How to Spot and Avoid Online Shopping Scams

It might be hard to imagine that you’ll ever fall victim to an online scam. You’ve probably heard stories of other people falling for cons, and most of the typical scams seem ridiculous. Unfortunately, con artists have only gotten better with more tools at their disposal. According to a poll from MoneyGram, more than 60 percent of Americans have been scammed online.

One common scam features a con artist posing as an online seller, receiving payment for a purchase, and vanishing with the money. With the emergence of peer-to-peer marketplaces and small online shopping sites, scammers are having more luck than ever.

Online scams aren’t always easy to spot, but knowing the warning signs can keep you safe. In addition, there are plenty of ways you can protect yourself from scams, and if you’ve been victimized you can get help too.

Signs of a Scam

No two scams are exactly the same, but many phony online sellers will give themselves away if you know what to look for. For starters, if you’re buying from an individual through a site like eBay, check that person’s reviews. If you’re buying from a small company, research anything you can find on them as well. You’re not only looking for positive feedback but a long history as that proves the business’s legitimacy.

Scammers often advertise underpriced items as well. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s one thing to go bargain hunting, but something like a new iPhone for 50 percent off should raise red flags.

The seller might badger you for payment immediately and request you use an online transfer platform or wire service to send the money, which isn’t standard practice. This isn’t a sure sign of a scam but ask for details and information on payment processing, shipping, and other specifics that a scammer wouldn’t be prepared to answer.

How to Protect Yourself

Overall, there are far more legitimate transactions than fraudulent ones on the internet every day. Still, you should take steps to protect your money and personal information no matter where you’re shopping online.

When using an unfamiliar platform, always scan the privacy policy, as well as any refund or dispute policies. In addition, check what country the business is based out of. If you’re dealing with a foreign business, you could have a harder time filing a claim in the event of a scam.

When paying, as mentioned above, avoid using electronic or physical wire services. Ideally, you’ll pay through a secure webpage like you would on Amazon. Never provide your credit card or personal information outside of a secure payment platform.

What to do if You’ve Been a Victim of a Scam

If you think you’ve been the victim of an online scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Both sites will ask you to fill out some personal information and details about the scam, but the FTC’s allows you to file claims specifically for online shopping scams. The FBI handles internet crimes more generally, but it can’t hurt to file a claim both ways.

You should also call your bank and report a fraudulent transaction, and cancel any credit cards if you gave away information.

And most importantly, don’t be embarrassed! Millions of people fall victim to scams every year, even Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran. Corcoran had nearly $400,000 robbed from her, but she proved it was a fraud and froze the transaction before she lost the money. It can happen to anyone, and the best you can do is file a claim, check-in with your bank, and be more cautious in the future.