Pittsburgh, PA – The holiday shopping season is upon us and over 165 million people are expected to shop over the upcoming five-day Thanksgiving weekend.

As more consumers plan to take advantage of online sales and Cyber Monday deals, the Better Business Bureau of Western PA is warning shoppers to beware of online purchase scams that may promote counterfeit goods or even non-existent products.

“BBB previously identified online purchase scams as one of the riskiest forms of consumer fraud and during the holidays, scammers entice shoppers with social media ads and legitimate looking websites offering what appears to be a slightly better deal on highly sought after products and brands,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “In many instances, according to a BBB investigative study, counterfeiters are now using selling prices that are close to the price of the real product, so prices alone are no longer a telltale sign that a product is counterfeit.”

Recently, the Better Business Bureau has received an increased number of scam reports and complaints regarding the unauthorized sale of Hydro Flask products, including a website BBB investigated, hyddroflask.com, which claims an Erie, PA address. According to BBB complaint details, consumers believe that they are purchasing a true Hydro Flask, when in fact, they are purchasing a counterfeit product. Consumers have stated that they are paying for a product which they never receive and cannot reach the company for a refund. The website’s listed phone number is disconnected and all postal mail communications are returned to sender.

Similarly, BBB investigated Rockhonor.com regarding a pattern of complaints and multiple scam reports that allege the company has taken money for merchandise orders, but consumers never receive the merchandise. In each instance, the company cannot be reached and has failed to respond to BBB’s request for information. Listing a Gibsonia, PA address on the company’s website, along with a claim to be “one of the largest online stores for rock apparel, jewelry and accessories in the world,” BBB does not know where the business is physically located. BBB always urges caution when determining whether to do business with a company whose physical location is unknown.

When shopping online this holiday season, follow these BBB tips:

Identify the retailer. Check the website with BBB and do an internet search of the URL. Look in the “About” section for typos, grammatical errors and information about the business or website location. Fraudulent sites often do not provide physical addresses or provide addresses that don’t exist. If the site does not list a phone number, that is often another red flag that fraud is afoot. Confirm links to privacy policies, terms and conditions and social media accounts actually exist and are not dead links.

Review return and exchange policies. Keep in mind that returning or exchanging items is a privilege, not a right, and laws vary from state to state. In PA, retailers must clearly post their return policy and follow it, but there is no law that says a retailer must accept returns, offer cash back, store credit or even take exchanges, except in instances that a product was misrepresented or defective. It is important to read return and exchange policies before making a purchase and when possible, request gift receipts to provide to the recipient in case they want to and are able to make a return.

Shop securely. Only shop when using a secure internet connection. Before making an online purchase, especially if you are clicking through to a website from a social media ad, check the URL of the page you’re entering contact and financial information. A security enabled web page will begin with “https” and will have a lock symbol that displays as green. If you are shopping through an online app, make sure you are on the retailer’s verified app, as scammers will set up fake apps to trick shoppers around the holidays.

Pay by credit card and keep documentation. Avoid payment through untraceable methods. Credit cards offer consumer protections you can’t get when paying with cash or even debit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don’t receive an item or unauthorized charges appear on your account. However, it’s important to be mindful of only charging what you can pay off in full and on-time. After placing an order, print out the confirmation or save it electronically until it arrives.

Look for quality issues. If you receive an item, especially if it is a brand name product, closely examine it for authenticity. Items sold without packaging or with blurry images are red flags. Victims of online purchase scams who don’t receive anything when buying online with their credit card or who receive goods that are counterfeit or not as described, should call the customer service number on the back of their card and request a refund.

Be aware of shipping time frames and delivery scams. Federal law requires that orders made online be shipped by the date promised or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If goods aren’t shipped on time, shoppers can cancel and demand a refund. The US Postal Service also offers specific deadlines to keep in mind if you want a shipment to arrive by a specific date. Obtain tracking information and arrange for shipments to be delivered to a secure location to help prevent delivery fraud.

For more smart shopping tips for the holiday season, visit BBB’s Holiday Resource Center and research companies at bbb.org. Track and report scams you encounter to BBB Scam Tracker.

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ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2018, people turned to BBB more than 173 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.4 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including your BBB Serving Western Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1931 and serves the 28 counties of Western PA.