By Rod Davis, CEO BBB Serving Southeast FL and the Caribbean
The holiday shopping season is upon us, and if you are like me, and your family and loved ones are scattered across the country, shopping can be a little more complicated. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, 57% of holiday shopping this year will be done online so we are not alone.
With the rise of online shopping, there has also been an increase in scams and thefts. The bad guys see the holidays as a great opportunity for them. The pressure to find that perfect gift at the best price can be a lure to try out an unknown website. The increased volume of packages delivered to homes sitting unprotected on a doorstep, and the confusion of keeping track of all purchases provide fertile ground for thieves to acquire the gift you sent to your uncle or using phishing scams to obtain your credit card information to shop on your dime. Consumers aren’t only losing money. they’re losing sensitive personal information, too.
BBB encourages you to take the following steps to protect yourself from online sales swindlers and package delivery thieves.
Shop with Trustworthy Businesses. This simple step is one that many consumers fail to do. Especially if you’re buying from an online store, a well put together website can create a false sense of security. Dig a little deeper before you “add to cart!” Check the seller’s reputation at BBB.org and other sites to ensure that the company is established and trustworthy, and pay special attention to customer reviews and complaints. Last year our BBB received over 400 complaints in a month about a business selling hoverboards. Unfortunately, while this start-up had good intentions, they were overwhelmed by the demand, had significant product problems that escalated into very poor customer service, and an inability to deliver products in time for Christmas. BBB posted an alert on this website to help educate consumers and by taking time to check out the business, you can avoid having to use the dog ate my present excuse.
Complaints about products or timely delivery are compounded if a business has poor customer service. Every business will have complaints, but how they respond and work with customers is important all the time, but especially during the peak holiday gift buying season.
Use a Credit Card: Here’s an age old tip, use a credit card rather than any other form of payment, like a gift card or even a debit card. Why? Credit card companies can offer assistance if the business fails to deliver.
Double Check the Security and Legitimacy of Websites. Scammers set up look-alike sites to get your personal information. Double check the website and spelling to makes sure that if you are planning to purchase from Brandsmart.com that you are not on Brandmart.com. Additionally, check to make sure the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with “https://” and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page, before entering your credit card information. Don’t make it easy for scammers to obtain your financial information.
Consider Insurance: For the big, expensive stuff, insurance may actually be worth the extra few dollars. Make sure it covers both loss of and damage to any merchandise that you have purchased for delivery.
Send Packages Elsewhere: Like to your place of work, if they’ll allow it. Especially if you know that you can’t be home around the time packages get delivered. Or, ask a friend or neighbor who you know is often home during hours of delivery if you can get your packages sent to their residence so that they can bring the package inside for safekeeping. The same is true for packages you are sending directly to others. Find out if they can receive packages at work, and if so, send directly to their work to limit theft.
Keep Track: When you’re buying gifts for everyone on your list, it can be easy to forget about items that you ordered. It’s always a good idea to sign up for text messages or email alerts from the company that will notify you of shipment delays or alert you when your package has been shipped. I keep these in my holiday gift folder and cross them off as they are received or delivered. It is also good to shop early enough to avoid last minute shipping which can be both costly, and depending on the weather to the north, might not arrive in time for the holidays. Make sure you know the delivery options when making your purchase and allow enough time for the gift to arrive on time.
Request a Signature: Chances are this feature may come with a price tag, but it may be worth the extra fee. Requesting a signature means that a delivery service won’t be able to drop a package on the doorstep unless someone is around to sign for it. After a couple of attempts, they will usually hold the package for pick up at a designated location.
Be Wary of Random Emails: Scammers know people are shopping and often try to spoof major businesses like Amazon in an attempt to obtain your personal information. These scammers know millions of consumers are shopping online and chances are good that you will have made a purchase from one of the most popular sites. Don’t fall for emails that attempt to get you to enter your personal information or financial information. If you have already made a purchase, the business already has the information they need for your delivery. Instead of clicking on a potentially malicious link or entering information again, contact the business directly if you have any questions about your purchases and delivery using the email/information you received at the time of purchase.
Whether you’re just getting started shopping, or you’re patiently waiting on shipping, make sure you play it safe and know the red flags of a scam. Keep up with delivery scams in your area and alert your community if you encounter any at www.bbb.org/scamtracker. Find businesses you can trust to do your online shopping with, in any category at www.bbb.org/ask!