The scam “industry” had a big year in 2019. Bad actors based around the world attempted to scheme more than $10 billion away from consumers using a variety of tactics. By the end of the year, upwards of $370 million worldwide was lost last year due to fraudulent activity.
Of all the traps consumers fell victim to in 2019, online purchases proved to be the most damaging. The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker received 9,000 reports of individuals encountering e-commerce scams — the most of any scam type reported last year. Globally, more than $4.2 million was taken via phony online transactions, with 80% of those reported cases losing significant amounts of money.
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Consumers in our region were no exception. Here in Idaho, the top three scams to hit the Gem State in 2019 were online purchase scams, phishing scams and employment scams. Those three combined totaled over half a million dollars lost out of Idahoans’ pockets.
With online shopping expected to continuing to increase throughout 2020, consumers can count on an even greater number of e-commerce scams infiltrating the online experience. The Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific recommends the following tips to protect yourself from problematic online purchases:
- Signs of a bad site. The most effective e-commerce scams mimic the websites of famous retailers, so it’s especially important to verify the legitimacy of the site before making a purchase. Missing or incorrect contact information is one of the simplest ways to identify fraudulent online business. Researching a retailer at BBB.org before you shop can also help steer you away from any illegitimate operations.
- Be a savvy shopper. When shopping online, be sure to take your time, and read the fine print before submitting your order. Look for the return policy; although many online orders can be returned for a full refund, others have restocking fees. Some items cannot be returned; know before you buy.
- Think before your click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites. Many sketchy retailers advertise great deals or trendy clothing that don’t measure up to the promotional hype.
- Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may offer free or very low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
- Make sure you’re secure. Websites that operate securely include web addresses that start with “https://” on the page asking you to enter your payment information. Those pages also typically include a lock icon to let you know you’re protected. If you don’t see one or both of those items, think twice before buying.
- While shopping online, plastic is preferable. Credit cards offer protections other forms of payment may not. Disputing charges you didn’t approve is easier with a credit card than it is with debit, prepaid or gift cards. When you can, pay with plastic for purchases made online.
More information on how to protect yourself from online scams is available at BBB.org.
Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.