HEBRON, Ky. — Many people are trying to wrap up their holiday shopping. But in the rush to grab a hot online deal, it’s so easy to get caught by a scam, or at least a questionable website that takes money and doesn't deliver.
Linda Ross of Northern Kentucky wanted to buy the new Xbox Series X for her teen son.
It was sold out everywhere she looked, except at one online retailer that claimed to have it.
"I found a site, Gaming Spot and Electronic, and they said they had one in stock for the $500 that everyone was asking," she said.
It sounded like GameStop and offered many of the same gaming systems.
Ross placed an order, the only problem being that the site wouldn't take credit cards or PayPal.
She reached someone through their online chat, where she said they had her pay by "this cash app, called Zelle."
Ross was not that familiar with the money transfer app Zelle, so she downloaded it as instructed and sent $500 from her bank account to a provided phone number.
But instead of getting a shipping notification, Ross says, "They told me I had to send an additional $500 to have it released for insurance reasons."
Another $500 for insurance? Ross didn't think that was legitimate.
Furious, she requested a refund but got no response to multiple texts and emails, and at that point realized that a Zelle payment (like a Venmo payment) is the equivalent of sending someone a handful of cash.
This is more and more common during the holiday season when shoppers are desperate to find sold-out items.
But a closer look at Gaming Spot and Electronic's website reveals a number of inconsistencies.
- At one point the company is "Electronic," at another, it is "Electronics" (plural).
- They even misspelled the word "gaminng" at one point, with two n's.
- While the site claims to be in Los Angeles, it does not provide any street address, and their phone number goes to a recording saying "call rejected."
The site did not reply to two emails, and a Google search revealed no physical location in Los Angeles, or elsewhere for us to track down.
How to protect yourself
So, how can you protect yourself from questionable sellers like this?
Sara Kemerer of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says, "We always recommend they Google the business along with the words 'complaint,' 'scam,' or 'review' just to learn other consumer's experiences."
Kemerer says, in this case, a search for the seller would have found many complaints of money sent via transfer apps, but no product delivered.
Most important, Kemerer says never pay a known website with the equivalent of cash, where there is no chance to dispute a charge.
"We do not recommend paying with a debit card, or a digital wallet like Venmo or Zelle," she said.
Linda Ross, meantime, has filed complaints with the BBB and state attorney general but is losing hope that her son will get an Xbox for Christmas.
"It's tough," she said. "I had been saving up because that is all he wanted."
Check a web seller's reviews carefully, so you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
Like" John Matarese Money on Facebook
Follow John on Instagram @johnmataresemoney
Follow John on Twitter (@JohnMatarese)
For more consumer news and money saving advice, go to www.dontwasteyourmoney.com