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How to Identify an Online Shopping Scam

Woman customer holding a credit card and a phone is online shopping while an alert symbol signals that it is a scam

Online shopping is only becoming more popular, which means that online shopping scams are also on the rise.

There are thousands of new and trendy online shops offering unique products. But when shopping on a new site, it can be hard to tell if what you're getting is the real deal or a disappointment

Too many people fall victim to online shopping scams. You might pay expecting one item and receive a cheap copy of the original. Or you might end up without a product at all.

Here are 6 tips of things all customers should look for to avoid scams when shopping online.

1. Read Reviews 

Most of the time reading customer reviews can help you in figuring out the quality of the product. Some consumers post reviews with the product picture. This can give you a more clear idea about what your product will likely look like.

Unfortunately, it's becoming common for spam companies to post fake reviews on their own sites, or even pay for fake reviews when selling on separate sites like Amazon. Any good and reputable product will have some dissatisfied customers as well. If a company that has thousands of reviews only has 5 star reviews with overwhelmingly positive comments, it's worth doing some digging.

But what if the site or online social media page is completely new?  

In this case, you can ask the seller to send you the original picture of the product that they’ll be shipping you. If they have that in the inventory, and it looks as good as in the displayed picture, you are most likely to get a legitimate product.  

2. Avoid Buying Products at Ridiculously Low Prices 

Don’t get excited to see your favorite $2,500 Gucci bag selling at $200. Online scammers usually offer ridiculously low prices because they just want to sell as many fake products as they can.

It's a common tactic for companies to make it look like they're having a massive sale with limited inventory and temporary discounts to try to get you to buy now. This prevents customers from taking the time to poke around to see if the site is legitimate before making a purchase

There are trustworthy sites to save money shopping that can help you get discounts with verified codes and methods. Start at reputable sites to find deals rather than those listed on sites you haven't heard of.

3. Don’t Go For Unrealistic Quick Fixes

You might have come across products that offer promises like losing 20 pounds in 7 days with an exercise item. Another says their skincare line can cure acne overnight. Such products themselves are red flags. You should not try them out if you don’t want to waste your money. 

Many of these products will attract customers with a free or discounted product trial and promise that you can return it if it doesn't work. It's common for scammers to use this to make money by automatically signing customers up for a monthly subscription cost and then requiring you to pay return shipping.

4. See If They Offer a Protection Plan

Look for companies that offer extended warranties such as product protection plans. A scammer who is selling a low-quality product will never provide a financial guarantee on their product.

Companies that are offering scam products put more into advertising than they do into the durability of their products. Their goal is to get lots of customers to see and purchase their products once. They don't care about getting repeat customers who were satisfied with their original purchase.

Check for what is in the protection plan to understand what coverage the company offers. Comprehensive plans are a sign that they stand by the quality of their products and want you to be able to use them for a long time.

5. Look for Refund and Return Policies

Reputable companies have clear refund and return policies. They should be confident in the products they offer and have a professional way of handling customer complaints.

If a company is shipping from a far location, they're unlikely to offer free return shipping because it's more expensive than the cost of the product. They're counting on you getting stuck with the product and not finding it worth it to return.

Look for an FAQs page on the site. Read the terms to understand if they allow for returns and who is paying for that shipping cost. If you do not see clearly written refund or return policies on a website or a social media page, you should avoid buying from them.

6. Carefully Check the URLs

Sometimes, posts on social media lead to a login page that looks like the original website. Be sure to carefully check that URL to see if it matches the original site that they are claiming to be. With this scam tactic, people can end up giving their emails, passwords, and payment card information to scammers.

In addition, only trust those websites that have a closed padlock symbol (a mini lock symbol displayed on the web browser). Ensure that the site starts with "https://" because it confirms that the page is secure.  

If you're ever unsure about a link, search the company name to go directly to the website or to read about it from search results.

Don't Fall for Online Shopping Scams

The convenience of online shopping has also meant it's convenient for internet scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. It's important to protect yourself by being aware of and avoiding scams

But scams are a small portion of the online shopping market. There are tons of thriving online businesses with amazing products. By looking for these 6 key things, you can shop smarter and safer while still enjoying your browsing online.

Happy woman customer and child, with text about 12 months of free product protection

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Janessa McQuivey

About the author

Janessa McQuivey is the Content Marketing Manager at Mulberry. Her degree in Human Development fueled a love of understanding customer experience. She has been in research and writing for 3 years and has covered everything from AI technology to her own dating life. Janessa has published across blogs, newspapers, and academic journals.

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