Be A Wiser Online Shopper

We’re shopping online more than ever, some for the first time. Many of you are doing it wrong. WAY wrong.

I’m not going to reveal the name of the consumer here. Suffice it to say, she’s a rookie at online shopping, and, boy, did she make a rookie mistake.

The consumer – we’ll call her Amy – answered an unsolicited ad on Facebook for a hot tub. The vendor posting the ad was an obscure, fringe retail site unsecured for purchases and ill-equipped for customer service. The hot tub, one of those inflatable kind (eww…), had a manufacturer’s retail price of $300.

The fly-by-night site was selling it for ten bucks.

For anybody else, red flags would be flying. Alarms would be blaring. For Amy, her credit card would be swiping. After her purchase, she discovered there was no $10 hot tub — and now the black market e-tailer not only has her ten bucks, but also has her credit card number.

Like I said, rookie mistake…and there are a lot of rookies out there. According to a March 2020 survey by the consumer data research site Statista.com, nine percent of American consumers have purchased something online for the first time due to the social distancing and quarantining associated with COVID-19. Many of them, like Amy, have no clue what they’re doing — or how to ensure the safest online shopping experience possible.

If you’re one of them, don’t be embarrassed. Online shopping fraud, even among the savviest shoppers, keeps getting worse, according to the Federal Trade Commission. “In fact, the number of those reports has grown every year since 2015,” said Federal Trade Commission Consumer Education Specialist Bridget Small. “In 2019, people filed more than 86,000 reports about online shopping issues, including reports about orders that never arrived. People have reported losing a total of almost $420 million dollars related to online shopping issues since 2015.”

Here’s how to shop safely online — tips from both the commission and me:

  • Check out a seller before you buy. Type the website or company name into a search engine with words like “scam,” “complaint,” or “review.” Look it up in the Better Business Bureau’s database at www.bbb.org. Ignore unsolicited advertisements on social media sites.
  • If the retail site does not have “https:” in its web browser bar on the page where you input your payment card information, get out of it. That is not a secure site. Your payment card information will be at risk.
  • Always pay by credit card, not your debit card. Your debit card is a direct line to your checking account. Once it’s stolen, it’s a monster trying to recover your cash. Your credit card has built-in protections. Under federal law, you’re never liable for more than $50 of any disputed charge on your credit card. Most credit cards provide zero liability as a standard feature.
  • Keep copies of the product description, price, receipt and emails between you and the seller, including messages about shipping delays.

Back to Amy. Fortunately, she used her credit card to buy that hot tub balloon that never materialized. She’s disputing the charge with her card issuer. I also discovered a physical address and phone number for the people behind that fringe retail site and shared them with her. I have every expectation that if they won’t erase the charge, her card-issuer will.

“I did kind of expect to get screwed up some sort of way by getting a $300 hot tub for $10,” she said. “If it sounds too good to be true…”

You think?

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