Pittsburgh, PA – November 25, 2020 – According to the National Retail Federation, people are predicted to spend just under $1,000 this holiday season on friends and loved ones. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual rush of in-person holiday crowds may be reduced, but the Better Business Bureau anticipates an increased prevalence of online purchase scams with more consumers expecting to do some or all of their holiday shopping online.

“So far in 2020, online purchase scams make up more than two-thirds of the reports received through BBB Scam Tracker,” says Caitlin Driscoll, public relations director of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “However, whether you shop online or decide to venture out to stores, BBB is reminding holiday shoppers of the importance in reading, researching and checking on both the products and the sellers.”

BBB recommends the following tips to “Shop Safe, Shop Smart” this holiday season:

  • Research guidelines and tips. Follow CDC guidelines to stay healthy and safe while in stores, but follow BBB’s holiday tips to stay safe online. Out of the 57 percent who did not research a website or business via an independent source (*like BBB.org) before making a purchase online, 81 percent lost money.
  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money was price. Don’t shop on price alone. Professional photos don’t necessarily mean it’s a real offer either, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories and vehicles.
  • Beware of fake websites. Watch for bad grammar, the age of the domain, legitimate contact information and read online reviews. Look for the “https” in the URL and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “http” – it is NOT secure.
  • Be careful purchasing sought-after products. Scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices, especially on social media. Remember that like legitimate retailers, scammers also have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want to see at enticingly low prices while you scroll through your social media.
  • Review return and exchange policies. 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.
  • Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB’s research, those who paid with a credit card are less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards or other non-traditional payment methods.
  • 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. Obtain tracking information and go to the ‘shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it is real. Arrange for shipments to be delivered to a secure location to help prevent delivery fraud. The US Postal Service also offers specific deadlines to keep in mind if you want a shipment to arrive by a specific date.
  • Start With Trust. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify it by going to BBB.org. If you are unhappy with a purchase, file a complaint at BBB.org/complaints. Report scams to BBB.org/ScamTracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed.

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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 2019, people turned to BBB more than 183 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.8 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.