Do your holiday shopping online? Here are 10 tips to avoid scams


Digging a little can help you avoid these too good to be true pitfalls when shopping online. martin-dm / E + via Getty Images

H. Colleen Sinclair, Mississippi State University

Online shopping is already booming this holiday season. While the surge in holiday e-commerce last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not going to be repeated this time around, online shopping in November and December is expected to exceed $ 200 billion for the first time. And as online shopping increases, so does online scams.

Already, many businesses outside of the United States are advertising relatively uncontrollably on the Internet, selling – or even pretending to sell – all kinds of products. Items are typically advertised using designs stolen from legitimate companies and artists, often ripped off Etsy, especially if those designs have been featured on popular sites like Bored Panda.

When people buy these scam products, what usually happens is of poor quality. This is if something ever happens. Often times, the business just closes and renames itself without sending anything. In the worst case, they also steal customers’ credit card information.

So how do you shop smart and spot scams? Here are some clues to watch out for.

1. Is it too good to be true?

Does the product shown match the price? Know the market. An amazing product for a low price is cause for suspicion. For example, Instagram featured photos from a “Halloween Advent Calendar”. The ad was priced at US $ 59.99, but available for a limited time for $ 29.80. At first glance, you might think you’re getting a lot, but take a moment to think about it. This price would barely cover the shipping and handling costs for a product of this size. The original product, sold on Etsy, costs over $ 1,800 and the creator has a backlog of orders.

three screenshots featuring the same product image of an Advent calendar sculpture of a Halloween haunted house
Two online ads, left and top right, that use a product image taken by an Etsy vendor after the vendor’s “Halloween Advent” product, bottom right, was featured on the Better Homes and Gardens sites , Pinterest and OddityMall. Screenshots by H. Colleen Sinclair, CC BY-NC-ND

2. If in doubt: Google it

Maybe you aren’t familiar enough with Etsy’s work to recognize a likely scam. If in doubt, search for the product name or download the image and run a Google image search. You are likely to find the original source. If the product really exists – unlike that CG baby shark that a company used to advertise their purported baby shark robot toy – you can choose to pay the original artist for their hard work or take the risk and dare. ‘try to get imitation. The search will also reveal if there are multiple alleged companies selling the same “unique” and “exclusive” items using the exact same images. Once you start seeing double or more, this is a warning sign.

3. Check the reputation of the company

Searching for the name of the business will likely bring you to the business site. Instead, search for the name of the business with the word “scam.” You will be able to tell fairly quickly if there is a disturbing story associated with the business. You can also try Scamvoid, which is dedicated to identifying reliable online links. There may be a Better Business Bureau listing for the company, but be careful not to rely on it. You can also find Facebook groups, like this one for Fashion Related Scams, which track down unreliable sites.

4. Too new to trust

In some cases, the business is so new that you won’t be able to find a track record. It’s a red flag. They’re probably one of those businesses that shut down after they’ve received enough orders, then create a new name and domain, and start over. It is possible that this is a legitimate new business trying to open a store during a pandemic. To tell the difference between a legitimate new business and an impromptu operation, use some of the following steps to judge them.

5. Review the reviews

Look carefully at the reviews. If there isn’t, back out. If there are, check the following warning signs. The opinions are few and unanimously five stars without comments. If there are any comments, they are filled with rough English or vague praise that could have been copied and pasted from any product. None of the reviews contain photos of the product actually received. There are no negative reviews, which is a wake-up call because even the best, legitimate companies can’t appeal to everyone all of the time. By the way, if you are looking for a legitimate product offering, be careful not to read too much negative reviews.

6. Is this a “good” site?

Does the company have a website, not just a Facebook page? Otherwise, that’s a big no. If they do, is it a full website or is it barely there? Verify that the business has a working phone number, and when you look up the number, there aren’t 12 other “businesses” associated with it. Make sure it lists a mailing address, preferably one that isn’t just a PO box.

Visit the “about us” page of the site. Does not have ? It’s another no. Does “about us” include the year the company was founded? Does it include information on the creators of the products? If the page contains a photo claiming to be of the owner or the artist, you can do a Google image search to see if it is a photo copied from another webpage, archive photo or a fake created by an AI system. Do their claims about themselves stand up to scrutiny? For example, does the site claim to be a black American owned business, but their WHOIS domain information lists a business in China?

Likewise, do they have a social media presence outside of the ad that appears in your News Feed? Otherwise, avoid. If so, you can click on the poster name to see where the person or company is located and when the page was launched. You can also see how far their posts have gone, as well as check the quality of those posts and discuss the company.

8. Beware of the “closing business” story

During the pandemic, legitimate businesses are in fact shutting down. Illegitimate businesses have clung to this as a tool to shoot people’s hearts to cheat buyers. It is illegal for US businesses to do this, but businesses outside of the US are not subject to the same laws. One way to distinguish legitimate businesses from scams is to check the start date on website domain registrations and social media sites. If the business emerged during the pandemic just in time to shut down, stay away.

two screenshots featuring the same image of felt hats
Suspicious ads on Instagram, left, and Facebook, right, with pandemic ceasefire stories that use a product image from a legitimate company, Lalabug Designs. Screenshots by H. Colleen Sinclair, CC BY-NC-ND

9. Trendy advertising bait

Beware of trendy items. Counterfeits and scams abound on any hot or trendy item. These days, marketers are also interested in political trends. Companies are popping up with names like “WeLuvTrump”, “FemPower” and “BlackGoodness”. The same tends to happen with new policies. For example, RBG articles were all the rage following the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020. Again, following the steps above will help you determine which products are legitimate.

10. Social influence tips

Also pay attention to common marketing techniques originally discovered by social psychologist Robert Cialdini and used by legitimate and illegitimate businesses. The most common that you are likely to see on scam sites are claims of exclusive access, which appeal to your need for uniqueness, claims of limited supply or lack of time for a “sale”, which play a role. on the psychological value people place on rare items. , and claims such as “Karen S. from Indianola just bought this item,” which are “social proof” that behavior is safe or appropriate because others have done so.

Ultimately, if these 10 tips seem too hard to follow just to get that one-of-a-kind toy for your grandchild, buy from a trusted source you’ve relied on in the past instead. It’s also a good idea to use credit cards or payment services like PayPal that protect consumers from fraudulent charges.

Buy wisely. Your bank account is counting on you.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on October 6, 2020.

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H. Colleen Sinclair, Associate Professor of Social Psychology, Mississippi State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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