Adding an item to your cart during holiday shopping only takes a few clicks, but it only takes one wrong click to lose money. Scammers are learning to take advantage of our growing expectations for convenience and targeting us with fakes, knock-offs and outright scams.
Lindsay Schweitzer sells hand-carved cutting boards and is always saddened to hear about people who end up with poor-quality items after trying to save money online.
“A lot of the cheap cutting boards online have plastics in them, and it is really unhealthy for your food,” she said.
Many shoppers have stories of online bargain buys that turned out to be no bargain at all.
“I’ve gotten things that were broken, things not as they were advertised, wrong things coming,” one woman told us.
Melanie McGovern of the Better Business Bureau says scammers are increasingly targeting us through ads on our social media feeds.
“The biggest thing we’re seeing is ads on social media,” she said.
Warning signs of a fake item or scam website
To avoid buying a fake handbag, gym shoes or earbuds, she says there are some questions you should ask yourself: “Is the item too good to be true? Is the price too low?”
That’s a red flag that you shouldn’t ignore. For instance, Apple AirPods for $29 are likely fakes.
McGovern suggests checking the BBB’s website to see if they have a business profile and if it’s an item you’ve been looking for but from an unfamiliar retailer.”You want to make sure that the company is legitimate,” she said.
Even if you recognize the business, you are not out of the woods yet because it might be a copycat website.
The Trend Micro research team found more than 66,000 shopping-related scam URLs active in the U.S. You can check out a questionable URL on Trend Micro’s search engine.
McGovern says look at the web address and ensure there is an “s” after “HTTP” for security. The biggest tell-tale sign, she said, is the lack of the lock icon displayed at the top of the address bar, which indicates it’s a secure site.
Other things to look out for include pictures of products that are all different sizes and look like they may have been copied and pasted. Also, watch for bad grammar or broken English in the product descriptions.
If anything seems out of the ordinary, McGovern says leave the website immediately. You will find other sellers.
Finally, consider spending just a little bit more and supporting local sellers like candle maker Lavita Board, who makes and sells candles at her shop Vitascents.
“People can come in and smell and buy them cash and carry,” she said.