Beware: Online Holiday Shopping Traps – Part One: Phony Shopping Websites

November 19, 2013

USAA.com

It doesn't matter if it's the day after Thanksgiving or the night before Christmas, cyber criminals don't take a holiday. Thieves are in the business of stealing money and, especially during the holiday season, online shoppers can be vulnerable prey.

"People are spending with reckless abandon this time of year," says Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate . Consumers are always looking for deals, he says, and in their zeal they can miss the warning signs of an online scam. "Their filter is broken," Elliott warns.

To avoid falling victim to these creative crooks, watch out for these common cyberscams.

1. Fake Shopping Sites

With all the hype about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consumers go into shopping mode expecting to find good deals. If you cybershop, you can get sucked in by websites selling counterfeit goods, or overseas-based sites that take your money and provide nothing in return.

Whether it's trendy boots, designer watches or sneakers, you can be sure some crook somewhere has already set up a site intended to grab folks who search for brand names and buzzwords, such as "sale," "discount" or "cheap."

"Deals that are too good to be true are a huge red flag, even on big shopping days like Black Friday," warns Scambook.com, a site that collects consumer complaints.

To help protect yourself:

  • Take care where you click. Never follow links sent by email. If you're going to follow search engine results, learn about the site before you make any purchases from it or provide any personal information.
  • Pay attention to site names. Watch out for sites with names that sound similar to popular sites or include a brand name in the URL. Research the site by typing its name into a search engine, such as Google, with the word "complaints" and see what comes back, suggests the federal government's OnGuardOnline. You can also put the name in the Better Business Bureau database. If you don't find anything wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean you're home free. It could indicate the site was recently created. Scam sites often pop up overnight and quickly disappear when enough people catch on. SiteJabber.com publishes user reviews of sites that can make clear when you're dealing with a shady operation.
  • Stick with the tried-and-true. Use sites that are well-established and that you know to be legitimate. When buying brand-name products online, look for a list of authorized sellers.

2. Buying Through Online Auctions or Classified Sites

If you're looking for a deal or an offbeat item, turning to online auctions or classified sites could make sense. But they are also home to numerous scams. The traps can be set several ways, but, in the end, the rip-off typically will involve a request for you to send money through an electronic money transfer service (Western Union or MoneyGram, for example) or via a prepaid debit card. The reason: They're the same as cash once they've been sent. So the chances of recovering a loss are tiny.

To help protect yourself:

  • Use a credit card when buying online. Credit cards can protect consumers against fraud.
  • Beware of money transfers. Don't make a payment using a money transfer service to anyone you don't personally know, and use the same caution when asked to pay with a prepaid debit card.
  • Don't pay upfront. If you're buying something locally, pay upon receipt of the item.

Next week will focus on how to identify phony online deals and offers such as free gift card giveaways and free hotel offers on vacation travel. Until then, visit www.consumerfed.org/fraud to read helpful tips or watch a video about how scammers are exploiting new forms of payment such as prepaid cards. Keeping yourself educated on the various online shopping scams is the best way to ensure that your holidays do not become an online horror.

Tip of the Day

  • Written by Guest Blogger | May 28, 2014

    A #credit score may be used to decide the terms you are offered or the rate you will pay for a #loan. Learn more at http://ow.ly/C7EDv

Saver Stories View all »

Savers Pledge Leads to Savings Success

Written by Super User | October 13, 2011

My name is Rob and I am a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. My financial success is a huge result of the Military Saves Campaign.

My journey began five years ago after marrying my wife, Lisa. We entered our marriage with no savings plan in sight, carrying debt and living in a tiny apartment. After seeing an advertisement for Military Saves, we decided to grab the reigns of our finances and implement a positive financial plan.

Read more...

Money on the Side

Written by Super User | November 26, 2010

Camp Arifjan, Kuwait -- A colonel in the 1st Theater Sustainment Command has money on his mind.

Army Col. George Fields, the Chief of Intelligence, or G2, has been teaching a free "Managing Your Money" class here in his spare time. More than 400 students have attended his six week-long class to learn more about increasing their own finances.

"All I did was sit down and listen to a guy one day who showed me what he was doing" said the colonel as he explained how he became interested in what he calls, "becoming financially free."

Read more...

One Sailor's Course to Financial Freedom

Written by Super User | November 26, 2010

We all know its not easy to get out of debt once you in over your head. But it can be done with the sound advice and support that the Military Saves program offers. I am a testament to that. I was a recently divorced, single mother. Like many people I had credit card debt, a car loan, bad credit, and a low income job that never seemed to be enough to put food on the table.

Then I decided I'd had enough of living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about money all the time.

Read more...