With the holidays approaching you can be sure companies are ramping up their advertising to attract customers. Advertisers can do a pretty good job convincing you that an item is a must-have. Just take a look online, on social media, even while streaming your favorite content and you’ll see all kinds of special deals, discounts, and sales advertised. Scammers are also lurking looking to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers. Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for a loved one or shopping for yourself, check out a few suggestions for safe online shopping anytime of the year.
Check Out, Before You Checkout
Before you head to the online checkout, take time to check out the retailer. Don’t let a fancy website trick you. Scammers often create websites that look legitimate. They even pay to boost their advertisements on social media to draw in more consumers. Taking a few extra steps can help you avoid a possible scam.
Start by looking for the business name and contact information. Customers should be able to reach the business if there is a problem or to get information about a purchase. If this information is missing it may be an indication to shop elsewhere. Many online businesses rely on chat, email, text, and online support to communicate with their customers. If you prefer to speak with a representative, consider shopping with a retailer that offers phone support.
Next, look on the website for more information about the business. Search the business name along with words like “reviews”, “complaints”, and “scam”. You also want to visit checkbca.org and search for the company’s record for business ratings, complaints, and reviews.
Bonus tip: Search the email, phone number, and/or address to see if any other websites come up. Sometimes scammers or less reputable businesses reuse contact information. The discovery may alert you of a possible scam.
Don’t be blindsided by the discounts and sales offers. Take time to read the description of what you’re purchasing. Look closely at the photos the seller posts. You can even search some images to see if they appear elsewhere on the internet or if they are stock photos. If you are unable to see pictures of the actual item, you can’t be sure what you’re purchasing. Also, check the description to see if the item is new, used, refurbished, or in vintage condition.
Some products and services come with a membership. Going over the terms and conditions can reveal additional charges and fees that may apply. Consumers also want to review the merchant’s policies on returns, exchanges, refunds, and shipping. Is there a restocking fee? Does the business allow exchanges? How long do you have to make returns? Who is responsible for return shipping costs, etc.? These are all things to consider. If the business is located outside the country, consider how difficult it may be to return an item if you’re not satisfied.
Everyone likes a good deal. However, if a seller lists an expensive item for a very low price, it might be counterfeit or a scam altogether. Don’t be fooled by the price alone. Do some comparison shopping to see if the offer may be too good to be true.
After you’ve done your homework and are ready to purchase, make sure you use a safe payment method. Consider only shopping with retailers that accept credit card payments or other secure online payment systems that offer fraud protection. Scammers usually prefer payment methods that make it hard for you to get your money back, including:
- Cash reload cards
- Cryptocurrency or bitcoin
- Wire transfer
- iTunes or Google Play gift cards
Consumers should also be cautious when using payment apps such as CashApp and Venmo, or pay services like PayPal, as scammers and con artists often use these methods also. If someone asks you to pay them outside the marketplace’s payment system, don’t do it. If you do, you’ll lose any protection the site offers, and you probably won’t get the purchase or a refund.
However you choose to pay, keep records. Save your order confirmation, receipts, and any other communications with the company. They will be useful if you end up filing a dispute.
Where to Turn for Help
Even the smartest shopper can run into a problem. If anything is amiss, contact the company right away. Explain the issue and try and work out a solution with the business. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to take action.
If you paid for your purchase using a credit or debit card, contact your credit card company or bank to file a dispute. If you paid by any other payment method, contact the business you paid through to discuss your options.
Next, file a complaint with BCA. We’ll promptly reach out to the company and attempt to mediate the complaint. If the business is unresponsive or unwilling to resolve complaints, this is reflected in their company report and the rating we provide businesses. This also puts other consumers on alert to watch out for the business. You can also contact the Federal Trade Commission and your state attorney general to file a fraud report.
If you suspect that the online retailer is a fraud, contact the domain register to report your suspicions. This may cause the register to act and shut down a possibly fraudulent site and save some customers from falling victim to a shopping scheme.
Share these shopping tips with others so they can avoid an unpleasant shopping experience. And don’t forget to follow BCA on Facebook to stay up-to-date on scam alerts, important consumer tips, and more.