Most consumers realize they need to watch out for shopping scams. Yet bad actors continually find new and more clever ways to rip people off. When shopping for items online, avoid getting fleeced with these preventative steps.
Trying to earn your trust
Scammers work hard to get you to trust that their email or text message is really from your bank or an online retailer with which you have legitimately done business before. They also use consumer classified ad sites like Craig’s List and Facebook Marketplace. Scammers use many cons, but here are some of the most devious.
Consumer classified ad sites
You can get some good deals buying home furnishings, household items, clothing and vehicles on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. You can also be targeted by shopping scammers. Craigslist posts prominent warnings on its site warning of shopping scams.
Be sure you connect to the real Craigslist site at www.craigslist.org. Watch out for counterfeit sites.
When you are selling through an online marketplace, whenever possible deal with local buyers and require the buyer to pay you either in cash or through secure digital methods such as Zelle, Venmo or Paypal. Spell out these restrictions in your ad.
If you as a seller decide to accept checks from buyers, either take the check to a branch of the bank on which it is drawn to verify that it is authentic, or wait until the check clears before you hand over the goods. One common scam where checks are used in sales to out-of-town buyers begins with the seller shipping the item and the scamming buyer sending a check for more than the agreed-upon purchase price. The seller, thinking this was an error, notifies the buyer. The buyer tells the seller to return the overage by check or by wiring money. Later the original check turns out to be worthless, the innocent seller has actually paid money to the scammer, and the scammer has absconded with the item.
Don’t go to a buyer’s or seller’s residence. Instead, conduct the transaction in a public place. Some local police departments have a designated area for buyers and sellers to exchange items and payments.
Fraudulent emails or texts
Exercise caution with unsolicited emails and texts. Be skeptical to sniff out shopping scams.
Scammers may contact you by email, text or even a telephone call purporting to be from your bank, credit card company or any vendor you deal with. They will tell you your account has been hacked and seek your help to “fix” the issue. For example, an email from a scammer might contain a link you’re directed to click. That link will lead to a counterfeit of the real vendor’s website. The phony site might download malware on your computer, or it may offer you a log-in screen that is actually a way to steal your account credentials.
Don’t respond to these sorts of contacts. Instead, take the initiative to get in touch with the purported sender’s customer service department to ask whether the contact is legit. You’ll likely find the alert was phony and that everything is fine with your account. Note that a financial institution or government agency will never request this type of information by email.
Emails from an unfamiliar retailer offering you a bargain or coupon deals may turn out to be shopping scams. Watch for telltale signs that the email is from a scammer. Before clicking on any links in the email, do some research. Google the offer to see if there are postings that indicate whether it’s real or a scam. Search Facebook for the name of the retailer or coupon website. A blue check mark beside the vendor’s name on its Facebook page means that Facebook has investigated the site and verified that it is legitimate.
Scam messages and sites that originate outside the U.S. will often contain grammatical and syntax errors that are a tip-off something’s not right.