Stay-at-home orders, social distancing and other efforts to the curb the spread of the coronavirus have made online shopping a necessity in 2020.
Recent data collected by the United States Census Bureau revealed that online purchases have increased by more than 30% since mid-March. As more consumers connect with products virtually, the number of scammers creating fake websites to steal shoppers’ hard-earned money has spiked as well.
A series of investigations performed by Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific uncovered a significant number of online sellers using fraudulent websites to con consumers. Products featured on the fake sites ranged from outdoor sporting goods to furniture.
Scammers advertised exceptional deals for the products listed but ultimately never delivered any of what was ordered to consumers. Examples of the fake websites identified include the following:
Online shoppers allege they ordered and paid for products from these online stores. After several weeks of waiting, however, the retailer sent items completely different than what was purchased or did not send any products at all. For example, in one of the complaints filed, a consumer ordered a trampoline but received a face mask instead.
BBB NW+P is reminding consumers and businesses shopping online to be mindful of the websites they use to purchase products or services.
• Know the advertiser. Anyone can set up a website. Look for red flags like a recent website creation date, residential address listings, prices too good to be true or any spelling and grammatical errors. Check out bbb.org for more tips on how to interact with stores or websites unfamiliar to you.
• Use anti-virus software. To ensure your personal information is safe, use anti-virus software on your computer or mobile device. Make sure that software is kept updated, too.
• Document your purchase. Take a screenshot or make a copy of your order before you finalize your purchase. Those images serve as proof to dispute any misleading purchases with your credit card company. You may not receive a receipt or confirmation of your order following your purchase, so make sure to take the necessary precautions before you buy.
• Shop with a credit card. A credit card provides additional protections over a debit card in case of fraudulent transactions. If your card number is compromised, it’s easier to dispute any charges that you didn’t approve. Prepaid cards or gift cards don’t have the same protections as a credit card, but you’ll never lose more than the value of the card itself.
• Make sure websites are secure. Only share personal information and your credit card number with websites that are https (the “s” stands for secure) and that have a security lock icon in the taskbar.
• Be a savvy shopper. When shopping online, be sure to take your time, and read the fine print before submitting your order. Some stores have different return policies depending on the item you purchase. Although many online orders can be returned for a full refund, others have restocking fees.Shop responsibly. It’s that simple. Connect with businesses you can trust by visiting www.bbb.org.
If you or someone you know has been victimized by an online scam, report that experience using the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker. Together, we can create a safer marketplace for businesses and consumers.