Even though the adverse economic impact of COVID-19 has diminished and more people are returning to local brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants, Americans continue to shop extensively online. According to Statista, e-commerce sales are expected to surpass $1 trillion in the U.S. by 2023. And a 2022 Raydiant study reports that 56.6% of their surveyed respondents prefer to shop online than in person, a 10% increase from 2020.
Along with this online surge comes the need to be wary of shopping fraud. The confusion and fear of COVID-19 have led to multiple online shopping scams in the last few years. The Federal Trade Commission reported that consumers lost $5.8 billion to fraud last year, an increase of more than 70% from 2020. A 2022 AARP survey found that more than a third of U.S. adults have been asked to pay a fake fee, debt, or other financial obligation by a scammer. The most common type of scam using this tactic is called the “sweepstakes” scenario, where bad actors convince people to purchase gift cards to “pay fees” to claim sweepstakes winnings.
There are warning signs to look for and best practices you can use to ensure you are not a cybercrime victim this holiday season. Here are six of them:
- Some scams are not as easy to spot as bad actors often copy company logos, images, and branding to imitate legitimate websites. These scammers target the online shopper via email, mobile phone, and social media schemes to lure the victim to a false website. Make sure the website you are going to is the actual site of the company. Check the URL and compare it to the URL that comes up for a search of the company.
- When purchasing online, do not click on any ads. And do not click on any email links. Instead, go directly to the website from your browser by typing in the web address. Before making a purchase, research the vendor, including complaints and reviews.
- Be on the lookout for emails or texts from companies claiming to be delivery companies such as FedEx or UPS saying that you have a shipment from a friend or family member. The email or text will include a link directing you to a false website that will ask for a credit card to pay for shipping (and then steal your credit card information).
- If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't. If a discount on an item exceeds 50%, there's a chance it may be a scam, and be wary.
- For the most protection, always make online purchases using your credit card. Avoid using a debit or prepaid cards. There is a general liability limit of $50 for fraudulent charges on credit cards, and most credit card companies offer 100% purchase protection. This protection is not provided on a debit or prepaid cards.
- Scammers may also send official-looking emails claiming to be from Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Costco, etc. Amazon recommends that if you receive such an email, first go to your orders on Amazon to "see if there is an order that matches the details in the email correspondence."
Buyers also need to be aware of phone call scams during this time. Scammers will try to trick unwary people by offering holiday deals or asking for charitable donations in exchange for login credentials, credit card information, or bank account numbers. And if the caller asks for payment with a gift card, that's probably a scam. Legitimate organizations will not ask for payment with a gift card. A sure way to avoid fraudulent phone calls is not to answer any call that is an unknown number.
Shopping online this holiday season can help you be safe from COVID-19 transmission and offer great deals, but you need to be careful. Cybercriminals invest a lot of time and effort to try and scam you out of your money, so make sure you thoroughly examine whom you are buying from before you make your purchases.