Nearly 36% of all online retail fraud reports to Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker start when the consumer is lured to a fake website, which tries to impersonate a well-known brand name retailer.
The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website, mobile app or, increasingly, a social media ad (a BBB study found that 40 percent of online shopping scams reported to the organization originate on Facebook or Instagram).
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 such as free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.
- Bargain-basement prices. Internet security firm Norton says to be on guard if discounts exceed 55 percent.
- Shoddy website design or sloppy English. Real retailers take great care with their online presentation.
- Limited or suspicious contact options — for example, there’s only a fill-in contact form, or the customer service email is a Yahoo or Gmail account, not a corporate one.
- URLs with extraneous words or characters (most stores use only their brand name in web addresses) or unusual domains — for example, .bargain, .app or a foreign domain instead of .com or .net.
- Sites that ask you to download software or enter personal information to access coupons or discount codes.
- Sellers who demand payment by wire transfer, money order or gift card. They are scammers.
How to protect yourself
- Use trusted sites rather than shopping with a search engine. Scammers can game search results to lead you astray.
- Comparison shop. Check prices from multiple retailers to help determine if a deal you’ve seen really is too good to be true.
- Research an unfamiliar product or brand. Search for its name with terms such as “scam” or “complaint,” and look for reviews.
- Check that phone numbers and addresses on store sites are genuine, so you can contact the seller in case of problems.
- Carefully read delivery, exchange, refund and privacy policies. If they are vague or nonexistent, take your business elsewhere.
- Look twice at URLs and app names. Misplaced or transposed letters are a scam giveaway but easy to miss.
- Pay by credit card. Liability for fraudulent charges on credit cards is generally limited to $50, and some providers offer 100 percent purchase protection. Paying by debit card does not off offer such safeguards.
- Don’t assume a retail website is safe because it is encrypted. Many scam sites use encryption, indicated by a padlock icon or “https://” in front of the URL, to provide a false sense of security. Use other means, including those listed above, to confirm if a site is legit.
- Don’t provide more information than a retailer needs. That should be only your billing information and the shipping address.
- Check that the site is well established, security software maker Norton recommends. Look for a copyright date, and use the WHOIS lookup service to see when a domain was created.
So be careful when purchasing online and make sure you are on the legitimate retailer’s website.