By Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Holidays are synonymous with long lines at the stores, congested aisles and parking lots that never seem to have enough spots. This year, those visions are being compounded by long lines of ocean-going vessels parked offshore with thousands of containers of goods waiting to be unloaded.
The backlog is straining the nation’s supply chain for nearly every product imaginable. It also could be a Grinch that steals some holiday cheer, especially for consumers who scour for scarce goods that can be found online. As we have seen during the pandemic, scammers and fraudsters recognize desperation and will modify their bags of tricks for the occasion.
The Federal Trade Commission is cautioning consumers to be mindful of their purchases. However, there are steps that can be taken to prevent scams and to seek corrective action should a product not arrive. The federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Merchandise Order rule requires sellers to ship goods within the time it says it will. If there will be a delay, a new shipping date must be provided or the consumer given an opportunity to cancel the order. More information about the federal rule can be found at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/.
Here are some helpful tips to keep you, your money and your personal information safe when buying online as supply chain issues continue and the holiday shopping season begins:
- Check out the seller. Make sure the website you’re buying from is a trusted, reputable seller. Today’s technology has made it easy for scammers to set up fake online stores, selling merchandise that may not even exist. If you’re considering buying from a website you’ve never used before, do a search for that website’s name and check their reviews on other trusted sites. Do not rely on the reviews on the seller’s site, as these could be just as fake as the product they are selling.
- Learn about the product. Once you’ve identified a reputable website to make your purchase, make sure you know the details about the item you’re purchasing. You might get a great deal buying something used, but be sure to get a detailed description of the item’s condition. If new products are being sold at prices that sound too good to be true, this could be an indication that the item is a counterfeit, knock-off or stolen.
- Review the terms. Be sure you understand the seller’s return and refund policy, shipping and handling charges or any other unusual terms or conditions of the sale. If shopping on a social media site, be sure to check the privacy settings and limit what you share publicly.
- Watch for email or texts offering steep discounts. Scammers know that during the rush to find a scarce gift that consumers will look to anyone for help. Falling for bogus emails or texts offering products that don’t exist or are counterfeit goods can leave consumers disappointed. According to the Toy Association, nearly one in five parents report that their child has received a counterfeit or knock-off toy purchased online.
- Make sure the site is secure. Before entering any payment information, be sure the site you’re using is secure. You can check this by looking at the address bar in your web browser. Many browsers display a lock icon to indicate the site is secure. You can also check the site’s URL by making sure it begins with https, not just http. This indicates that a site is secure and uses an encrypted connection. This can reduce the chances that your information will be intercepted by hackers.
- Guard your personal information. Legitimate online businesses do not need you to hand over your date of birth or social security number.
- Pay with a credit card. A red flag for a fraudulent transaction is one that asks you to wire payment or use a third-party gift card. The safest way to pay for online transactions is through a credit card, which provides you the ability to dispute fraudulent charges.
- Save your receipts. Keep paper or electronic copies of receipts for all of your online purchases. Save them at least as long as the allowed return period, or if the item contains a warranty, as long as that warranty is valid.
If you wish to file a complaint about an online transaction or any other scams please contact our office at 1-800-432-2310 or online at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.