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Business Consumer Alliance Blog

Back-to-School Shopping Scams

Green and Gray Scissors

Class is in session. You can find several back-to-school shopping deals online, but it’s important to spot the scams. Scammers use fake ads impersonating popular retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon. Millions of shoppers get scammed in online cons and end up losing money. Here are some tips to keep in mind when conducting online back-to-school shopping.

Check the Seller

Online scams are some of the top complaints BCA receives from consumers. Anyone can set up an online store. Scammers commonly pay to advertise on social media and create websites that look legitimate. But shoppers should always check out a company before they decide to do business with them. Don’t let a fancy website trick you into purchasing before you’ve checked out the business. Here’s some ways to do so:

  • Only shop secure websites. You can identify a secure website by checking the web address for the lock icon and https.
  • Shop familiar websites whenever possible. Watch for impostors that try to replicate authentic retailers.
  • Do an internet search using the business name and words like “reviews”, “complaints”, and “scam” for more information.
  • Only shop with online retailers that provide their contact information. Take it a step further and research the information. Call the phone number to see if you reach a live representative. A quick Google search of the address can tell you whether or not the company is using a P.O. Box or of they have an actual location. You may find other websites that use the same information and may alert you to a potential scam.
  • Visit and search for the company’s record. BCA reports contain important background information on businesses and their complaint history. You can also find reviews you can trust from actual customers. If you don’t find a report for the business you’re looking for, don’t worry. BCA can create a record for the business and give you tips to help you in your decision.

Know What You’re Buying

Take the time to read the description of what you’re purchasing. If you need more information, reach out to the seller before you purchase. Some products and services come with memberships. Read all the terms and conditions before entering your payment information. Review the merchant’s policies on returns, exchanges, and refunds.

In some cases you may be able to use Google to search for the product photos from actual customers that will give you an idea of what you can expect to receive. Places such as YouTube often have posted reviews on various products and companies that can provide useful information. Note that some reviews are paid for, so do your due diligence. Use caution if the only reviews you see are highly rated.

How Much Will It Cost?

The advertised price may not be the final price you’ll end up paying. Shipping and handling fees and other costs may drive the total up, so it’s important to shop around for the best deals. Comparison shopping can save you money and time. Check for discounts, coupons, and promotions that may save you money, but beware of scams. Also look for pre-checked boxes, which are illegal. If you see a pre-checked box, uncheck it if you do not agree with the terms. Check that you are not entering a subscription or automatic renewal service.


There are so many options these days that make it convenient to pay. But we always suggest paying for online purchases with a credit card if possible. Credit card purchases offer certain protections and advantages that other payment options do not. For example, if you don’t receive your order, it isn’t what was advertised, or other issue, you may be able to dispute the charge.

Never send cash to pay for items. If the seller asks you to pay by gift card, money transfer service, or cryptocurrencies, it is probably a scam. Use caution with mobile app payments as well. Scammers like to use services such as PayPal and Cash App to defraud consumers.

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 have to file a dispute. Take note of any discrepancies in what you ordered and your final invoice or receipt. If anything is amiss, contact the company right away.

Black and Blue Pens Beside Red Covered Notebook

What To Do If You Have Problems

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Mail, Internet or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule and the Fair Credit Billing Act provide protections so consumers do not have to pay for merchandise they ordered but never received. Under Federal rules, a seller has 30 days to ship ordered products to the buyer unless otherwise specified at the time of purchase. If the seller cannot ship within the 30 day period, they are required to notify the buyer in writing of the delay, and give the option of waiting, or having their money returned within seven days. Credit card payments must be credited within one billing cycle.

If you have made a purchase from an online company and they don’t deliver, try contacting them about the order. If you’re unable to resolve the matter or reach them, contact BCA to file a complaint. We will 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 rating we provide businesses. This also puts other consumers on alert to watch out for the business.

You can also file a dispute with your credit card company or bank. If your account has been charged before your order has been shipped, contact your credit card company right away. Initiate a dispute by calling or writing to the credit card issuer with details of the transaction, receipts or invoices, and your information. The credit card issuer must act upon the complaint within 30 days and resolve the dispute within two billing cycles.

If you paid by debit card, contact your bank to file a dispute. Payments through PayPal can be challenged as well if you have not received your items. 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.

Stay up-to-date on scam alerts, important consumer tips, and more by following BCA on Facebook.

About Business Consumer Alliance Business Consumer Alliance (BCA) is a non-profit company that started in 1928. The broad purpose of BCA is to promote business self-regulation. BCA's mission is achieved by assisting consumers in resolving complaints with businesses and using that complaint information, along with other relevant information such as customer reviews, to forecast business reliability. With community support, BCA can identify trustworthy and ethical businesses and warn the public to avoid unscrupulous businesses whose purpose is to defraud the marketplace. BCA also helps businesses promote themselves by providing services and tools to protect their business and reach out to their customers. BCA obtains its funding from member businesses who support the mission and purpose of the organization and who agree to abide by high standards of ethical business practices.