Since we are coming into the holiday season, online shopping scams will hit an all-new high, which is why it is essential seniors know how to avoid these scams.
Online shopping scams have been around since the beginning of online shopping; however, from 2015 to 2019, the number of online scams involving undelivered items has quadrupled. Then in 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping scams went through the roof, including those directly related to COVID-19.
Online shopping scams can take many forms such as:
- Selling counterfeit products
- Selling used or damaged products
- Stealing personal information or payment information
- Charging for goods, yet not delivering the items
- Impersonating legitimate companies
- Fraudulent products
Most online shopping scams involve the purchase of:
- Health and nutrition products
These are just the most common products seen in online shopping scams, but scams can impact any product.
Thankfully, there are few tips to help avoid getting caught up in one of these scams, plus a few do’s and don’ts, and what to do if you become a victim of online shopping scams.
4 Tips to Avoid Online Shopping Scams
Though we all love a good deal, some deals are just too good to be true. The Norton AntiVirus company warns seniors that deals greater than 55% off the retail price could be scams.
It is always wise to investigate the company you are working with to be sure they are legitimate and take the time to read their policies regarding returns, refunds, and if they have any customer satisfaction guarantees.
Also, when reading the product description, be sure to be thorough and look for keywords like:
These words often refer to used goods, and though there is nothing wrong with purchasing previously owned items it is all the more critical you understand their return policy in the event to item is not what you were led to believe.
Also, it is not unusual that items that are part of a clearance or closeout deal are not eligible for returns or refunds and the sale is final, giving you no recourse if the product arrives damaged or of lower quality than expected.
When checking out their return policy, be sure to find out what, if any fees apply such as restocking fees or return shipping fees. Often shady companies will create a return process that makes the process difficult or expensive, so you lose out even if you return the product.
Poor Quality Website Design
A major red flag that you are dealing with an online shopping scam is a poor quality website frequently filled with grammatical errors.
Legitimate retailers understand the importance and value of making a good first impression on those visiting their website. Websites are the virtual storefronts that help attract shoppers to explore their goods, so if the website appears shoddy they are likely to lose customers.
Cheap-looking websites that look like they were just thrown together without editing are clear signs the company has not invested in impressing their customers.
Scammers know that their websites are temporary and need to be deleted once their scam is discovered, so many don’t take the time to make their websites look good.
If you come upon one of these websites, it is best to keep looking for the product from another retailer or find a comparable product from a better, more established business with a reliable track record.
Research the Company Before Buying
Taking the time to research a company before conducting business can help ensure you are not being ripped off in an online shopping scam. Researching the company and carefully checking its website are important steps in finding out whether a company is legitimate or not.
For example, an upstanding company will provide a physical address where they do business and a phone number where customers can contact them in the event of an issue.
- Why they need your personal information
- What information they plan to gather
- How they plan on using your information
And, one of the best ways to see how a company conducts business is by checking them out on the Better Business Bureau or other third-party sites that accept feedback from customers.
Some online shopping scams use websites that are almost identical to the website of a legitimate site. For example, say you receive an email that appears to be from Amazon, and they are advertising a great deal on a product you have always wanted.
You click on the link provided and arrive at a website that looks identical to Amazon’s, but when you check the URL bar, the “o” in Amazon turns out to be the numeric character zero 0 instead. This is a common trick used in online shopping scams, making shoppers think they are conducting business with a reliable and trusted company.
Another way to use URLs to keep your shopping experience safe is to ensure that the address starts with “HTTPS” before you provide any personal information. The s in HTTPS indicates that it is a secure website.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Research the company you are working with before buying
- Read the policies for returns and refunds
- Price compare and be sure to include any additional fees such as shipping and processing fees
- Check the URL to be sure you are on the site you wanted to go to
- Take the time to check out companies on the Better Business Bureau or other third parties
- Pay with a credit card or PayPal, which have pay protection to help recover lost money due to fraud
- Provide personal information on a popup
- Pay by cash, wire transfer, or money order.
- Enter payment or personal information unless the URL starts with HTTPS
- Patron sites that ask you to download software
- Use websites that require your personal information to access coupons or discounts
What to Do if You Fall Victim to an Online Shopping Scam
In some circumstances, you can get your money back. If you used your credit card to pay for the goods, then you can contact your credit card company for help. Many credit card companies have protection plans in place and a fraud department that can help recover your money.
If you happened to use PayPal, you could contact them since they have a PayPal protection plan. But they are somewhat limited as to how much they help they can provide.
After initiating a refund through the credit card company, bank, or PayPal, then you must report the fraud to the appropriate parties:
- Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint
- Your State Attorney General, which you can find contact information at naag.org
- The county or state consumer protection agency for your area, you can find this information at consumeraction.gov, under “Where to File a Complaint”
- The Better Business Bureau