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Get Wise: 13 Ways to Spot Online Shopping Scams

What to check for before you check out.

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Everyone knows that fabulous deals tempt shoppers. Retailers like Target, Walmart and Amazon count on this, which is why they fill your inbox and social media feed with ads. But you know who else knows how much consumers like to snag a must-have item on the cheap? Online scammers.

According to the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Online Scams Report 2022, online purchase scams (also known as online shopping scams) ranked as the #1 riskiest scam type in 2021. At the time of the study, 30.0% of all reported scams were in this category, with 71.6% losing money. As for the 2.4 million fraud reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2022, online shopping scams ranked second, totaling $358.1 million in losses.

These statistics are scary, but if you know what to look for, you can spot the scammers before they have a chance to rip you off. Here are 13 signs that something’s probably not legit.

1. Unsolicited offers, deals, or QR codes

If you receive an email, text, direct message or pop-up ad from an unknown source offering you a deal or selling their merchandise, consider it stranger danger, steer clear and don’t click on any links or QR codes. The BBB recently warned consumers about the growing threat from fraudulent QR codes. Unless you know and trust the source, ignore it.

2. Products pitched on social media

Retailers frequently market their products on social media and other commonly-used platforms. But before you get roped in, consider this nugget from the BBB’s report: Many consumers who lost money to online purchase scams first learned about the products on popular sites, including Facebook, Google, and Instagram.

3. Heavily discounted merchandise

If a sale or offer sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam to steal your credit card number, or the merchandise you receive will be of very low quality. Comparison shopping can help you gauge the credibility of online offers.

4. Misspelled or unconventional URLs

One of the ways scammers trick you is by posing as legitimate retailers. Always look at the domain name of the email sender to make sure the brand name is spelled correctly and there are no extra words or letters added. And watch out for any web addresses that end with anything besides .com, .org or .net.

5. Amateur-looking or recently created websites

Take the poor quality of a website as a potential sign of the quality of goods available on it. While you’re at it, look for the date the site was created. It’s usually listed along the bottom of the screen by the copyright sign, or you can find it using the ICANN lookup tool. If the website was just created, think twice before buying.

6. Bad or broken English

Significant grammar and punctuation mistakes or broken English on a website or in an email are telltale signs that the sender is a scammer.

7. Requests for personal information

No one should request your social security number or other private information in order to send you a coupon or discount code.

8. Limited or inactive contact information

Check to see whether the website lists a phone number and call it for confirmation. It’s a potential red flag if the only way to reach the seller is via a contact form.

9. Unsecure checkout portal

Legitimate retailers and e-tailers use secure checkout portals to protect their customers and themselves from breaches, but online scammers might not. Look for the lock symbol or https in the address bar of your browser when checking out.

10. Credit cards not accepted

Credit cards limit your liability for fraudulent purchases, some even provide 100% protection. That’s not the case with payment apps or some debit cards. Avoid buying from sites that don’t accept credit cards.

11. High-pressure sales pitch

Limited-time sales aren’t unusual, but if the seller won’t take no for an answer or is pressuring you to buy without thinking your purchase through, it’s time to walk away.

12. Poor or limited review history

Speaking of taking your time to decide, take a minute to see if the BBB or any online review sites report scams or bad experiences related to the seller. Likewise, zero reviews might suggest a fly-by-night operation that’s best avoided.

13. Gut check fail

Keep in mind that not every scam will include all of these signs, and legitimate offers and deals may be pitched on social media or involve steep discounts. For that reason, you should consider all the signs and then trust your instinct if anything feels suspicious.

Take Action If You See a Scam or Fall Victim to One

In addition to helping yourself, you can help stamp out scams by reporting them to the BBB Scam Tracker, the FBI Internet Complaint Center and your state’s attorney general.

Editor’s note: Quorum is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article and derives no benefit from these businesses for placement in this article.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

Quorum derives no benefit from businesses in return for placement in this blog.

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