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2021’s Hottest Online Shopping Scams

By Ashleigh, K-Staff

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‘Tis the season for holiday shopping and scammers. Each year, fraudsters cash in, preying on online shoppers on the lookout for a deal. While you’re hunting for the best holiday deals, be wary of any deal that looks too good to be true, because chances are it probably is. According to the BBB, online purchase scams rank among the top three riskiest since 2017 and people continue to lose money. The median dollar loss for these scams have risen from $76 in 2019 to $102 in 2021.

2021 Hot Online Shopping Scams

Phishing For Deals

When you see a great deal from a name brand, does your heart skip a beat? That sense of urgency has you ready to enter your payment and personal information RIGHT NOW. STOP! Don’t let excitement cloud your judgement. Take a minute to make sure that you aren’t being scammed. Ask yourself: Is this website trustworthy? Is the web address http and not https? (Safety tip: the “s” stands for secure, meaning the site has a valid security certificate. This is not a definitive method for determining a site’s safety, but the lack of a security certificate is a red flag. Look for the lock symbol in the address bar.) Scammers will often create seemingly real websites or send phishing emails with an advertisement of an unrealistic deal. In the end, you’ll pay for an item that never arrives, and you might be left with a compromised or stolen identity.

Social Media Shopping

Be wary of advertisement posts from seemingly familiar brands or even posts shared from people that you follow. If you click on an ad through social media, do your research and check out the company. Include the company name and the words “scam” or “complaint” in your search. If you are making a purchase from a stranger on social media, make sure they can be trusted.

Thieves have gotten smarter. A common method for social media shopping scams doesn’t involve a sponsored post but uses group memberships to spread the word. Have you ever seen an innocuous post within a group? Say you’re a member of a hiking enthusiasts group on Facebook, and you see a post by a group member. The poster uploads an image, purportedly of themselves, with a post saying: “Just got this fabulous new hiking shirt!” Group members begin to like and respond, asking where the original poster got the shirt. The poster quickly follows up with a link, and off you go! The “stores” you end up on pop up and are closed down as soon as they’re caught, only to pop back up under a different web address.

Because social media groups infer a higher level of trust and the scammer doesn’t go straight to a sales tactic, it can be harder to spot. Bottom line: don’t click links and don’t buy from online sites you’ve never heard of before. Try to find the product yourself on a trusted website.

Graph provided from the BBB 2021 Online Purchase Scams Report. Check out the full report at https://www.bbb.org/all/bbbi/online-purchase-scams-2021.

How can I avoid becoming a victim?

  • Always get a tracking number and check the progress periodically to see when the product has shipped and when it was delivered. Sometimes scammers can be clever and will give you a fake tracking information. Verify the tracking number by going to the carrier’s website (USPS, UPS, FedEx) and check the tracking number on their website.
  • Avoid sellers who make the sell under one name and then ask for money to be transferred to someone else.
  • Cancel your purchase if the seller asks you to pay by wiring funds directly to them via a money transfer service, pre-paid card, or bank-to-bank wire transfer. Sending money in these ways has almost no insurance for the customer. Paying with a credit card is the safest option, as many credit cards can often get you your money back.
  • Don’t become a money mule! Learn more here.

If I become a victim, what are the steps to recovery?

Step 1) Report the scam to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.

Step 2) Contact your financial institution and report any fraudulent activity to have them stop or reverse any transactions.

Step 3) If you wired any money, have your financial institution contact the corresponding financial institution.

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