Online Purchases

Beware of scammers when shopping online. Scammers may advertise really low prices using a fake website full of stolen images, a fake ad on a genuine retailer’s website, or through an auction site. They will take your money and never deliver any of the products, or perhaps send you a cheap imitation instead.

Scammers may also pretend to be a buyer and send fake money orders for more than the cost of the item. Banks will initially accept the money order so the seller will send the buyer a refund of the extra payment. But then the bank will discover the fraud and reverse the entire amount. The scammers not only get the item for free, they get the extra money that the seller refunded to them.

Tips to Avoid Online Scams:

Here are a few tips to help you avoid these online scams.

  • Be Suspicious. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. The seller may not send you anything, or the item you get may be counterfeit or stolen. For sellers, beware of buyers overpaying for goods with a check or money order and then asking for refunds. They may be setting you up for a scam where you write a good check to them, but their payment is fake.
  • Get the Details. Read the description of the item closely. The fine print may explain that the item is not what was advertised. Ask about returns, warranties, delivery dates, whether they provide tracking numbers, and who pays for shipping and handling so that there are no surprise charges.
  • Research the Company. A quick internet search of the company may help you figure out whether the seller is real. Here are some tips on how to do a background check on a company. Do not buy anything from a suspicious company.
  • Use a Credit Card. The law allows you to dispute charges on your credit card if something goes wrong. Some credit cards also provide warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits. PayPal may also provide certain protections if you do not receive the goods purchased. Do not pay with cash, money order, bitcoin, or wire transfers because you will not have the ability to reverse the charge if something goes wrong.
  • Purchase within the Online Auction Platform. Online auction sites often have strict policies to protect you. Scammers will advertise on the auction site but then ask you to buy the item outside of the platform claiming that the winner backed out, or something like that. Don’t fall for it. You won’t be protected if you do not receive the item.
  • Make Sure You Have a Secure Connection. Before providing any personal or financial information online, make sure that the website is secure. You can do this by looking at the URL address to see if it begins with https (the “s” indicates its secure) and/or has a lock icon displayed, as demonstrated below. Do not email your credit card number, checking account, or social security number. It is not a safe way to transmit financial information. Secure connection
  • Keep Records and Check Your Credit Card Statements. Save your receipts, the description and price of the product, and any communications with the seller. Check your credit card statements to protect yourself from any surprise charges.
  • Review the Privacy Policy. California law requires websites to disclose what personal information they are collecting from you, why they collect it, how they will use it, and who they share it with. Don’t provide more information than is necessary for the purchase. For more information on how to read a privacy policy, click here. Also, if you can’t find the privacy policy, report the business here.

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What to Do If You’re a Victim

If you have problems during an online transaction, first try working it out with the seller, online retail website, or online auction site. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute and reverse the charge.

You may also report the company to the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau.

For more information about protecting yourself while shopping online, check out the following webpages:

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