Gretel Egan | February 13, 2017

Buyer Beware: Tips for Avoiding Online Shopping Scams

You don’t have to look hard to find the latest online shopping scam in the headlines. Regardless of whether you actively or occasionally shop online, it pays to be alert to potential pitfalls. And it’s not only consumer goods and services you need to be careful about — there’s also been a significant jump in ticket fraud over the past few years that has put music and sports fans at risk.

When you visit malicious sites, you put your data and your devices at risk. Keep the following three tips in mind to help keep your online shopping experience as safe as possible:

1. Whenever possible, shop via known, trusted channels

    The best way to avoid falling for online imposters is to restrict your online interactions to known, trusted websites, preferably those you’ve had personal experience with in the past. And that essentially means keying a web address into your browser yourself or linking from a verified online search. You should avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails, social media posts, and untrusted ads.

    Credit card breaches aside, reputable stores are reputable for a reason. Larger operators take enormous precautions to protect online shopping sessions and keep your data safe. Shopping via an unknown entity is riskier.

    2. Dig deeper to verify unfamiliar sources

      If you decide to go off the beaten path to make an online purchase, be sure to do your research. Ask for friends’ recommendations (online reviews can be faked), and shop only on sites that offer secure, authenticated checkout. I also suggest taking the following steps:

      • Check the website’s WHOIS information – ICANN’s WHOIS Lookup allows you to find out who owns a website’s domain (e.g., Be wary of sites that have only been in existence for a short time; be extra diligent with those that have been operating for less than a year; and altogether avoid sites that are only a few weeks or months old.
      • Examine the retailer’s online footprint – The social accounts for the websites you visit can reveal a lot about how the company does business. Is the company fairly active on social media and does it engage with users? Are there negative reviews and comments about the business on its social pages or in online forums? If you see an inordinate number of complaints about customers never receiving goods or tickets, or wanting their money back from a website, steer clear.

      3. Do a 'sniff test' - and trust your instincts

        To their detriment, many consumers ignore — or don’t notice — warning signs prior to purchasing. For example, many websites that deal in counterfeit goods have grammatical errors because they are operated by foreign entities. In other cases, scammers use domain names that are very similar to trusted brands, hoping to fool those who don’t look closely enough ( instead of, for example).

        Payment methods are another thing to take note of. If a site only accepts “alternative” payments, you need to be extremely cautious. There are certain types of payment that cannot be tracked and cannot be undone on fraudulent sites, and gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, Bitcoin, and wire transfers are a few of those. If a site requires you to pay using one of these untraceable methods, do not complete a transaction — and consider alerting the Better Business Bureau or a similar entity.

        Last but not least, there is the “too good to be true” factor, a lure that often tempts consumers to throw caution to the wind. Granted, some companies can be quite aggressive with their deals and offers. But there is still a clear difference between a great deal and an unbelievable deal. The latter, quite simply, should not be believed — particularly if you find it on a site you’re not familiar with.

        Learn to identify red flags, like luxury goods at very low prices or access to product or event ticket that’s sold out everywhere else. If something feels off, walk away from the deal. Otherwise, you could end up paying a very hefty price if you find out you’ve turned your personal information over to a scammer.