Shopping these days is worlds away from what it was at the turn of the century, or even just a few years ago. According to retail research firm, Digital Commerce 360, eCommerce sales surpassed $870 billion in 2021, a 50% jump over 2019. Online shopping is quick, easy and convenient.
Unfortunately, though, when a lot of shopping moved online, it also ushered in a wave of scams that are often successful. Some of these scams can be difficult for the untrained eye to spot, and many offer no way for the victim to reclaim their lost funds. Here’s what you need to know to recognize an online shopping scam and avoid being the next victim.
How these scams play out
There are several variations to the online shopping scam.
In one version, a shopper will scour the internet for a specific item in their desired price range. They’ll find the item retailing on a site at an attractive price and then proceed to make the purchase. They’ll share payment information, input their delivery address and complete the transaction. Unfortunately, though, the item never arrives on their doorstep. Alternatively, a cheap knockoff of the product will arrive instead of the item they’ve purchased. When the buyer tries to demand a refund, they are unable to reach the seller.
In another variation, a shopper finds an item online and tries to make a purchase. They’ll be asked to input sensitive information, such as a credit card or checking account number. At this point, the shopper will be unable to complete the transaction and will continuously run into errors on the site. However, the scammers now have their information and can proceed to empty the victim’s accounts, or worse.
In a third version of the online shopping scam, a seller clicks on an ad, or on a site that came up in a Google search for one of their favorite stores. They’ll proceed to make an order, not knowing they’ve actually clicked into a bogus look-a-like site run by scammers. The rest of the scam will follow one of the scenarios described above.
Watch for these warning signs that you may have stumbled upon a shopping scam:
Prices are too good to be true. If you find an online offer for a new iPhone retailing at just $450, you’re likely looking at a scam.
The offer urges you to act now. If an offer warns that the bargain prices it’s offering won’t last until sundown, it’s likely a scam.
The seller demands specific means of payment. If an e-tailer insists that you pay via prepaid gift card or wire transfer, opt out immediately.
The website is full of typos and grammar errors. If the site is badly in need of editing, it may be run by scammers.
Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from online shopping scams:
Only shop on safe, secure sites. Check the URL for the lock icon and for the “s” after the “http” to ensure the website is secure.
Check the URL for proper spelling of reputable sites. Make sure the URL of the site you’re on matches the authentic URL for that retailer and that you haven’t landed on a spoof site. You may want to save the genuine URLs on your computer for future use.
Avoid clicking on high-pressure pop-ups and banner ads. These are often scams.
Pay with a credit card when shopping online. A credit card offers the most protection for your purchases.
Never share personal information with an unverified contact. Don’t input your credit card number or account details unless you’re absolutely sure you’re dealing with a reputable website.
If you’re targeted
If you’ve fallen victim to an online shopping scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage.
If you’ve paid via credit card, call the company to dispute the charge. At this point, you may want to consider closing the card and placing a credit alert and/or a credit freeze on your name. We've put together a blog that includes a guide on how this can benefit you, and how to place a credit alert and/or freeze.
Next, alert the FTC about the scam. If the alleged retailer is on the BBB website, you can let them know, too. Finally, let your friends know about the scam so they know to be aware.