E-commerce sales continue to rise year after year, topping $870 billion in 2021 - a 50%+ increase since 2019. With the pandemic and a generational shift towards a digital-first world, most businesses have adjusted their direct-to-consumer strategies and moved online for the first time. While online shopping and digitization accelerate, unfortunately, so has the number of digital breaches, online shopping scams, and phishing attacks. Now is the best time to educate yourself and your loved ones on how to prevent online shopping fraud.

According to the Better Business Bureau, online purchasing is the most common and riskiest scam type reported, with 3 in 4 victims reporting a monetary loss. However, an AARP survey (Nov 2020) found that even though 72% of U.S. consumers are concerned about the security of their personal and financial information when shopping online, only 15% could correctly answer at least 7 of 10 true/false questions about safe shopping practices.

We’re here to help.

In this guide, we'll share tips on how to not get scammed online and what to do if you have already found yourself in this scenario. We’ll uncover:

  • Where To Report Online Shopping Scams
  • Who The Scammers Target
  • How To Protect Yourself When You’re Shopping Online

Where To Report Online Shopping Scams

First, if you think you’ve experienced a scam, take action immediately to stop and prevent any further loss.

If you have been scammed through a credit card or debit card payment:

  1. Immediately call your bank to cancel or close your card so that the bad actor cannot directly access your card. If you use Privacy, you can pause the compromised card instantly and shut down any further fraudulent charges without needing to jump through any customer service hoops. Then, you can open a dispute with the Privacy Support Team. They will investigate the case further and file a chargeback if necessary.
  2. File a report with the FTC and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. The reports are shared with law enforcers who use these to track down similar cases against fraud.
  3. Report the scam to the BBB Scam Tracker to warn others and protect the community at large.

If you had sent money through a money transfer app, report the fraudulent activity to the money transfer company and ask if they can cancel the transaction or reverse the payment. However, if the app was connected to your bank account, report the fraud to the bank.

Next, if you have also given the scammer personal information, go to IdentityTheft.gov to see what steps to take and monitor your credit. Change all usernames and passwords for high stake accounts such as your bank, email, and financials.

Third, update your computer’s security software, run a scan, and delete anything that is identified as a problem. Report any issues to your computer software company so they can collect all ongoing malicious updates.

Who Scammers Target

Although anyone making purchases on the internet is susceptible to online shopping fraud, data breaches, and malicious activity, there are a few key audience groups who should take extra precautions based on recent trends.

50+ And Above

Baby Boomers (adults aged 50-75) tend to be more prone and respond to tactics like robocalls or scams related to the IRS, social security, credit card, and consumer warranties. Recently, an AARP-sponsored study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that 29% of consumers ages 50 and over have been targeted by online shopping scams. By taking advantage of this generation that is typically less familiar with privacy best practices, scammers have a much higher success rate.

Ensure that your loved ones - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and family - remain safe online by having their software and financial accounts updated with the latest privacy guardrails. Share tips on how they can protect themselves when shopping online or how to detect a potential scam (we’ve included some of our favorite tips below). We suggest even sharing a Privacy Card with your family members for their online shopping to mitigate any risk and to create an easy and safe shopping experience.

Social media purchases

Those actively purchasing through social media have also increasingly become a target area where bad actors go to scam. Nearly 45% of reports of money lost to social media scams in 2021 were related to online shopping.

These fraudsters often impersonate real online retailers via lookalike websites on Facebook or Instagram. Deceptive ads that lead to phishing websites are also a common tactic. If you are making a purchase on social media, ensure you are doing double the due diligence by scanning merchant reviews, searching for recent shopping scams amongst similar retailers, and following overall online shopping fraud prevention best practices.

Active mobile users

Constantly on your phone or downloading new apps? People who are often on their cell phones easily fall susceptible to scammer activity, in which bad actors leverage phony sites, apps, or links/email coupons that can infect your device. Also, because of a smaller mobile screen, it is much easier to accidentally click into a malicious pop-up that could leave your phone vulnerable.  Be careful when shopping online on your phone - click through new merchants slowly and intentionally, and double check that retailer promotional emails you have opted-in to have a legitimate email address, layout, and formatting. If anything feels off from typical emails you receive, do not click in. Note that stealing your money is just the tip of the iceberg among what bad actors can do once they have a hold of your information. Scammers can use any of the above tactics to harvest their target’s personal information for identity theft, which can open up another complicated can of worms.

While the above are simply trending segments that bad actors have been targeting, all consumers should remain vigilant and alert while shopping online.

How To Protect Yourself While Shopping Online

Let’s take a look at how to prevent online shopping fraud.

1. Don’t assume that just because a site is encrypted (has the safety lock) in the URL or has the “https://” in the domain, that the website is actually safe. Smart scammers are already aware of these protocols and can easily manipulate them when building fake, lookalike websites or phishing sites.

In fact, a quarter of all phishing attacks are executed on https websites. The lock sign and SSL certificate simply mean that no one can spy on the data you enter - however, it doesn’t actually prevent your password, personal data, or payment information from getting stolen from the website itself.

2. Use https://who.is/ to check when the site’s domain was created. Be careful if the site is relatively new or created within the last year. If the site is recent, check the website for any spelling errors, an updated Privacy Policy page, shipping details, and full refund terms for online shopping merchants.

A proper Privacy Policy page lets you know what personal information the website is collecting, why it’s being collected, and how it will be used. If you can’t find this page or can’t understand it, you should consider using another merchant.

Regarding shipping, an FTC rule requires sellers to ship items as they promised in their ads. If a seller doesn’t promise a time when the product will be shipped, it is mandated that the order be shipped within 30 days after the merchant receives your personal information and payment. If a product has not been received within this time frame, or if you haven’t received any updates from the merchant, you should open a report for a potential scam.

As for Refunds, proper refund terms should cover information such as: who pays for the shipping for returns, how many days you have to return the item, and who pays for the restocking fees. If the Refund terms do not clearly list these details, do additional research around the merchant.

3. If you are shopping at a new merchant, always research the retailer. Search for the brand name + “reviews” or “scams” to see if any results appear. Read forums and discussion groups. If nothing comes up but you’re still feeling uncertain, this is a great opportunity to use a Privacy Card at checkout. With Privacy, you can create a Single-Use Card that will automatically close as soon as the transaction goes through. This way, if the merchant is fraudulent, the bad actors will not have any access to your bank information or data.

4. Never pay online by wire transfer or money order. Unless this is being used in a corporate setting, this is a tell-tale sign of an online shopping scammer.

5. Before you make a purchase, check other prices from various retailers to see if this is within the ballpark. Make a note of the item’s manufacturer or model number, and use this on comparison shopping sites that list other online sellers. If the deal or offer price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

6. Be wary of saving card details on merchant websites. Most merchants will prompt consumers to save their payment information for future purchases. While this may sound convenient at the moment, this leaves all of your data vulnerable if the merchant is breached. We recommend using a Privacy Card in these instances as well. With Merchant-Locked cards, you can create a virtual card that can only be used at the vendor. If a bad actor somehow gets ahold of this card number and attempts to make a purchase on another website, Privacy will automatically decline the transaction and you will be notified.

7. In the cases where you do have to save card details, also set strong passwords on those websites. We recommend using a password generator, such as 1Password, to generate and auto-fill hard-to-hack passwords. Double up on your protection layers to ensure the greatest amount of security when you shop online.

Online Shopping Fraud Prevention in Practice

Despite the tremendous growth in online shopping, 58% of surveyed consumers note that privacy concerns are still a large reason preventing them from making online purchases. This is an area where all companies should strive to close the gap. We live in a world where consumers need to know that the merchants they are shopping from actually care about them. And to care, is to protect.

Learning ways to protect yourself from online scams is no longer a choice - it is a necessity for both consumers and businesses alike to ensure privacy safeguards are in place and prioritized. Now that you’ve learned how to prevent online shopping fraud, you can feel confident while you put these practices into play.

Looking for more ways to protect yourself while shopping online? Start paying with Privacy today.

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