How to spot a real business: Social media companies use blue checkmarks to verify accounts, always look for a blue checkmark. Also, do some investigating when buying from an unfamiliar retailer by doing a quick internet search (particularly retailers found on social media sites). Simply type “[Business Name] Reviews” and see what comes up. Most of the time, if a business is fake, you’ll quickly find out.
Deals too good to be true: With more people online shopping than ever, be extra wary of deals that seem ‘too good to be true’. Many online scammers will advertise the latest hot-ticket items (i.e. recently released gaming systems) on their website for deeply discounted prices.
Trial offers: Trial offers can be a great way to sample products at discounted prices, but many trial offers require that you cancel within a specified timeframe or the company will auto-bill you for a subscription. Always make sure to read the fine print and know exactly what you’re signing up for.
Venmo/Cash App/Zelle: Person-to-person transfer apps can be a great way to send money to friends and loved ones anytime and anyplace; however, these transactions are the same as giving a person cash. Fraudsters will frequently sell items online and accept payment through a person-to-person transfer app and then never deliver. It’s always safest to only send money to people you know and who’s username/account information you can verify. If you send money through a transfer app, always research the businesses and seller first.
Phishing links: Not expecting a package but received an email from a shipping company saying it couldn’t be delivered? This is a new phishing scheme fraudsters are using to steal your personal information. Hovering over a link in an email will reveal the actual website the link will take you to. Also look for spelling errors, grammatical errors, and odd sentence structure within the body of an email. When in doubt, it’s best to open your browser and type the shippers website in yourself, or call for more information.
Secure websites: Shopping online can be a great way to avoid the crowds this holiday season, but there are ways to make sure you’re shopping safely. Look for websites that start with https (the ‘s’ stands for secure). Many large retail websites allow individual third-party sellers to use their websites without background checks or verifying their legitimacy. Make sure to thoroughly look through the webpage to ensure you’re buying from a legitimate store on a secure website.
Scam job offers: Be wary of online job postings for new work from home positions. Make sure to thoroughly vet any potential employers prior to sending your personal information and applying. Also, many fraudsters will send ‘start-up funds’ via check requesting a portion of the funds be sent back once the check is cashed. Then the check is returned leaving you on the hook for the money.
Saving credit card info online: While this is a convenient and quick way to do your online shopping, it leaves you especially vulnerable to data and website breaches. The safest way to shop online is to enter your card information every time.
Common Scams: Fraudsters love a tried-and-true way to take your money, here are a few common scams:
Loved one is in trouble – If a person calls and tells you a loved one/friend/relative is in trouble, traveling, or injured and needs money immediately, take a deep breath and verify. Call your friend/relative and see if they really are in trouble. Fraudsters will use your instinct to help to hurt you.
IRS Scams – If a person calls claiming you owe the IRS money and threatens a consequence if you don’t immediately pay – immediately hang up. The IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or demand an immediate payment. Contact your local IRS office and speak directly to a representative for more information on potential issues.
COVID scams – Fraudsters have been impersonating contact tracers and asking for people’s personal or financial information. A Legitimate contact tracer will never ask for your personal or financial information. Scammers have also been selling ‘treatments’, ‘cures’, or ‘prevention products’ online. Never buy anything that hasn’t been CDC or FDA certified. Also beware of misinformation in emails and on social media sites. Verify any information by using legitimate government websites ending in ‘.gov’.
Online marketplace purchases: Online marketplaces and websites can be a great way to purchase used or even new items for a fraction of the original retail price, just make sure to keep these tips in mind.
Always meet in a public place like in front of a police station or at a shopping mall or local coffee shop.
It’s best to bring a friend along, but if you can’t make sure someone knows where you are going, who you are supposed to be meeting and what you are selling or buying.
If you can, pay in cash. If cash isn’t an option, never send money via a person-to-person payment app until you have arrived at the location, inspected the product, and verified the seller’s account username and information.