Combine the usual holiday shopping madness with the news of global supply shortages, and what you have are more people shopping earlier and in ways that might be different than in the past.
All of which makes the season ripe for imposters to ply their trade against harried Christmas and Chanukah consumers.
TransUnion’s recently released Consumer Holiday Shopping Report found 72% of consumers surveyed are considering changing their online purchasing behavior due to possible low inventories.
Specifically, fear about inadequate supplies is leading 33% to shop earlier than last year, 25% to consider alternate gifts and 14% to make fewer holiday buys, according to TransUnion, a top credit reporting company.
Of the whopping 83% who plan on doing at least half their shopping online, 44% will consider new retailers with which they are familiar and nearly a quarter are open to new outlets they’ve never heard of.
To scammers, it’s a big welcome mat for this year’s shopping season. That’s because it’s not hard to set up fake online marketplaces and purchase sites that never deliver the goods or that send you something you never ordered – and of much less value.
Those sites can also mimic legitimate retailers so that it appears you’re dealing with a trustworthy name brand.
A prime rule of scam detection applies here: If it’s too good to be true, it’s most likely too good to be true and you’re looking at a giant red flag. Especially vulnerable are shoppers who are desperate for an item that might be in short supply.
The Better Business Bureau tells of a duped online shopper who bought a Nintendo Switch OLED for $99.99 – an item that typically goes for about $500.
“That should have been a clue right there,” the BBB says.
However, the consumer went on to purchase a few “discounted” PlayStation 5 consoles, again going for $99.99 and, again, a ridiculously low price. It was a bum deal all the way around.
“Sure, you’ll get emailed a confirmation number,” the BBB says. “But good luck getting anything else – or finding someone to help you track an order or get a refund.”
Here are some shopping precautions, courtesy of the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission, and good luck:
• Beware of fake discounts or “flash sales” you might see advertised online or through social media.
• Research merchants before purchasing by searching online for the name of the seller and product, plus the words “complaint” and “scam.” Read the customer reviews.
• Call the listed customer service number before you order. Is it a working number?
• Pay by credit card, so you can dispute charges, if necessary, and limit any financial damage. Of course, if you’re told to pay by wire transfer, cryptocurrency or by mailing cash, skip the whole thing and start over.
• Keep copies of receipts and order confirmations until you get what you purchased and know you won’t return anything.
• Check out the shipping information you received by going to the shipper’s website and typing in the code provided to see if it’s legit.
• To catch a fake website: check the URL closely to detect even one character that might be different from the legitimate store and make sure the site is secure by looking for “https” in the URL. The “s” stands for “secure.”
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com or (505) 823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1 (888) 255-9210 or file a complaint at www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.