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Shop 'Til You Drop? FBI Warns Of Escalation In Online Shopping Scams

Published: October 30, 2020 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic makes online shopping more vital than ever, dissatisfied consumers have been ringing the scam alarm loudly and more often than ever before. Many scam claims are about bogus websites selling products that are paid for but never arrive. Oddly enough, some consumers report receiving products they didn’t order and were not what they purchased. The FBI recently released an alert about online shopping and the increasing number of scams surrounding purchases and promises made but never kept. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) also reports the constant increase in online shopping scams over the past five years cost U.S. consumers $420 million and growing.

The FBI reports fake ads on social media sites and popular search engines are a huge resource for getting website traffic. Offering the lowest prices online is also a lure many customers can’t resist, and it’s another big part of generating traffic to scam sites. One scam inexplicably sent face masks to buyers instead of the items they ordered. Many victims claim any actions taken toward being fully reimbursed or actually receiving the items they ordered were a waste of their time.

Among other things, the FTC keeps records of the shopping scams reported to the agency. It found that in 2019, more than 86,000 complaints involving online shopping scams were made, a 38% increase from 2018. Many of the scams reported a serous uptick in orders that were paid for but never arrived, a more than 400% increase from 2015 to 2019.

In addition, during April and May of this year, the FTC recorded an unprecedented number of complaints about online shopping websites. It’s reasonable to speculate the increase in the number of reported scams coincided with a peak in coronavirus fears and the desire to purchase protective products and other items like sanitizers. About 50% of victims reported they simply never received their purchase, period.

Signs To Watch For And Steps To Take

  • The websites were advertised on social media, a huge red flag.

  • Beware of name brand products advertised at steep discounts. It’s a classic online shopping lure.

  • Type the business name into a search, including the words “scam” or “complaint.” Also check the Better Business Bureau for a company rating and always read customer complaints and reviews.

  • Consider paying with a credit card for the option to dispute charges with the credit company for goods never delivered or not what you ordered.

  • Don’t judge a company by their website. Legitimate seller websites can be duplicated exactly, and those sites with a lot of bells and whistles tend to make unreal claims about low prices and product availability. These websites can truly appear out of nowhere and can disappear just as quickly when hackers are done or discovered.

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