Online Shopping Scam


The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website or, increasingly, mobile app. Some faux e-stores are invented from whole cloth, but many mimic trusted retailers, with familiar logos and slogans and a URL that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. 

They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks like free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.

Some of these copycats do deliver merchandise — shoddy knockoffs worth less than even the “discount” price you mistook for a once-in-a-lifetime deal on, say, Tiffany watches or Timberland boots. More often, you’ll wait in vain for your purchase to arrive. And your losses might not stop there: Scammers may seed phony sites, apps or links in pop-up ads and email coupons with malware that infects your device and harvests personal information for use in identity theft.

Clothing and jewelry, furniture and home decorations, electronics, cosmetics, health and nutrition, and pets are among the most common categories of products in shopping scams, according to the BBB. Not surprisingly, these frauds flourish during the holiday season. You need not forgo the ease and endless selection of online shopping, but these precautions can help you make sure you get what you pay for.

Warning Signs

Bargain-basement prices. Internet security firm Norton says to be on guard if discounts exceed 55 percent.

Shoddy website design or sloppy English. Real retailers take great care with their online presentation.

Limited or suspicious contact options — for example, they only have a fill-in contact form, or the customer-service email is a Yahoo or Gmail account, not a corporate one.

URLs with extraneous words or characters (most stores use only their brand name in web addresses) or unusual domains — for example, .bargain, .app or a foreign domain instead of .com or .net.