Use Points to Shop
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14 Signs You're Getting Scammed While Shopping Online

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Use Points to Shop
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Scam Away

While legitimate retailers are eager to get you to spend, so are scammers — and with the current pandemic, the problem has gotten much worse. The fraud detection company Bolster says there has been a noticeable uptick in cybercriminal activity, with 30% of all scam e-mails and websites related to the coronavirus. An odd-looking site or too-good-to-be-true deal might be the work of scammer rather than an ecommerce amateur. These 14 signs can help shoppers distinguish between the two.

Related: How to Recognize Coronavirus Fraud and Other Big Phone Scams

Lack of Contact Information
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Lack of Contact Information

Even businesses that don't have storefronts must be based somewhere. Look for contact information or an "about" page to learn something about the business. The absence of an address or contact phone number could indicate trouble.

Unsecure Site
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Unsecure Site

Secure websites — indicated by "https" rather than "http" at the beginning of a URL — encrypt data such as payment information. Do not submit personal or financial data to unsecured sites. Web browsers also help shoppers notice when a site is, or isn't, secure. Look for a closed lock, often in green, in the address bar. An open lock and red background indicate the site isn't using the secure protocol to send and receive data (though hackers have also been known to fake this icon).

McAfee, LLC
McAfee, LLC

Fake Trust Seals

Trust seals, such as those from McAfee, Truste, and, can indicate a site is monitored or is known to use security measures to protect users' data. Don't take the image as proof, however — anyone can copy and paste one onto a website despite copyright restrictions. The seal should be clickable, leading either to the seal provider's website or a pop-up that signals its validity. The lack of a seal doesn't necessarily mean a site is unsafe, but a seal that isn't clickable could be a worrying sign.

Related: Watch Out for These 15 Scams Targeting Seniors

Scareware
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Scareware

On a supposed ecommerce website, a pop-up may appear warning that the site isn't safe and directing shoppers to download a browser update or anti-virus software. Watch out! The download may actually be the virus. Fake warnings can appear almost identical to legitimate warnings, but the real ones don't tell you to download anything.

Unnecessary Checkout Info
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Unnecessary Checkout Info

Online sellers must gather buyers' payment information and shipping addresses. Some retailers may ask buyers to sign up for an email newsletter and to provide extra personal information, such as shopping preferences or annual income. The data can help them better understand their customers and target emails. But a trustworthy site won't ask for unnecessary personal data, such as Social Security number or mother's pre-marriage name.

Terrible Site Reviews
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Terrible Site Reviews

When you're unfamiliar with an online shopping site, spend a few minutes looking for reviews or complaints. Search the website's name alongside "review" or "scam" and read a few of the top results. Don't be too quick to conclude anything from an aggregate negative rating. The site may not be a scam, but the products it sells may be deficient or customer service may be lacking. Of course, those are also reasons to reconsider a purchase.

Scour the Reviews …
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Negative Seller Reviews

Scammers are known to set up accounts on legitimate sites such as Amazon and eBay to lure victims. Check feedback on individual sellers before buying or bidding on a product. Common scams include selling a picture of a product rather than the product itself (read the listing carefully) or selling counterfeit goods. (EBay does have a guarantee that helps protect buyers who never get what they paid for, or get a subpar or counterfeit product.)

Set Up a PayPal Account
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Unprotected Payment Methods

When buying a product online, look for well-known payment methods, such as major credit cards. Cards from the major issuers have zero-liability policies, which can protect cardholders if their information is used to make unauthorized purchases. PayPal is a common and trustworthy way to make purchases because it adds a layer of security: Shoppers input only their PayPal account information, not debit or credit card details. (Still, there are many scams that involve PayPal-lookalike websites or emails, so proceed with caution.) If a seller or online retailer asks for a wire transfer or personal check, that's likely a sign to back off. Once a check has been sent to an unscrupulous vendor, there might not be anything you can do to get the money back.

Upfront Payment Requests
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Upfront Payment Requests

As the old adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Some scammers list products on Craigslist and other classified sites at remarkably low prices. Often the scammers claim they are traveling or unavailable when potential buyers express interest. They'll try to get the buyer to submit payment up front, with an empty promise to deliver the goods as soon as they can.

Coupon Giveaways
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Coupon Giveaways

Looking for coupon or discount codes before checking out can lead to savings. But watch out for coupon scams. Scammers often use Facebook and other social media outlets to post and give away fake coupons in exchange for personal information that they use or sell later.

Don't Buy Coronavirus Test Kits or Vaccines
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Don't Buy Coronavirus Test Kits or Vaccines

Most test kits have not been approved by the FDA, and so far there has been no vaccine created to prevent COVID-19. Unfortunately, scammers are already offering both of these for purchase online. 

Make a donation
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Research Charitable Donations

While it's not exactly shopping, donating your money to a cause can still be a hit to your wallet if you give to a scammer, not a cause. Do your research before you donate, The Federal Trade Commission has tips on avoiding charity scams. 

Sign Up for Scam Alerts
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Sign Up for Scam Alerts

One way to not fall prey to a scammer is to know what the latest trends are in preying on shoppers. Sign up for the FTC's scam alerts, a free service that will give you the heads-up on what thieves are up to at the moment. 

Make No-Interest Monthly Payments
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A Free Trial Isn't Always Free

Often a disreputable website will offer a free item or free trial, but charge you a sum for shipping and handling or ask for your credit card information to activate the "deal" — and the small print says you've agreed to buy more products. When you realize you're paying for something you don't want, it's almost impossible to cancel and the conditions for returns and cancellations make it tough to break free. Before you hand over your credit card, research the company and be sure to mark your calendar to cancel the service before the "free" trial expires.