As the economy continues to rebound from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Retail Federation predicts holiday spending will set new records this year, coming in between $843.5 billion and $850 billion. For the sake of both safety and convenience, many Americans will spend those funds with online retailers.
Shopping online may save time and money, but it also could save lives during this COVID-19 holiday season. Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds shoppers to be careful when shopping online. Fraudsters can separate shoppers from their money or steal their personal information. Additionally, even though many people are shopping early, supply chain challenges mean some companies may not be able to deliver gifts in time for the holidays.
While the vast majority of online retailers are reliable, some are not. As online shopping has skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021, so has the number of complaints to BBB about online retailers, with more than 66,000 complaints logged in 2020 and more than 41,000 so far in 2021. Reports to BBB Scam Tracker about online purchase scams have spiked as well, with nearly 18,000 scam reports in 2020 and more than 13,000 so far in 2021. BBB recently published an in-depth investigative study on these scams.
Shoppers can prepare themselves for online shopping by watching ads and browsing for the items they’re seeking in advance. Many online retailers already have set up sites where their biggest holiday deals, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers, will be advertised. Unless you’re informed, it can be hard to tell whether an online deal actually will save you money. Read a site’s policies for returns and understand shipping schedules before you enter your credit card number.
BBB’s 10 tips for safe online shopping are as follows:
- Protect your computer. Install a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly.
- Check a site’s security settings before entering financial data, such as a credit card number. If the site is secure, the URL (web address) on the payment page should start with “https://.”
- Shop trustworthy websites. Look for BBB Accredited Business seals on websites and click to confirm that they’re valid. BBB’s dynamic seal will take you to a site’s BBB Business Profile. You also may find reviews at BBB.org. More than 7 million shoppers checked an online retailer’s BBB Business Profile in 2020, and roughly 4.4 million have done their homework with BBB so far in 2021.
- Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may display free or low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs, or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
- Beware of phishing. Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order, account or a package to lure the buyer into revealing financial information. If you receive such an email, BBB recommends that you call the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm a problem.
- Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don’t receive an item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are any unauthorized charges on the card, and many card issuers have zero-liability policies if someone steals and uses your card number. Check your credit card statement regularly for unauthorized charges. Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
- Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page of an order or emails confirming the order until you receive the item and are satisfied.
- Obtain a tracking number for shipments. If you need the product before the holidays, find out when the seller intends to ship it and, if possible, how it will be shipped. The tracking number can help you find a lost order. If the order can be picked up contact-free at a brick-and-mortar location, consider this option as well.
- Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by phone, mail or 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. Consumers also may reject merchandise if it is defective or was misrepresented.
Michelle Gleba is the regional director for the BBB.