Online Shopping Scams to Avoid

The internet offers consumers a million ways to shop for anything from a pair of socks to a new house, but you have to be careful. There are nearly as many online shopping scams as there are genuine offers.

It is easy to fall prey to these scams because they can look so realistic. Many of these scams offer unsuspecting shoppers great deals that lure them into clicking on a link and losing their money. Or worse yet, shoppers give out their credit card information to strangers who steal their identity.

Many of these scams are difficult or impossible to track and get under control as scammers often use anonymous email accounts to set up shop. Paying attention to the details of a transaction and confirming an online business’s identity are a few of the steps you can take to protect yourself while shopping online.

Fake Websites

Every year, more fake websites pop up on the internet and scam money from countless consumers. Genuine shopping websites invest millions of dollars to create sites that are attractive, engaging and easy to use. If you visit a website that seems like the real deal, take the time to protect yourself before making a purchase.

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A few warning signs of a fake shopping site include:

  • Multiple grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Poor design and navigation.
  • A long or misspelled URL.
  • Annoying popups.
  • Urgent entreaties to act immediately.
  • No physical address in the “Contact Us” section.
  • No return, exchange and shipping policy information.
  • No valid phone number.

Fake Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are incredibly popular for consumers because they make it so easy to shop online regardless of where the users are located. Scammers are aware of this and routinely launch fake apps that download malware onto your mobile phone. It is easy to fall for these apps because they look so much like the real thing. The logo and website address may look so close to the original that you never notice the difference until it is too late.

If you are considering downloading a shopping app, be sure to look at the logo carefully and confirm the address. It could be off by a single character and take you to a dangerous link that can collect your data. A few signs an app may not be legitimate include:

  • Poor sentence phrasing.
  • Logos that are not quite right.
  • Third party downloads.

If you suspect a mobile shopping app is not legitimate, look for online reviews and only download if the reviews are positive and you trust the source.

Fake Emails and Text Messages

Identity thieves often send out emails or text messages pretending to be your credit card company with dangerous links to fake websites. You may check your email one day to find a message from your credit card company saying there is a problem with your card. You panic and click on the link to address the issue quickly. Unfortunately, this is a common tactic that identity thieves use. The messages often ask you to verify your information or make a payment to keep your account current.

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As a rule of thumb, do not click on any links before contacting the company directly to confirm that the text or email is legitimate. Signs of a scam include salutations that are generic, such as “dear card holder” or “dear valued customer,” and links that do not include the retailer’s or bank’s name. Also look for bad spelling and awkward wording. In this case, your best course of action is to open a new tab and go directly to your bank’s website to confirm the correspondence and take action from there.

Free Trial Offers

It is easy to get sucked into the allure of a free trial of a product or service you are thinking of purchasing. What is there not to love about getting free products while just paying for the cost of shipping? The problem is often the fine print that mentions a one-week or 14-day window for cancellation before the automatic charges on your credit card start showing up. If you miss the cancellation window, you are obligated to pay a hefty monthly fee for a long time, paying for the same product that you may no longer want. The terms are often complex and cancellations can take months to process, leaving you to pay a hefty price tag..

Always look at the fine print and check the reviews of the product along with the parent company before applying for a free trial offer. If there is a photo used to advertise the product, make sure it is legitimate. Some ads use the same model to advertise a variety of questionable products. If you see the same model selling perfume, bras and time shares, chances are that he or she does not really use any of the products.

Fake Coupons

Fake vouchers and coupons are available year-round, but they are especially popular with scammers around the holidays. They tout amazing deals and promise anything from a free meal to hundreds of dollars off at reputable stores. It is easy to fall for these because you recognize the name of the retailer and are familiar with their products or services.

The problem stems from the offer itself or the requirements needed to use the coupon. If you have to repost the coupon on your Facebook page or click through multiple ad links, the scammers are getting access to your personal information, getting your contacts or gathering your email list.

If a coupon or voucher seems like an unbelievable deal, it probably is. If you have to share a link on your Facebook page to activate the voucher, forget about it. Check the expiration date on any coupons, confirm the logo and be sure the link is a valid one. Rather than clicking through the coupon or ad, go directly to the retailer’s website and look for the coupon. If you cannot find it, it is probably a fake.

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