Watch For Counterfeit Christmas Items When Shopping Online

In the season of giving gifts, Scrooge is lurking and ready to snatch up your holiday cheer. With more than 500 million items for sale on Amazon alone, online options are through the roof. With a convenient way to knock out holiday shopping, it also leaves a prime opportunity for scammers to strike. The Iowa Attorney General’s office says, they’re getting complaints from Amazon consumers about never receiving refunds after fake items show up on their doorstep. For others, they haven’t received their order at all. Consumers are also reporting phishing emails and text messages that refer to orders they never made.

Sticking to known retailers like Walmart and Amazon may still not be a scam-proof approach. That’s because you still encounter third-party vendors who handle shipping themselves, which leaves vulnerability for fake items to slip through the cracks. According to a 2018 study by the Government Accountability Office, 20 of the 47 items that the GAO purchased from third-party sellers on five popular consumer websites were counterfeit.


Ways to steer clear of questionable third-party vendors:

First, thoroughly check out the seller. When purchasing online, look below the “Add to Cart” button on sites like Amazon and Walmart to see the vendor’s name. Clicking on it will provide consumer reviews, return policies, and contact information. Search the name on the Better Business Bureau’s website and through a search engine to spot possible red flags. Second, read the customer reviews with caution. Sometimes, reviews can widely vary for the same product. That could be a sign of quality control problems, durability, or different customer experiences. It could also be indicative of other issues. Third, review the return policy. Some third-party vendors don’t spell out their return policy with the same clarity as Amazon or Walmart. If you can’t locate a third-party’s policy on returns and exchanges, including whether the retailer charges a restocking fee and who pays for return shipping, it may be wise to avoid that vendor. Also, beware if there’s no way to contact a seller. If they state “no returns” or “all sales are final,” that may be a red flag. Accepting returns and clearly disclosing terms and conditions is typically a sign of a legitimate vendor. When seeking a refund, contact the third-party seller first. If you receive no response or are denied, contact the larger company. Some companies like Amazon offer certain money-back guarantees. Otherwise, you may be out of luck if they only guarantee their own products.


Identifying fraudulent sites and phishing attacks:

Some websites are designed to dupe customers into surrendering personal data and credit card information. Some scammers create websites that mirror genuine e-commerce sites. They also send out phishing emails and text messages promising great discounts or free gift cards. So how do you protect yourself? It’s crucial to examine emails and texts carefully. Look for clues like generic greetings and misspellings to spot scam messages. A tell-tale sign something’s not right is if the message asks you to click a button to update account information or provide other details. Ideally, visit the company’s site directly. Other keys are using security software that are up-to-date and equipped to deal with the newest security threats. Also, check if the URL has an “s”. That letter in “https://” stands for “secure” which means that the information passed between your computer and the website is encrypted. That makes it more difficult for hackers. Additionally, using credit cards and reviewing financial statements are ways to protect yourself from a counterfeit Christmas.

If you believe you’ve been scammed, contact your local law enforcement agency or the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint,call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area). For more tips, follow the Iowa Attorney General on Facebook and Twitter at @AGIowa.

Author: Kevin Walker

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