Tips, tricks and a cautionary tale against online shopping fraud

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday, some of the biggest shopping events of the year, many shoppers are turning to online shopping to compare deals, for quick shipping and to help find unique items, but shopping online can open risk for fraud. 

Online accounts can offer comforts: budgeting, savings, creating a wish list and saving your payment information for quick and easy checkout, but this also makes it easy for hackers to access your account, purchase items and send them anywhere in the world. 

This season, deals are just about everywhere. 

Amazon.com

Amazon offers up to 30 to 70 percent off household items, clothing, electronics, skin care products, games and jewelry for Black Friday deals. 

Luxury items from Coach offer 70 percent off, plus an extra 25 percent off, as a free shipping banner in a happy yellow reads, "Get the lowest price of the season" as it dazzles on the header of their website. 

I'll use my own experience with consumer fraud at an online retailer's website as a cautionary tale. 

For me, good deal is hard to resist, especially when they're flying into your inbox, on social media or as streaming ads keeping you from the action in your favorite show. 

When I checked my bank account, one day, I noticed $700 missing, seeing the money withdrawn to an online retailer. 

I immediately logged into my account on that website and saw Versace dad sneakers were being shipped to an address in New York.

Dumbstruck and confused, I tried to cancel the order, but it was already processing. 

Next, I contacted my bank and let them know I did not authorize that purchase. 

After the order was cancelled, the hacker tried to purchase the sneakers again, different colors and design, but the same value: $700. 

They tried, unsuccessfully, to purchase the item again-- three times. 

The money was returned to my account by my bank by the end of the week. 

In return, I canceled that online account, haven't shopped there since and closed out the email used for the account. 

After that unfortunate moment, I learned a few lessons about online shopping: 

1. Although it's easy to check out, don't save your credit/debit card information or banking information to your online account. 

2. If possible, purchase item with a credit card, making it easier to track or cancel purchases. 

3. Be wary of social media ads. 

The Federal Trade Commission's October 2023 Data Spotlight says social media accounts for $2.7 billion in reported losses since 2021. 

"Social media gives scammers an edge in several ways. They can easily manufacture a fake persona, or hack into your profile, pretend to be you, and con your friends. They can learn to tailor their approach from what you share on social media. And scammers who place ads can even use tools available to advertisers to methodically target you based on personal details, such as your age, interests, or past purchases. All of this costs them next to nothing to reach billions of people from anywhere in the world," writes Emma Fletcher, FTC.

Their Consumer Sentinel Network and Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) 2022 data, shows that online retail scams are one of the most reported frauds.

"Nearly 36% of all online retail fraud reports to BBB Scam Tracker originated through a fake website," said the Better Business Bureau. "Scammers used social media and email to initiate about 40% of reported scams."

Better Business Bureau

If trends continue, financial losses across the U.S. could reach more than $380 million.

The Better Business Bureau urges consumers to spot these warning signs that could be red flags: 

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Websites that look legitimate, but credibility falls apart with scrutiny.
  • Credit card payment failure leads the seller to ask for payment over cash-sharing apps like Zelle and Venmo or with gift cards.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nesser aims to protect Michiganders with a newly launched website. 

The Consumer Protection website mission is to protect residents from Internet related frauds against elder abuse, human trafficking, robocalls, hate crimes, identity theft and payroll fraud.

If affected by consumer fraud, the BBB offers Scam Tracker to report suspected scams and using your experience to warn others. 

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