The Scam of the Week highlights a scam that someone in our service area recently fell victim to. To look at all scams or report one of your own, check out BBB Scam Tracker. As of the end of June 2016, there have been over 30,000 scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker. Scam Tracker is a crowdsourced tool that gives consumers a place to report scams and warn others, and also helps law enforcement find and prosecute scammers.
The emergence and growth of online retailers has significantly increased choices among consumers. While before one was limited to brick and mortar shops and catalogs, e-commerce sites allow modern Internet users to order products and services from anywhere in the world with just the click of a button. In many ways, this is great for consumers. It helps you find just what you’re looking for and often for a better price. However, the world of online shopping has also exposed buyers to many more risks.
Two consumers in Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California’s service area reported online purchase scams to BBB Scam Tracker at the end of June. Overall, almost 1,000 online purchase scams have been reported to BBB Scam Tracker nationwide since July 1st, 2016. Both of these victims lost money by buying products from an online retailer; they were charged for, but never received the items – amounting to losses of $50-$150. Their two stories have even more in common: both consumers were shopping on websites they hadn’t used before; from unfamiliar businesses. Both ordered apparel and paid for it: one using a credit card and the other PayPal, and although they were both sent “shipping confirmations”, the item never showed up. Despite many attempts to get a refund, our victims couldn’t get in contact with customer service to resolve the issue: e-mail communications moved at a snail’s pace. There was no phone number to call, and promises were not kept.
There’s a lot to be wary of when doing business online: fake websites; unethical advertising; issues with products and delivery; sites trying to steal your personal information; and more. Although it’s difficult to be completely safe in the online world, there are ways to be a savvy shopper and protect yourself from some of the risk:
- Protect your computer: make sure you have firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software. Run virus scans regularly and make sure your software is up-to-date.
- Do your research: look up the business at org and read its BBB Business Review for its rating, complaint history, and customer reviews. Researching a company before making a purchase and reading reviews can save you from making the same mistake many others did before you.
- Beware of “too good to be true” deals: often consumers will see ads online or receive email offers from less-known brands advertising suspiciously low prices. Make sure the site is professional, and free of spelling and grammar errors. Better safe than sorry; it’s better to pass up on a “great deal” than pay for a product and either never receive it or realize the advertisement or product details were misleading.
- Beware of phishing: don’t open any links or attachments from unsolicited emails. It’s better to type the URL directly in to your search bar, or look up the company on bbb.org and follow the link in its BBB Business Review. Also, be on the lookout for phishing websites that are impersonating real businesses. Hover over links, and examine logos carefully. Remember that impersonation is easy; anyone can take a company’s logo and products and set up a fake website using a legitimate domain.
- Pay with a credit card: a credit card may offer more protection than other payment methods; you can dispute a charge if you don’t receive the item. Additionally, consider it a red flag if the site will only let you use PayPal or other less-traceable payment forms.
- Document everything: keep documentation of all confirmation pages, emails, and any other records. Print these out to be extra safe.
- Read the return, cancellation, and refund policies very carefully: make sure to look at the site’s contact page and FAQ to see what methods of contact are available should an issue arise. Consider it a red flag if they don’t have a toll free phone number and can only be contacted through email.
- Carefully read the product details: many people think they’re buying one thing, but receive another because they didn’t read the fine print of the product deals. Make sure you’re getting the right size, color, and other properties.
If you have a marketplace issue, submit a complaint to BBB. If it’s a scam, submit it to BBB Scam Tracker, and report it to the FTC and possibly your credit card company. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Be a savvy, careful shopper when online to circumvent the many associated risks.