PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Before you start checking items off your holiday shopping list, experts have a warning they want you to know about. Online scammers are finding sophisticated new ways to snag your hard-earned cash.
The Better Business Bureau’s West Florida branch in Clearwater says their online purchase scam reports found than 400 different types of products were used by scammers to perpetrate fraud, including counterfeit products.
Scammers may be capitalizing on the most sought-after gifts such as electronics, toys, and name-brand clothes and shoes.
Nike shoes, NFL clothing, Apple gadgets, Louis Vuitton handbags, Tiffany jewelry, LEGO toys and 3M N95 masks seem to be the most counterfeit items sold online this holiday season.
Other items that scammers promote include luggage, pet supplies, collectibles, and medical/nutrition products.
Irene Greco of Palm Harbor considers herself a saavy shopper, so when she stumbled upon an ad on Facebook for Sketchers shoes, she thought she’d found a great deal.
“This particular pair came up and they looked really comfortable and they were like one-third the price,” she said.
Greco says the website even had legitimate sketchers logos and looked just like the company’s regular website.
“It looked legitimate to me. It had no indication of it coming from another country or anything,” she added.
Greco bought the shoes. Months later, she received a pair of shoes in the mail but they were too small and definitely not Sketchers quality.
“No place does it say sketchers. At all,” she said while examining the shoes.
The return address on the envelope was a random location in China.
“It’s very frustrating because they had a company name on there they had Sketchers and you assume, and you shouldn’t assume, that it’s a valid sale,” she added.
Greco reported the website to the Better Business Bureau and Sketchers, only to find out scams like it are on the rise.
The BBB tells ABC Action News we can expect to see more online scams than ever with supply shortages and more people shopping online during the pandemic.
Many of the scam sites are being advertised on legitimate social websites like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and they often rip off photos of legitimate products.
Before you buy online, Bryan Oglesby of the BBB says should always closely inspect a company’s website for grammatical errors, contact information and a shipping address.
You can also search for a website’s name on the BBB website.
And off course, if something seems like too good of a deal, it probably is.
“Think about the product you’re buying if it’s a hot ticket item and it sells for MSRP or retail and you’re even getting it for $100 off and it’s not really a low, low price that’s still a red flag that it could be a scams because scammers are catching in on that. They don’t want to go too low to make it obvious,” he added.
Oglesby says the scam companies are duping Americans out of millions of dollars and the holiday season is prime time. He says using a credit card is best for online purchases, but even if you receive a different item than you thought, you may not get your money back.
“Because you are receiving something in the mail showing delivered, it’s much harder to dispute that credit card charge with the credit card company because they are showing proof of delivery to your home even though it’s technically not the product you thought you were buying,” Oglesby explained.
Bottom line: Do your research before you purchase.
The BBB offers the following tips on how to identify a potential online shopping scam:
- Watch for low-priced or mid-priced items, usually in the hundreds of dollar range for an item that is typically offered at a much higher price at a retailer.
- Consumers expect quality from things like shoes, clothing, and jewelry. If an online search for these items comes up with a range of items between $100 to $300 and associated with a name brand or a popular luxury item versus a search using a designer name and presents a much higher priced result, chances are it is probably not the real product.
- Read the website and look for grammatical errors. Typographical errors indicate the site was more than likely put together quickly.
- Search for contact information. Search for a phone, email address, online chat function, and check to see if there is a brick-and-mortar address for the business.
- Check BBB. If a business displays a BBB Accredited Business seal, verify its legitimacy by going to BBB.org and looking up the company.