Many consumers enjoy the convenience and cost-savings associated with online shopping. After all, it’s not too difficult to find a good deal online — and when the product is delivered right to your door, it’s even better!
However, along with the benefits of online shopping come the dangers. Online shopping scams are common; in fact, online purchasing was the most common scam type reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in 2019. It was also the scam type most often resulting in a financial loss.
How can you protect yourself from online shopping scams? Here are four tips that can help.
1. Do Your Research
Online shopping scams are typically shrouded in a cloak of legitimacy. For instance, a fake company may sell a product through a professional-looking website. Perhaps the scammer even posts fake product reviews, or uses other quasi-legitimate means to advertise his “brand.” In many cases, it’s all too easy to fall for such a scam, and lose a hefty sum of money in the process.
One of the biggest keys to avoiding this type of fraud is to do your research before making any online purchase — especially if it involves a company that you don’t know. Here are some things to examine before you make your final decision:
- Does the company offer its product for an unusually low price? The fact is, if a website is selling a product that normally costs $500 for $50 or less, it’s probably too good to be true.
- Are there spelling or grammar errors on the site? One spelling mistake on a website is understandable. Two or three mistakes are tolerable. But if the site is full of spelling or grammar mistakes, then there are only two possibilities in play: either the company’s website is managed by grossly incompetent people, or the website was quickly thrown together by a scammer looking for a quick profit. Either way, you don’t want to do business with the brand in question.
- Can you find legitimate customer reviews about the product and company? This can be a tricky one, because sometimes a scammer will actually pay to have fake reviews published online. They may partner with unethical affiliate marketers that are willing to deceive people into thinking that a product is legit when it actually isn’t. Fortunately, many online review platforms will publish a disclaimer if the article was written by someone outside their editorial staff. Always check reviews from Google and other sites, like Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, Trustpilot, etc. If you can’t find any reviews on one of those sites, steer clear.
2. Double Check Emails from Payment Platforms
Another common tactic of online shopping scammers is to send emails that are purportedly from a payment platform. Their objective is to steal your personal information, possibly with the intent of draining money from your account.
If you receive a suspicious email from an online payment platform, proceed with caution. There are usually certain telltale signs that an email is fake. For example, PayPal scams are common where the scammer sends fraudulent emails that supposedly originate from their site. Here’s how to recognize fake emails from payment platforms:
- If it contains impersonal greetings like “Dear user”, then the email is definitely fake. PayPal always addresses account-holders by their first and last name, or by their business name.
- If there are any links in the email, move your mouse over them to see their true destination. Never click on a suspicious link.
- Never open an attachment unless you know that it’s safe. Attachments from fake emails may contain viruses that will infect your computer.
- Many phishing emails contain an urgent tone, and encourage recipients to take quick action. For instance, they may warn you that your account will be suspended unless you complete something within the next few hours. If you need to check the status of your account, always go directly to the PayPal website. Never go through a link enclosed within a suspicious email.
- Some scammers want to trick you into thinking you’ve already received a payment through PayPal. They may want to obtain an item you’re selling for free. Again, the safest thing to do in this situation is to check the status of your account in PayPal’s official site. If you’ve been paid, you’ll always see the payment in your account. Never ship anything valuable before verifying that you’ve been paid the proper amount.
3. Use Secure Websites
Secure websites are websites that will encrypt your data so that a scammer can’t intercept your personal information, or misdirect you to a fake website. These websites will typically have the characters: “https://” at the beginning of their URL.
Going through HTTPS websites (instead of HTTP websites) for your online shopping is especially important in public locations. Basically, if you are connected to an open Wi-Fi network, then a hacker could easily steal your information if you visit non-secure websites. In contrast, it’s much more difficult for anyone to successfully attack a secure website.
4. Trust Your Instincts
This final point may seem obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning. Most humans have a sixth sense when it comes to suspicious activity: we may not be able to put our finger on it, but there are times when something just feels wrong about a particular situation.
If you experience those feelings when you receive an email, when you visit a website, or when you’re about to conduct a transaction over the Internet, don’t ignore them. There’s probably a good reason why your instincts are kicking in. Instead of putting yourself in a compromising situation, slow down, take a step back, and make sure that you’re doing the safe thing. It’s simple advice to follow, but it may be the single most important way to avoid falling for online shopping scams.
If you’d like to learn more about how to protect yourself from online shopping scams and other forms of fraud, reach out to the security experts at Beau Dietl & Associates today.