Buyer Beware: Online Shopping Scams on the Rise

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Online shopping has become a way of life and consumers can find some great bargains on the internet. Sure, shopping online can be convenient and less expensive, but the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) wants consumers to be careful before they hand over their financial information to a scam seller.

The Federal Trade Commission has recorded over 26 thousand online shopping fraud reports resulting in $16.26 million lost since January 1, 2020. SCDCA is receiving calls about online shopping scams involving Facebook Marketplace ads ranging from baby gear to used cars. Some consumers have complained about ordering from a legitimate looking website, only to go back to find the site deleted, and the items never arrive. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid scams as you shop online:

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This one is at the top for a reason: if you see a product advertised online with a rock-bottom price compared to its suggested retail price, it’s a huge red flag of a scam. Sure, you can find good deals by comparison shopping, but be wary of deeply discounted prices.

Pick your payment type wisely. If you can, pay with a credit card when shopping online. It offers extra fraud protection, limiting what you owe if someone steals your information and allowing you to dispute certain charges, including if you don’t receive your order. Also, unlike a debit card, a credit card isn’t a direct line into your checking account. Be wary of sellers requiring you to pay specifically through a wire transfer, prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Scammers often prefer these types of payment because they are like cash, and not easily stopped or traced.

Don’t be fooled by a good-looking website. Just because a website looks good doesn’t mean it’s real. Websites are easy to create, and scammers often use a name similar to a real business. Do your homework before you drop any money by verifying the company’s physical address and telephone number. Check SCDCA’s complaint portal, the Better Business Bureau’s complaints and search for reviews of the company, too.

Be on the lookout for other “red flags.” Be suspicious of website URLs registered within the last six months; you can search any sites domain registration through the Whois Public Internet Directory. If a website has pictures and information that are copy-and-pasted from other websites, or the sites are advertised on social media, this could be a sign it’s fake. Also, make sure the website is secure by looking for an “S” after the http in the URL and/or a lock symbol in left of the URL bar.

Consumers who are a victim of an online shopping scam should:

File a scam report with SCDCA by visiting consumer.sc.gov or call (800) 922-1594.
Report the fraudulent or suspicious activity to the service you bought the product on, the online payment service and your bank. If possible, direct your bank to stop or reverse any transactions.
If the fraudster posed as a legitimate business, contact them to make the real company aware of the scam.
Businesses who are victims of an online imposter should:

Gather as much information as possible like the domain and platforms used by the scammer.
Report the fraudulent or suspicious activity to the appropriate vendors/platforms.
Report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov or the local FBI field office, which can be located at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices.
Post a notice on your website notifying customers of the scam.