Much of life has moved online since COVID-19’s arrival, leading to many changes.
Including a surge in online shopping.
Unfortunately, more buying online leads to more opportunities to defraud unsuspecting shoppers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the government watchdog received more than 34,000 customer complaints in April and May – setting an ignominious record. In fact, more than half of the complaints were centered on items purchased by computer, tablet or phone but never delivered.
The online shopping complaints focus on COVID-19 specific items: face masks, hand sanitizers, gloves, thermometers and even toilet paper were among the most common items at the center of complaints.
But there were also fraud concerns about the purchases of more conventional items from electronics to clothes.
“Scammers have raised their game during the pandemic, producing slick, new websites that look like the real deal, with attractive ads,” said Jeff Taylor, head of Commercial Fraud Forensics for Regions Bank. “They’re adept with social media and marketing, creating glowing fake reviews, and creating a problem for global consumers and businesses. And they’re taking advantage of the climate, offering something that’s hard to find or at a price that’s hard to believe.”
Scammers have raised their game during the pandemic, producing slick, new websites that look like the real deal.
Jeff Taylor, head of Commercial Fraud Forensics for Regions Bank
Luckily, a few basic steps can help keep you from getting taken in by a scam:
- Play detective. Before going to the website, search the name of the company you wish to buy from followed by “scam,” “complaint” or “review.”
- Confirm the seller’s physical address and phone number. A search of a legitimate business will include the information.
- Be wary of unfamiliar sites/business selling products that are in short supply, or of name-brand merchandise with steep discounts.
- Pay with a credit card. If a seller doesn’t deliver goods as promised, contact your credit card company immediately.
The FTC has more information on how to keep safe while online shopping. You can learn more about coronavirus-related scams at ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams.
For the latest on online shopping, including how to dispute credit card charges, go to ftc.gov/onlineshopping; and to report a scam, visit this section of the FTC website: ftc.gov/complaint.