BBB tips to shop smart for Halloween

Shopping Scams
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Author: BBB

Online shopping experienced a big boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many brick-and-mortar businesess either began or improved their efforts in the digital space. Ads for great online deals are everywhere, tempting consumers with great prices and free shipping offers.

Scammers preyed on these online consumers, taking advantage of the hard-to-find items by creating fake websites and substandard products and offering them at “too good to be true” prices.

Sometimes consumers find what they ordered is not what they get. Many ads pop up with enticing gadgets, cute merchandise or items with a subliminal “I gotta have it” messages, making it irresistible to click and check it out. Unfortunately, some of these companies aren’t quite what they seem. Some consumers find that once the order is placed, the company doesn’t send the product, or it is not of good quality. How can you be certain the websites where you shop are legitimate?

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against one of those bad actors. The FTC alleged that Frank Romero (doing business as Trend Deploy) failed to deliver advertised personal protective equipment (PPE) on time — if at all. The items sent were cloth masks, not N95 masks as advertised. Customers also were not told about shipping delays, offered order cancellations, or given refunds.

BBB offers these tips for safe online shopping: 

  • Know the advertiser. Some of the best deals are only available online, but be careful. It’s easy for a fake site to mimic a famous retailer’s website, so make sure you are shopping with a legitimate site. If the site is missing contact information, that is a red flag. Check out retailers at BBB.org before you shop.
  • Check a site’s security settings. If the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with “https://” and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page.
  • Be a savvy shopper. When shopping online, be sure to take your time and read the fine print before submitting your order. Look for the return policy; although many online orders can be returned for a full refund, others have restocking fees. Some items cannot be returned; know before you buy.
  • Protect personal information. Read a site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy, that’s a big red flag that it may be a scam.
  • Think before you click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites. Many sketchy retailers advertise great deals or trendy clothing that don’t measure up to the promotional hype.
  • Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may offer free or very low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs, or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
  • Beware of phishing. Phishing emails can look like a message from a well-known brand, but clicking on unfamiliar links can place you at risk for malware and/or identity theft. One popular scam claims to be from a package-delivery company with links to “tracking information” on an order you don’t remember making. Don’t click!
  • Shop with a credit card. In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card provides additional protections; it’s easier to dispute charges that you didn’t approve or to get your money back if there is a problem. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards don’t have the same protections as a credit card.
  • Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page or email confirmation until you receive the item and are satisfied. Be sure to know and understand the return policy and keep this documented with your purchase records. According to the FTC, when you shop online, sellers are supposed to ship your order within the time stated in their ads or within 30 days if the ads don’t give a time. If a seller can’t ship within the promised time, they have to give you a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.
  • Keep a clean machine. Install a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software for network security. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly on your computer, tablet, and smart phone.

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