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Online Shopping Scams

AARP | Comments: 0

En español | The internet continues to reshape the way we shop, with retail apps and social media stores adding to consumers’ online options. Cybercriminals are keeping pace. Online purchasing was the most common scam type reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in 2020, representing nearly 1 in 4 complaints, and the one that most often led to a financial loss, according to the BBB’s annual “Scam Tracker Risk Report.”

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline: 877-908-3360
  • Report it on AARP’s Scam-Tracking Map

Sign up for Watchdog Alerts for more tips on avoiding scams.

The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website or, increasingly, mobile app. Some faux e-stores are invented from whole cloth, but many mimic trusted retailers, with familiar logos and slogans and a URL that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks like free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.

Some of these copycats do deliver merchandise — shoddy knockoffs worth less than even the “discount” price you mistook for a once-in-a-lifetime deal on, say, Tiffany watches or Timberland boots. More often, you’ll wait in vain for your purchase to arrive. And your losses might not stop there: Scammers may seed phony sites, apps or links in pop-up ads and email coupons with malware that infects your device and harvests personal information for use in identity theft.

Clothing and jewelry, furniture and home decor, electronics, cosmetics, health and nutrition, and pets are among the most common categories of products in shopping scams, according to the BBB. Not surprisingly, these frauds flourish during the holiday season. You need not forgo the ease and endless selection of online shopping, but these precautions can help you make sure you get what you pay for.

How can I tell if an ecommerce website is genuine?

Shopping online is very convenient, but sometimes it’s difficult to know if the website you’re visiting is legitimate. It’s natural to question whether you’ll be safe when buying from a website for the first time. So, we’ve developed this quick tips list to help you stay safe when shopping online, and hopefully avoid any scams.

Contact details

A legitimate store will have contact details on its site. If it is just a web contact form, without an address, email, and phone number you should probably be wary. All genuine online stores will be happy to help with any query you have so, if you are buying for the first time, do get in touch to see if they are real.

Customer feedback

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Take a look on the website to see if there are any customer reviews about the products or the company. Also, if you are uncertain, run a search for the name of the website and the words “scam” or “fake”. You’ll quickly find out if others have had bad experiences and you should steer clear.

Whois lookup

When you run a website, you typically supply the registration details to the organizations that regulates that domain name. You can enter the website address of the online store you’re browsing at the below link for .com websites, for example. This will let you know who has registered the site. If the details match the contact details listed on the website, then chances are it is safe to buy.

Website encryption measures

When you’re buying from a secure website you will always see the following in the address bar:

The padlock icon means that the site is using encrypted communications to secure any information you submit to it. The “s” in “https” also means that communications between the website and your computer or mobile are secure and encrypted. You should only buy from sites with “https” on their check-out page.

Google Safe Browsing

Google has developed a quick tool to check if the website you’re visiting is unsafe. Sometimes even legitimate sites have been comprised by hackers. You can visit the following link and enter the website you’re visiting to see if there are any issues with it:

Look and Feel

There are also some simple things you can do when you arrive on a website to check it’s real. The first is how professional the site looks. Is it well laid out? Are the images high-resolution? Is the language free from grammar and spelling errors? It’s down to you, but if you compare the site you’re on with one you already trust, you should be able to see if there are any differences.

With these tips, you should be able to tell whether a site is safe and genuine, or if it doesn’t look legitimate. No-one of these tips alone will guarantee a website is safe, but when combined, chances are you’re dealing with the real thing. If you have any other tips to help, please leave a comment below.

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SCAM WATCH

Online shopping scams involve scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers, either with a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine retailer site.

How this scam works

While many online sellers are legitimate, unfortunately scammers can use the anonymous nature of the internet to rip off unsuspecting shoppers.

Scammers use the latest technology to set up fake retailer websites that look like genuine online retail stores. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts, possibly stolen logos, and even a ‘.com.au’ domain name and stolen Australian Business Number (ABN).

Many of these websites offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Sometimes you will receive the item you paid for but they will be fake, other times you will receive nothing at all.

The biggest tip-off that a retail website is a scam is the method of payment. Scammers will often ask you to pay using a money order, pre-loaded money card, or wire transfer, but if you send your money this way, it’s unlikely you will see it again or receive your purchased item.

A newer version of online shopping scams involves the use of social media platforms to set up fake online stores. They open the store for a short time, often selling fake branded clothing or jewellery. After making a number of sales, the stores disappear. They also use social media to advertise their fake website, so do not trust a site just because you have seen it advertised or shared on social media. The best way to detect an fake trader or social media online shopping scam is to search for reviews before purchasing.

Warning signs

  • A product is advertised at an unbelievably low price, or advertised to have amazing benefits or features that sound too good to be true.
  • The other party insists on immediate payment, or payment by electronic funds transfer or a wire service. They may insist that you pay up-front for vouchers before you can access a cheap deal or a give-away.

The social media based store is very new and selling products at very low prices. The store may have limited information about delivery and other policies.

  • An online retailer does not provide adequate information about privacy, terms and conditions of use, dispute resolution or contact details. The seller may be based overseas, or the seller does not allow payment through a secure payment service such as PayPal or a credit card transaction.
  • Protect yourself

    Check if the website or social media page has a refund or returns policy, and that their policies sound fair. The better online shopping and auction sites have detailed complaint or dispute handling processes in case something goes wrong.

    Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way. Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust.

    Have you been scammed?

    If you have bought something online and there is a problem, you should first try to contact the retailer or auction service. There may be a legitimate reason for the problem.

    If you are not satisfied with the response and suspect that it may be a scam, you may be able to arrange a charge-back through your bank or credit union if you have paid by credit card. You may wish to contact your local consumer protection agency to seek assistance.

    We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

    Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

    SCAM WATCH

    Don’t get scammed by a fake online store

    The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning online shoppers to be wary of scammers masquerading as legitimate online retailers, often selling well-known brands at too-good-to-be-true prices.

    Already in 2020, the ACCC’s Scamwatch service has received more than 1000 reports of online shopping scams worth more than $150,000 in total.

    Don’t get scammed by a fake online store – Infographic

    Younger Australians in the 18 to 24 age bracket made up the biggest group of people who reported losing money to online shopping scammers. Worryingly, Scamwatch’s statistics also show nearly one in every two people reporting the scam lost money.

    “Australians love shopping online and scammers take advantage of this by setting up fake websites that look like genuine online stores, including professional-looking design, stolen logos, and even a ‘.com.au’ domain name and/or stolen ABNs,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

    “The only thing these websites are selling is false hope. The scammers running these sites will advertise goods, often well-known and trusted brands, at unbelievably low prices to lure in unsuspecting consumers shopping around for a good deal. If something looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”

    Ms Rickard said that while the often-professional design of fake retailer websites can make them almost exactly look like the real deal, there were some tell-tale scam signs consumers can look for.

    “The biggest tip-off is the method of payment: scammers will often ask you to pay using a money order, pre-loaded money card, or wire transfer, even gift cards from well-known retailers. If you make a payment this way to a scammer, you’re highly unlikely to see that money again,” Ms Rickard said.

    We all love a bargain, the bigger the better, but scammers prey on this and will use the ‘fear of missing out’ to cloud your judgement. If in doubt, do a Google search on the website you’re thinking of buying a product from. There are many great product review services that can tip you off to stay clear of a fake retailer,” Ms Rickard said.

    Scamwatch tips

    • Do some independent research on a website you’re thinking of buying a product from and check out reviews from other consumers.
    • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email.
    • When making online payments, only pay for items using a secure payment service—look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol, or a payment provider such as PayPal. Think twice before using virtual currencies such as bitcoin—they do not have the same protections as other transaction methods so you can’t get your money back once you send it.
    • When using retail websites, find out exactly who you are dealing with. If it is an Australian company, you are in a much better position to sort out the problem if something goes wrong. You can check ABNs at: http://abr.business.gov.au/
    • Check if the website site has a refund or returns policy, and that their policies sound fair. The better online shopping sites have detailed complaint or dispute handling processes in case something goes wrong.
    • Avoid clicking on pop-up ads that can download viruses, spyware, malware, and other unwanted software to your computer.

    Report

    You can report scams to the ACCC via the Scamwatch report a scam page.

    More information

    Stay one step ahead of scammers, follow @Scamwatch_gov on Twitter.

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