at creating fake websites and ads that look very convincingly real.
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According to the Better Business Bureau, consumers who have lost money in online shopping scams during the pandemic saw the products they purchased on places like Facebook and Instagram. If you see an offer that you’re interested in, Genisys Credit Union recommends looking at the site’s domain name very carefully to check for misspellings. For example, if you click on an ad that seems like it’s for Macy’s, check the domain to make sure it isn’t spelled something like macyss.com. Also be sure to look at the content on the site to look for a lot of odd misspellings or grammatical mistakes. If anything seems odd to you, go directly to the company’s website and see if you can find the offer mentioned on there.
2. Check Your Security
While you’re checking a site’s domain name, take a second to see if the site is encrypted or not. What you need to look for here is the “http://” part of the URL. If it says “https” instead of “http,” that means the site is encrypted and the information you enter, such as your credit card information, will be protected from malicious parties. If it just says “http,” there isn’t that layer of protection. Just keep in mind that digital encryption isn’t a telltale sign that a site is legitimate and there are other things you should keep an eye out for as well.
3. Too Good to Be True?
Everyone loves to get a great deal. And given that so many people have been struggling financially because of the pandemic, it’s only natural to want to save money whenever you can. But at the same time, it’s smart to be on the lookout for anything that seems like too good of a deal.
In the 2020 Online Purchase Scams Report from the Better Business Bureau, their research found that the top reason why people ended up falling into online shopping scams is because the price was enticing. Very often, scammers will advertise items for sale at substantially lower prices than what legitimate sellers will charge, especially if those items are in high demand at the time. So as tempting as a price might be, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Some examples of this would be a designer handbag or a brand new video game console for a surprisingly low price.
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4. Do Some Research
If you’re considering buying something from a company you’re not familiar with, taking the time to do a little detective work can help save you some headaches later on. One important thing to look for is customer reviews. This is particularly helpful when you’re shopping on a site where third-party sellers can sell items, like eBay. Reviews can quickly tell you whether or not a seller or company is reputable and trustworthy.
If you aren’t able to find customer reviews directly on a company’s website, try doing a Google search for a company before making a purchase. If other people have had issues with a company, such as never receiving an order or being given a hard time about refunds, you may be able to find comments about the company on places like the Better Business Bureau website.
Also be sure to look for a company’s contact information. If there’s an address or phone number listed, do an internet search on that information to see if anything seems unusual. For example, if you Google an address, does it show you a residential house instead of a commercial office building? Or do they have a P.O. box address instead of a physical address? If the listed address is in a different country, be sure to double check their return and refund policies.
5. Pay Attention to Product Photos
If you’re shopping through a platform like Poshmark, think about the pictures being used in the listing. Ideally, look for listings that include photos taken by the user which show the exact item for sale instead of using professional photos found from the website. Yes, those professional photos can be very nice, but it’s more important to see exactly what you are getting. For instance, let’s say you find a listing for a pair of designer shoes for sale with a description that mentions “minor wear.” If the seller uses pictures from the designer’s website, you’ll only see what the shoes are supposed to look like, not what that pair really looks like. There’s a very distinct possibility that you and the seller have very different ideas of what “minor wear” is.
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6. Be Careful How You Pay
Sometimes, even the most cautious online shoppers can end up falling victim to a scam. But the good news is that in many cases, the way you pay can give you some extra protection. If you pay with a credit card, many credit card companies will help you get your money back if you’ve been defrauded. Services like PayPal also offer buyer protection that can help out if a seller doesn’t follow through with their end of the deal. But if a seller wants payments to be made with services like Western Union or asks you to email them your credit card information, consider that a big red flag.
What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed
If it turns out you’ve been scammed while shopping online, the first thing you should do is think about the way you paid and contact the company involved. Often, this will be your credit card company, bank, or service like PayPal, but the FTC website outlines steps to take if other types of payments were involved, such as credit cards or wire transfers. Experian also recommends contacting credit bureaus if you believe someone has accessed personal information like your social security number.
You may also need to report the fraud to your local police. This is particularly important if you’re having a hard time getting your money back or if you’d like to set up a fraud alert on your credit reports. Online shopping scams can also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.