Avoid getting scammed when shopping from home this season

C&G Newspapers | Published December 8, 2020

Shutterstock image

METRO DETROIT — With Michiganders following state guidelines to stay home, wear masks and limit social interactions, online shopping is perhaps more popular than ever this holiday season.

Scammers and schemers are well aware of this trend, and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office recently released a number of tips to prevent more doses of disaster this year.

“With the holiday season in full swing, we must remain watchful for scammers and bad actors looking to steal our personal or financial information,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a prepared statement. “Considering the ongoing pandemic and growing number of COVID-19 cases, many shoppers will likely avoid the stores by purchasing their gifts and products online. I am urging those people to follow … simple tips to help protect themselves from online predators.”

According to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, credible websites and charitable organizations can provide the name, address, phone number and, in the case of a charitable organization, nonprofit registration number.

Common “dark patterns” — online selling practices used by online retailers to play on shoppers’ emotions and insecurities — include notices that a product is nearly sold out, timers that limit the time a product can stay in the shopping cart, messages suggesting there is high demand for an item in the shopping cart and countdown timers that restart when refreshing the webpage, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The office also suggests securing computers or mobile devices with up-to-date antivirus and anti-spyware software and ensuring that devices have the latest protections by setting operating systems and web browsers to update automatically. Pop-up blockers can also prevent exposure to viruses.

“The Better Business Bureau reports the most common place to find sites selling counterfeit goods is on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, which share the same ad network,” according to a Michigan Attorney General’s Office consumer alert. “A study by two cybersecurity experts found that one in four Facebook ads for fashion and luxury goods are linked to websites selling counterfeits.”

The Attorney General’s Office also advises consumers to be mindful of potential shipping delays due to the surge in online shopping this season.

“Review shipping estimates before purchasing and follow the tracking details once your order ships. It’s also important to be aware of the vendor’s return/refund policy before you make your purchase,” states a Michigan Attorney General’s Office consumer alert. “If not, you could run into restocking fees or not have the option to return at all.”

Additionally, the Attorney General’s Office recommends using one single, low-limit credit card to make all online holiday shopping purchases.

“Debit cards do not limit your liability for fraudulent charges, and the money is drawn directly from your bank account,” states a consumer alert. “Be mindful of any credit and debit card surcharges.”

Lastly, the office advises to keep a record of purchases and copies of confirmation pages; then, compare them to bank statements. In case of a discrepancy, report it immediately.

According to Comparitech.com, a “pro-consumer website providing information, tools, and comparisons to help consumers in the US, UK and further afield to research and compare tech services,” cybercriminals began preparing to swindle shoppers around the world this November.

More than 5,200 probable scam and phishing sites were registered in November 2020, according to Comparitech researchers. Phishing is an email-based scam aimed at collecting personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

“Phishing sites often imitate well-known sites such as the login page for PayPal, but during the holiday shopping season, cybercriminals set up original scam websites with tempting deals and rewards,” according to the website.

Some sites are created to collect email addresses in order to later send phishing messages, while others steal login and payment information during the registration and checkout phases, according to Comparitech.com.

    Some tips from the website to avoid online scams include:
    • Never click on links or attachments in unsolicited emails or messages.
    • Check the spelling of website URLs and email domains for typos.
    • Only buy from reputable vendors and marketplaces.
    • A lack of contact information or terms of use indicates a strong sign of a scam.
    • Avoid clicking on shopping ads and posts on social media.
    • If a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/ag or call (517) 335-7571. To report fraud or file a general consumer complaint, call the Michigan Attorney General at (517) 335-7599.