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Buying On-line to Keep Secure In the course of the Pandemic? Right here Are 10 Suggestions For Avoiding Scams

By H. Colleen Sinclair, Mississippi State University

The holiday season is already a booming time for online shopping. The COVID-19 pandemic only increases the likelihood that people shopping this Christmas season will choose to shop online instead of brick and mortar stores. However, this also means there is likely to be a boom in online fraud.

Several companies outside the USA are already advertising and selling on the Internet in a relatively uncontrolled manner – or even pretending to sell all kinds of products. The items are usually advertised with designs stolen from legitimate companies and artists, and often pulled from Etsy, especially if those designs were posted on popular sites like Bored Panda.

When people buy these scam products, what matters is usually of poor quality. That’s if something ever arrives. Often times the company just closes and renames itself without sending anything. In the worst case, they also steal customers’ credit card information.

So how can you shop intelligently and spot fraud? Here are some pointers to look out for.

1. Is it too good to be true?

Does the product shown correspond to the price? Do you know the market. An amazing product at a low price is suspect. For example, Instagram showed photos of a “Halloween Advent Calendar”. The ad said it was priced at $ 59.99, but it is on sale for $ 29.80 for a limited time. At first glance, you might think you’re getting a lot, but take a moment to think about it. That price would hardly cover the cost of shipping and handling a product of this size. The original product sold on Etsy costs over $ 1,800 and the manufacturer has an order backlog.

2. When in doubt: Google it

Perhaps you aren’t familiar enough with Etsy processing to see a likely rip off. When in doubt, search for the product name or download the image and do a google image search. You will likely find the original source. If the product really does exist – unlike this CG baby shark that a company used to advertise their supposed baby shark robot toy – you can pay the original artist for their hard work or take the risk and try to get the discount. The search will also reveal if there are multiple suspected companies selling the same “unique” and “exclusive” items with the same exact images. As soon as you see double or more, this is a warning sign.

3. Check the company’s reputation

If you were to search for the company name, it probably just took you to the company’s website. Instead, find the company name with the word “scam”. You can tell pretty quickly if there is a worrying history associated with the business. You can also try Scamvoid, which is used to determine the trustworthiness of online links. It may be a listing from the Better Business Bureau for the company, but be careful if you rely on it. You can also find Facebook groups like this one for fashion related scams that are following untrustworthy websites.

4. Too new to trust

In some cases, the business is so new that you cannot find a track record. This is a red flag. You are likely one of those companies that will close once they have enough orders. Then they set up a new name and domain and repeat the process. Chances are that it is a legitimate new company trying to open a business during a pandemic. Do some of the following to help you tell the difference between a legitimate new business and a nightly operation.

5. Review the ratings

Take a close look at the reviews. If there aren’t any, go back. If so, check the following warning signs. The ratings are few and unanimously five stars with no comments. If there are comments, they are loaded with broken English or vague praise that could be copied and pasted from any product. None of the reviews contain pictures of the product actually received. There are no negative reviews of what a red flag is as even the best legitimate companies cannot always please everyone. As an aside, when looking at a legitimate product offering, be careful not to read too much into the negative reviews.

6. Is it a “good” site?

Does the company have a website and not just a Facebook page? If not, that’s a big no. If so, is it a full website or is it barely there? Check that the company has a working phone number and if you are looking for the number it doesn’t have 12 other “companies” associated with it. Verify that there is a mailing address listed, preferably one that isn’t just a PO Box.

Check the “About Us” page on the website. Don’t you have any? That’s another no. Does the “About Us” include a year that the company was founded? Does it contain information about the manufacturers of the products? If there is a photo on the page that claims to be of the owner or artist, you can do a Google image search to see if it’s a photo copied from another website, an archive photo, or one of one AI system created fake. Do their claims about themselves stand the test? For example, does the site claim to be a black-owned company, but the whois domain information lists a company in China?

7. Social media presence: do you have one?

Do they also have a social media presence outside of the ad that appears in your news feed? If not, avoid it. In this case, you can click on the name of the poster to see where the person or company is and when the page was launched. You can also see how far back the posts go, check the quality of those posts, and chat about the company.

8. Watch out for the story that you are no longer in business

During the pandemic, legitimate businesses actually shut down. Illegitimate businesses have grown used to it to tear people’s nerves and outsmart buyers. It’s illegal for American companies to do this, but companies outside of the US are not subject to the same laws. One way to differentiate the legitimate businesses from the scams is to check the start date of domain registrations on websites and social media sites. If the business popped up just in time to go out of business during the pandemic, avoid it.

9. Fad Ad Clickbait

Watch out for fads. Fakes and rip-offs abound on any hot or trendy item. Nowadays marketers are also picking up on political trends. Companies appear with names like “WeLuvTrump”, “FemPower” and “BlackGoodness”. The same goes for political news. For example, RBG articles are all the rage after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Again, following the steps above will help you find out which products are legitimate.

10. Tricks of Social Influence

Also, look out for popular marketing techniques, originally discovered by social psychologist Robert Cialdini, and used by legitimate and illegitimate businesses alike. The most common cases you are likely to see on scam sites are claims to exclusive access that address your need for uniqueness, claims of limited supply or lack of time on a “sale” that affect the psychological value people place on scarce items and claims such as “Karen S. of Indianola just bought this item,” which are “social evidence” that behavior is safe or appropriate because others have done it.

If these 10 tips seem too much for you to get those unique toys for your grandchild, instead purchase them from a trusted source that you have counted on in the past. It is also a good idea to use credit cards or payment services like PayPal, which protect consumers from fraudulent charges.

Shop wisely. Your bank account is counting on you.

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H. Colleen Sinclair, Associate Professor of Social Psychology, Mississippi State University

This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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