Take care when buying online. Purchase scams are surging as the holiday season approaches. They now account for more than a third of all scam reports filed with the Better Business Bureau. The scams take place on the web as well as through social media.
Can be costly
Becoming a victim of an online buying scam can be costly, the Better Business Bureau warns, because often you cannot get your money back. Four out of five consumers who report such scams lose money, the bureau says, making it the number-one riskiest type of scam out there.
The median loss in online shopping scams has risen from $76 in 2019 to $102 so far in 2021, according to the bureau.
Attractive dealsRead More »
Once payment is made, however, no service or product is delivered. In a few cases scammers deliver products that are counterfeit or of inferior quality.
Taking advantage of shoppers’ concerns
The bureau warns that scammers are likely to take advantage of shoppers’ concerns about supply chain disruptions, the unavailability of popular items, holiday hiring, and shortages of microchips.
Scammers will try to defraud people by varying the categories of products, capitalizing on items that people are searching for online, and concentrating on those gifts that are most sought after, such as toys, electronics, and other items that are trendy, says Melissa Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust.
Online scams do not affect only those who lose money, Trumpower adds. Each victim who loses money has less income to buy gifts, groceries, or to pay the utility bill. That is not to speak of losing personal information that could lead to identity theft.
Pets were riskiest
In a recent follow-up survey of respondents who fell victim to scams, the bureau found:
• Half of those who lost money on Google were searching actively as against a little more than one in 10 who were searching passively. Four out of 10 of those who lost money through Facebook (mostly by way of advertisements) were not searching actively but were browsing passively and bought on impulse when they saw an advertisement.
• Four hundred different kinds of products were used by scammers to perpetrate their frauds.
• Pets and pet supplies were the riskiest category in 2020, with 35 percent of scam reports being pet-related. Two-thirds of people who were caught up in the scam lost money. Median losses were $750.
The top breed used to pull off puppy scams was the French Bulldog.
• A third of those who reported scams said they received tracking information on their shipment that appeared to be authentic.
• A third received fake shipping information.
• A third failed to receive any shipping information.
Several respondents to the survey said that at first they did not suspect a scam because they expected the shipping to be delayed as a result of the pandemic.
Tips on preventing scams
Here are tips from the bureau’s report on how you can protect yourself from falling for an online purchasing scam:
• Arm yourself with knowledge.
Find out about online purchase scams. Two-thirds of those who avoided losing money said they were aware of the scams and watched out for them. A number of victims of online scams, however, were unable to distinguish between a fake review and a real one.
Younger people were more likely to report losing money to online scams, particularly those aged 18 to 24. The top sources of research for that age group were searches online, social media, and asking someone they knew.
• If the deal appears too good to be true the chances are that it is.
Avoid shopping on price alone. Scammers usually offer items that are in high demand and that are hard to find at great prices.
• Check the website carefully.
Scammers are good at mimicking images, official seals, and fonts.
Examine the URL carefully to detect whether it really relates to the company from which you think you are buying. Look for “https” in the URL, which indicates it is secure. Watch for bad grammar. Search for contact information. Regard it as a red flag if you cannot find ways to reach the company—such as telephone numbers, email addresses, and an online chat room—and the only form of contact is an online form.
• Avoid snap decisions and impulse buying when you are browsing social media.
• Avoid making a decision to buy a product that is based only on customer reviews.
It is difficult to tell the difference between fake and real reviews.
• Research using an independent source, such as the Better Business Bureau or the BBB Scam Tracker, before buying something online.
• Understand the differences among online payment systems. Some are more likely to enable you to get your money back than others.
Those surveyed using credit cards or PayPal were more likely to have received their money back, the bureau says. Avoid paying using wire transfer, prepaid money cards, gift cards, or other payment methods.
• Be wary of free-trial offers.
A wide variety of products are promoted as free-trial offers, the bureau explains. These offers are accompanied by fine print behind a link or on the order page that gives the consumer a short time to receive, evaluate, and return the product before being charged for it.
The hidden information also might state that you are signing up for shipments of the product every month, for which your credit card will be charged. It is usually difficult to stop these recurring charges and obtain a refund, the bureau says.
• Watch for fake shipping information.
Check closely to ensure you are dealing with a business that is legitimate. Type in the code on the shipper’s website to see if it is genuine.