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Holiday Shopping Season Reminders - Shop Safely and Avoid Scams!

The holiday season is upon us, and the Erie County Division of Consumer Protection wants to ensure that consumers are educated about scams that may be targeting you while shopping for gifts online. It is important to recognize the signs of a potential scam and take steps to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of an online shopping scam.

Criminals may use phishing emails, bogus advertisements on social media sites or fake online reviews to lure you into making a purchase or providing your personal and financial information as part of a scam. 

Be cautious! Look out for scammers who pretend to be from a business you are familiar with. Scammers will pressure you to act quickly and may claim that there is a limited stock or that a sale is ending soon. Another potential sign of a scam is when someone asks you to pay for something with a gift card.  Be aware gift cards are for gifts, not payments.

For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Advice webpage on Scams which provides resources to learn about the latest scams, and get advice to help you avoid, report, and recover from them. Remember, the more you know about the business or product that you are looking to purchase, the less likely you are to be deceived by a scammer.

When navigating a website, the Better Business Bureau encourages consumers to look out for red flags:

  • Being redirected to another domain – keep checking that address bar!
  • Spelling errors, complicated navigation or broken images or links
  • Pop-ups, questionable advertising
  • Requests for personal data information like social security numbers or irrelevant financial details
  • Unusual payment methods like wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards
  • Look for the return policy, read and understand it. Are there time restrictions? Are you responsible for restocking fees or reshipping costs? Does the company offer a refund to the payment method you used for purchase or store credit, or are all sales final?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Public Service Announcement last week, warning Buyers and Sellers of this year’s potential holiday shopping scams, and provided general tips to protect yourself when buying and selling online: 

  • Verify the websites utilized to purchase and sell items. Web addresses should begin with https:// and include a locked padlock icon.
  • Do not judge a company solely by their website as flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly. Use other methods to verify credentials.
  • Be wary of online transactions that use payment methods such as wire transfers, virtual currency, gift cards, or cash.
  • Pay for items using a credit card dedicated for online purchases, check the card statement regularly, and never save payment information in online accounts.
  • Limit the use of public Wi-Fi, if possible.
  • Verify the legitimacy of all parties involved by looking at consumer reviews and social media pages, as well as checking with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Do not click on links in an unsolicited email or provide personal or financial information.
  • Make sure anti-virus/malware software is up to date and block pop-up windows.
  • Use safe passwords or pass phrases. Never use the same password on multiple accounts.
  • As always - if the deal sounds too good to be true, whether you are buying or selling an item online, chances are it is a scam.

Please do not hesitate to contact our office for assistance if you have been scammed or have questions about avoiding or reporting an online shopping scam. The Erie County Division of Consumer Protection can be reached by phone at 716-858-1987 or via email to Consumer Protection complaints can also be submitted through our website.