When the holiday season rolls around, many shoppers turn to online seller platforms to find unique, handmade gifts for their friends and family. Scammers have taken note, and according to recent Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker reports, they’re targeting shoppers with a not-so-unique scam. These recent reports say that the scam is taking place on well-known and reputable websites, such as Etsy (a BBB Accredited Business). Scammers might use this same scam tactic on other platforms as well.
How the scam works
You’re browsing online when you find a special gift or holiday decoration that you’d like to purchase. The photos seem professional, and everything looks normal… except for one thing. In the item description, you find a message from the seller advising you not to make the purchase through the online sales platform where you have discovered it. Instead, the seller encourages you to purchase the item directly from their independent website, promising that you’ll get a hefty discount if you do.
If you follow the link to a website outside the original sales platform and make a purchase, you’ll likely be disappointed when your card is charged, but the product never arrives. Unfortunately, that’s because the product probably never existed in the first place. Worse yet, if you have fallen for this type of scam, your payment information will now be in the hands of unscrupulous characters.
One consumer reported this experience: “When I checked out the listing, there was a message that looks like this: ‘DO NOT purchase from this store, visit our website to get 50% off.’ I fell for it and purchased a pair of shoes. I received a confirmation email for my purchase with a tracking number. When nothing arrived, I sent multiple messages inquiring about my order and when I could expect shipment. I received no response. I went back to the website to input my tracking order, and the website was no longer available.”
How to avoid online shopping scams
- Do business with reputable websites. In general, avoid going off-platform to buy from sellers that you discover online; it’s much safer to purchase through reputable websites that help specialty sellers connect with buyers. Legitimate websites like Etsy have specific policies in place to protect sellers and buyers. For example, at Etsy if an order isn’t delivered, you can open a case with Etsy, and you might get your money back. If a seller asks you directly to shop outside of a website where they listed products, think twice. Etsy states: “To avoid scams and fraud, all transactions must take place on the Etsy platform, through the Etsy checkout system.”
- Research the seller. Read customer reviews while keeping an eye out for any reports of scams or dishonest behavior. If the seller doesn’t have any reviews yet, do a general online search of the seller’s name, the item and the word “scam” – just to be safe.
- Protect your personal information. When making purchases online, be careful with sensitive personal details, such as your name, address and payment information. Read a website’s privacy and security policies to find out how they use and protect your information (e.g., are they sharing it with third parties or using encryption?). Also, check the website’s terms and conditions of sale, including specifics about issues like delivery, refunds and restocking fees (which may be substantial). Decide whether you feel comfortable with these policies. If the website does not post easily accessible privacy and security policies and acceptable terms and conditions, consider it a red flag.
- Shop with a credit card. Whenever possible, use your credit card to make online purchases. It is easier to dispute fraudulent charges, and you have a better chance of getting your money back if something goes wrong. Demands to wire funds or use gift cards for payment are a major sign that you should just walk away.
For more information
Review BBB’s tip on smart shopping online (https://www.bbb.org/article/tips/14040-bbb-tip-smart-shopping-online) for additional advice. Another helpful article is the BBB Tip on the safe delivery of online purchases (https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/14276-bbb-safe-delivery-tips-for-holiday-shipping).
If you spot a scam while shopping online, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help other consumers spot a scam before it’s too late.