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How to protect yourself from fraud when shopping

How to protect yourself from fraud when shopping
How to protect yourself from fraud when shopping

Amazon Prime Day takes place over two days – July 16 and 17 – but many other websites will also be busy hunting for deals this month. And scammers will once again try to scam inattentive, bargain-hungry consumers.

Instead of saving money, you could actually lose good money – or end up giving your personal information to scammers and con artists.

Amazon launched a new holiday called Amazon Prime Day in 2015 to give consumers something other than the heat and humidity of July. The idea was to offer hot deals to boost membership and online sales. Other retailers followed suit, including Walmart and Target. And now it’s a reality.

Target is hosting its Circle Week through July 13, including daily deals like gift cards, laptops and Pokémon trading cards. Target notes that members of the free Target Circle program can save early on back-to-school items, including 30% off select backpacks and kids’ school uniforms. Target is also offering a limited deal on its Target Circle 360 ​​membership with same-day delivery: During the sale, the regular price of $99 per year is just $49.

The Walmart deals run through July 11. Kohl’s is offering its “Summer Cyber ​​Deals” for four days through July 11, which includes special one-day-only deals and free shipping with no minimum purchase through July 11. Additionally, Kohl’s will be hosting another sales event on July 16 and 17.

We’re about to kick off our 10th Amazon Prime Day event, which is full of brand deals and reasons to stock up on school supplies and dorm essentials weeks in advance.

This year, Megan Thee Stallion released a new song called “It’s Prime Day.” Lyrics include, “I have everything I want and I never left home,” “With just one click, you could have it all,” and “Sign up as a member if you want free shipping.”

“Eyelashes, jewelry, clothes, candles.”

“I’m going to log in and give my animals a basket.”

How much does it cost to be a Prime member these days? Many pay $14.99 a month, or nearly $180 a year if you pay monthly. Or you pay $139 annually up front. Some can start a free 30-day trial if they’re eligible at amazon.com/prime.

As with many things, the cost of a Prime membership has increased over the years. In 2015, a Prime membership cost most consumers $99 for a year and $49 per year for students.

Consumers ages 18 to 24 can now sign up for Prime Student and get a six-month free trial at amazon.com/joinstudent. After that, younger consumers will pay $7.49 per month, which adds up to nearly $90 over 12 months. Alternatively, you can choose to pay $69 per year in one go.

Currently, eligible federal assistance recipients can get Prime Access for $6.99 per month at amazon.com/getprimeaccess.

Saving money is one thing, and with prices rising since the pandemic, many people need to hunt for bargains. Usually, you want to do a price comparison in advance. An online service called CamelCamelCamel tracks price history on Amazon. Some shoppers add items to their online shopping cart before a sale starts, and the price is automatically updated later when the item is on sale.

This time too, Amazon Prime members can request an invitation to some exclusive deals that are available by invitation only. Amazon defines these as Prime Day exclusive deals that are expected to sell out. In its press release, Amazon said such deals would include up to 40% off Sony wireless headphones and up to 30% off Peloton products.

However, the rise of online shopping over the past decade has also opened the door to fraudsters and con artists.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, consumers filed 376,460 complaints about online shopping scams and negative reviews in 2023. About 53% of the reports involved financial losses, with the average loss being $126. Total losses exceeded $397 million.

“Consumers need to be vigilant. A seasonal sale like Prime Day could be the perfect time for counterfeiters to infiltrate e-commerce platforms with fake products,” said Saleem Alhabash, a professor of advertising at Michigan State University and associate director of research for MSU’s Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection.

When you see a price this low—something you’ve never seen before—pause before you order and ask yourself if this could be a real bargain.

“If a brand has never made such a big price cut before,” Alhabash said, “then stop and think of other ways to verify the authenticity of the product and the seller.”

Fraudsters flood the zone

Many websites, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, and others, also operate third-party online marketplaces where an outsider or someone other than the manufacturer itself can sell a popular item. However, some of these sites offer shady products.

Newly created domains, often posing as Amazon or other retailers, are launched by scammers in time for major shopping events such as Amazon Prime Day.

Take the time to click on the seller’s name and check if they have a valid digital presence. Can you tell if they offer a website? An email address or social media handles?

“I always look at a few things: what website or app I’m buying from, or if it’s a well-known app, who the seller is, and whether they allow third-party sellers like Amazon or Walmart.com,” said Kari Kammel, director of MSU’s Center for Counterfeit and Product Protection.

“If I don’t know the seller, I try to find them on Google or another search engine,” she said.

If she cannot find any information about the seller or the information seems strange, she decides not to place an order.

Some scammers exploit the system. A great deal online can mean you get counterfeit goods or nothing at all. When you get an item shipped to you, consumers will not get the same quality or safety standards if they receive a counterfeit item.

Alhabash of MSU said consumers want to take some time to look for quality features.

“Brands invest a lot of money in building and maintaining their brands,” he said. Some easy ways to spot fraud include looking carefully at the product description to make sure it is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Pay close attention to the quality of branded images. “If a product listing contains low-resolution product images, that is an indication that the product could be fake,” Alhabash said.

Amazon is cracking down on counterfeiting and has, among other things, announced an anti-counterfeiting exchange in April 2023 to identify and stop fraudsters more quickly.

One risk with counterfeit goods: A buyer clicks on a link to buy a fake item, Kammel said, and may actually be sent a fake item. But often “the link is geared toward financial fraud — the goal of stealing credit card information and personal identification from the buyer through phishing and other types of online fraud.”

The fake Facebook ads

Be skeptical of pop-up ads on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. Scammers find ways to hide behind websites they created themselves to impersonate major brands. 90% off everything? That’s unlikely.

More: How to tell if a job offer is not a scam: Did a professor really advertise it? And why the verification?

More: Fraudsters take advantage of the kindness by asking to borrow phones and sending counterfeit money to apps

More: Fraudsters persuade people to hand over thousands in cash and then have the money collected by couriers

Read the refund policy carefully

It may seem like a bargain, but is it if you’re paying $10 or more to send the item back if it doesn’t fit or isn’t what you really want? Who pays for shipping on returns? How much are those costs? What are the restocking fees, if there are any? And how many days do you have to return an item? Could you return it to a nearby store to avoid shipping costs? The Federal Trade Commission notes that the website must state whether you can return the item for a full refund.

Make sure it is a legitimate web address or app

Be aware of potential signs of fraud. Only shop on websites that start with https:// to ensure the site is secure. Look for a lock icon in your browser to confirm the site is safe.

“Be alert to suspicious websites that may be hiding malicious software,” says a warning from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Keep computers and smartphones updated with the latest cybersecurity precautions.

Pay attention to brand companies’ refund policies and consumer protection measures.

“Customers are protected when shopping on Amazon and can always trust the Amazon app and website,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

According to an email from a spokesperson to the Free Press, Amazon “remains committed to protecting Prime Day shoppers from all forms of fraud, including identity fraud, counterfeit products, and fake reviews.”

For more information about Amazon’s zero tolerance for fraud of any kind, visit amazon.com/guarantee.

Amazon said its protection applies to physical products purchased in its stores worldwide. “In the unlikely event that customers have issues with the timely delivery or condition of their purchase,” the spokesperson said, “Amazon will resolve the issue by refunding the purchase price or replacing the item, whether purchased from Amazon or one of our approximately 2 million independent selling partners.”

Fake texts

Everyone seems to be writing to us about a delivery problem – whether you’ve purchased online or not. “You have a package that needs to be delivered,” one message says. Somehow they don’t have the right address? But they have your phone number? Really? It’s peak season for the scammers to get you to click on these links. Don’t do it.

Contact financial columnist Susan Tompor: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @tompor.

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