Deceptive Practices of Online Sellers

Deceptive Practices of Online Sellers

Many individuals are turning to online shopping as a way to find the best deal or compare prices. Unfortunately, not every deal you find online is a good one. Sellers may use deceptive practices to dupe you into making a purchase that may be misleading or fraudulent. We’ve put together some examples of tactics used by deceptive sellers online so you can protect yourself and make smarter purchases.

Common Deceptive Practices

As you shop online, you may be bombarded with irresistible deals or low prices on products. Be cautious if a deal seems too good to be true. Sellers may attempt to mislead shoppers by posting a “rock bottom” price or deal, but include fine print that indicates the item is much more expensive than advertised. Another similar tactic is a “buy one, get one free” offer that has hidden costs that are not made clear to the buyer. By burying the text in an obscure place, the retailer is hoping you’ll overlook the true cost of the item and make a purchase based on the lower listed price. Once you submit your purchase, your bank account or credit card is charged an amount that is higher than you anticipated. Be sure to review the full advertisement or description to make sure you understand the true cost of the item you’re purchasing.

Sellers may use false advertising or misrepresentations as a way to deceive you. These may include false statements about a product or falsified reviews. Many shoppers use customer reviews or testimonials to make purchasing decisions. In some instances, sellers may pay customers to provide reviews that are inaccurate or misleading. In addition, sellers may misrepresent the product by using fake or altered images of merchandise. It’s important that you carefully read the product details, like the dimensions or materials used, to determine what you’re really buying and to get accurate information about the item before clicking “buy.” 

Dishonest sellers may attempt to lure you into making a purchase by creating a false sense of urgency. If you find a deal on a product, but the price is only available if you make a purchase within a specific timeframe, the deal is probably not legitimate. By creating a false sense of urgency, sellers are hoping you overlook other red flags, like a fake website or altered product images.

In some instances, you may place an order for an item and receive something unexpected in its place. For example, after purchasing a new bike at a great price, you may receive an item of little to no value, like a pencil. If you’ve fallen prey to this type of scam, contact the merchant first. If you’re unable to resolve the issue with the merchant, you’ll need to dispute the charge. Contact not only your financial institution or issuing credit card company, but also any third-party vendors that were connected with the unauthorized transaction. In some cases, you may need to file a police report.


Red Flags

To determine if a retailer’s website is authentic, there are a couple of items you can look for that can help you determine its legitimacy. Take time to look at the URL or domain. If the URL doesn’t include the company’s name or the domain name has an odd extension, like .bargain or .deals, it’s likely to be a fraudulent website or retailer.

Another red flag is limited or no contact options for the seller. Having limited contact options minimizes your ability to contact the retailer if you have a question about your order or need to return an item. By not providing this information, it makes it harder to dispute any fraudulent charges or receive a refund from the company. If you need to determine whether a seller is legitimate, you can look them up on the Better Business Bureau’s website.

Best Practices for Shopping Online

The best way to avoid being duped is to use reputable, trusted retailers for your online purchases. Use websites that you’ve purchased from in the past and where you’ve had a positive experience. Before making a purchase, be sure to read all terms, conditions, and refund policies. If a retailer’s website does not offer these disclosures, find one that does and make your purchase there.

Be sure you’re reviewing your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly. In doing so, you’ll be able to recognize if a purchase or charge is made for an incorrect amount. If you do notice a charge that’s incorrect or fraudulent, contact your financial institution right away to dispute the charge. 

When reporting a scam to your financial institution, be sure to provide as much detail as possible to the representative so that they can submit the dispute correctly. Tell them when you authorized the purchase, where it was made, what you originally ordered, and what you did or didn’t receive from the seller.

For extra protection, PSECU members can “lock” or “unlock” their cards at any time, allowing more control over their use. Using the “lock” feature will prohibit any transactions from occurring until you “unlock” the card again. You can use this feature within online banking or our mobile app – just click on Manage Cards.

In addition to being a savvy shopper, you should take steps to keep your information secure while shopping online. Visit our WalletWorks page for more information on how to protect your identity and avoid scams.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.