You’ve wanted a Louis Vuitton tote bag for ages – a real one, not a fake one bought on the street. But at $ 1,400, it’s way out of your price range.
And then you see a great sale online. The bag of your dreams, and it’s 75 percent off. At $ 350, it’s a steal, but you have to act quickly. Should you go for it, or is it a scam?
At that price, it is likely a scam. But it can be hard to tell, as scammers are very good at making a fake offer like the real deal. Designer items are a popular target, but so are automobiles, event tickets, healthcare products, pets, electronics, and many other items.
There are many real bargains available online. Stay skeptical and know what to look for to remove the good from the fake. Here are seven questions to spot a scam:
1. Has it passed the smell test?
Do you remember the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? Take a good look at the ad. Does it make sense? Does it have a reasonable amount of detail about the item, or is the text vague and general? If you buy a used item, is there a photo? Are the images sharp, or dark and grainy? Does the website look sloppy? Are the grammar and spelling pretty good?
Some people and companies are better than others at presenting their goods. But if the price seems too low or the website or ad makes you feel bad, then research further.
2. Is the URL legitimate?
Scammers are good at making websites and emails look legitimate. Take a good look at the URL.
- Does it start with “https: //”? This indicates that the site is secure and that any information you enter is encrypted – an important consideration when sending payments or providing personal information.
- Is the company name part of the URL? In addition to being encoded, the company name must be included in the URL, without additional words or characters. This is how “company.com” looks legitimate, but “company-sale-u-will-not-believe.com” does not.
- If it’s a company you’ve heard of, is its name spelled correctly?
- If the site appears to be a brand name website, open a new browser window and go to the company’s website. Do the two sites look the same? Does the company’s website contain the same offer?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, assume the offer is a scam and move on.
3. Can you contact the company?
4. Is the payment method safe?
A legitimate website accepts credit cards with a secure payment system (indicated by the https: // in the URL). Or it uses a secure third-party payment service such as PayPal.
Scammers like to do things differently. They may have an unsecured website. They may ask you for your bank account or credit card information by email. Email is not secure – a scammer could use your email for future fraud that could endanger your computer as well as your identity. Or the scammer may want payment via money order or bank transfer. Money orders are difficult to track and a thief can use a wire transfer to hack your bank account.
Even paying with a debit card is risky. Credit cards offer protection against fraud, but a debit card exposes you to greater losses with less protection.
5. If you buy locally, can you see and inspect the item?
If you’re buying locally, make sure you see the item before handing over your money. Make sure the item is in the advertised condition and that it is working properly. If you buy a car, have it inspected by a reputable mechanic before closing the deal. If you are buying designer items, do some research beforehand to know the telltale signs of counterfeiting.
6. What does the internet say?
If you suspect a scam, a quick Google search for the item name or listing title can tell you everything you need to know. Scammers often place the same ads in multiple places over a long period of time. If people have been scammed in the past, the title may appear in your search results. Read reviews with a critical eye. If they are vague and 100 percent positive, they could be a fake and a sign of a scam. If people are complaining about being ripped off, stay away. You can also search for business reviews on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website or use the Scam Tracker tool.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam sale, you can report it to the BBB or one of the agencies listed on USA.gov’s Scam and Fraud Reporting page.
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