Scam of the Week – Savvy Online Shopping

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.
  • Check the site’s security settings, and privacy policy, and understand them: make sure the URL starts with “https://”, where the “s” stands for secure. Also, look for the small closed lock icon and other trust marks. Don’t give away any unnecessary personal information, and be certain that you’re giving your payment information through a secure website. If the site shows a BBB Seal, click on it and make sure it links to their BBB Business Review to confirm its authenticity.
  • 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 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.

Pearl is the Communications Specialist for Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California (BBB Oakland). She works to advance BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other by being proactive in the community and developing relationships with business and consumer groups. Pearl represents BBB at events throughout the Bay Area to educate a wide variety of people. Pearl also manages BBB Oakland’s social media channels.

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Posted in Computers - Internet - Privacy, Consumer Tips
11 comments on “Scam of the Week – Savvy Online Shopping
  1. […] scams have been reported to BBB Scam Tracker nationwide – and 70% of victims lost money. Consult BBB’s guide to savvy online shopping before making any […]

  2. […] Online Purchase Scam – 61 reported, 64% lost money: Another group of scams that trick many seniors out of their money – 64% of victims – are online purchase scams. Although some would think seniors are more likely than younger folks to lose money online due to their inexperience with technology, this is actually not true. For all other age groups, 73% of consumers lost money. This may be because seniors are more risk-averse. These account for only 1% or reported scams by those over 65, but the median loss is $175. The victim usually purchases an item online but never receives it, and is unable to receive a refund. This occurs when consumers are shopping on fraudulent sites. Look up all businesses at org and do your research before making purchases. Be very aware of phishing websites, and don’t click on pop-ups or links and attachments from unsolicited emails. Read the return policies and contact information (look for a toll-free phone number) carefully, and pay with a credit card. For more tips on savvy online shopping, read BBB’s guide. […]

  3. […] making a purchase. Online shopping is risky, but there are ways you can protect yourself: read BBB’s savvy shopping guide to learn more. Trial offers, although not technically scams, can also trick college students. […]

  4. […] a phone number and email for customer service, and read the refund and exchange policies carefully. Click here for a full guide to savvy online […]

  5. […] $106. Consumers frequently report buying items online, paying for them and never receiving them. Click here for a guide to safe online shopping. Whenever you make a purchase, make sure to understand the […]

  6. […] shopping on a new website, and use a credit card. You can find more tips for safe online shopping here, and check out to learn more about online purchase […]

  7. […] Be careful online. Make sure you only visit trustworthy websites when shopping online. Don’t open any links, attachments or e-cards from unfamiliar email addresses. Make sure any site you’re on has secure, appropriate, and safe security/payment practices that protect your personal information. To read a full guide to safe online shopping, click here. […]

  8. […] $101! More than 45% of back-to-school shoppers plan to buy online (NRF), so make sure to consult BBB’s guide to savvy online shopping before making any […]

  9. […] Click here for more BBB tips on safe online shopping. […]

  10. […] Online shopping. If you’re looking to find a unique costume, the Internet can be a great place to start! Unfortunately, consumers reported more than 2,700 online shopping scams to BBB Scam Tracker in 2016. After you pay for something online, you either receive something that looks nothing like what you thought you ordered, or you receive nothing at all! Make sure to check out the business’ BBB Business Profile at org, pay with a credit card, and read the return policy before making a purchase. For a BBB guide to savvy online shopping, click here. […]

  11. […] Read the fine print and ask questions. Before making a purchase, read the refund, warranty, and guarantee policies carefully. If you, or the gift recipient, doesn’t like the item or realizes it doesn’t fit, how long do you have to return it? What happens if your watch breaks or a stone on your ring comes loose? If the store advertises a “lifetime guarantee” policy, ask for the details. If you’re buying jewelry online, first check out BBB’s guide to savvy online shopping. […]

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