Online shopping scams are on the rise and, unfortunately, most victims lose money. How can you protect yourself? Familiarizing yourself with red flags — from misleading fine print to hot bargains — can help you recognize trouble. And proactive practices will have you surfing the web safely.

According to survey research from the Better Business Bureau, online purchase scams are on the rise. What’s more, online purchase scams reportedly lead to lost money 79% of the time, making them the riskiest scam type. 

Fortunately, by signing up for Allstate Identity Protection, you’ve taken an effective early step in protecting against identity theft caused by online shopping. Getting educated is another powerful protective measure against scammers.

With that in mind, as the holiday season approaches, we turned to the Better Business Bureau for common scams plus advice on how to spot them.

“Before you spend money online, I suggest you take a deep breath and pause,” says Marilyn Mott, a community outreach director at the 109-year-old nonprofit. “If you’re unsure if a deal is legitimate, ask a friend, ask your family, do some research.” 

Here are four scam types to know about

  • False advertisements: Some products look like a million bucks when viewed online, but cost much less. Often, there’s a catch. Lookalike products may actually be spoofs, or the item’s quality could disappoint in real life (think polyester advertised as cashmere). The Better Business Bureau reports that clothing, shoes, and digital devices are the products most likely to be counterfeit. 

  • Misleading fine print: If a deal doesn’t add up, double-check the details. Sometimes a buy-once deal locks you into a monthly (or weekly) recurring charge. The return policy might be unfavorable to shoppers, requiring them to pay shipping to foreign countries. Or the customer service might be poor or non-existent. The Better Business Bureau notes that fine print can be buried in unexpected places such as on a checkout screen or behind a hyperlink.

  • Hot bargains: It’s 90% discounted! Act now! It’s tough to resist a deal. But if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or worse, the online store itself could be fake, designed to capture your money or personal information. Criminals aim to entice you with a good deal so you’ll act with urgency, rather than thinking things through. 

  • Freebies: What’s more enticing than a deal? A freebie. Whether it’s a free trial, a prize, or a mysterious award, it’s suspicious when someone offers to give you something for nothing in exchange. Freebies can be tools for fraudsters to extract personally identifiable information (PII) from their targets. It can be difficult to halt recurring charges and cancel shipments once you’ve disclosed your information, according to the Better Business Bureau. 

Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Check model numbers to ensure you’re buying a real-deal item and not a lower quality lookalike. For Black Friday, for instance, some television manufacturers may release models offering fewer features or assembled with inexpensive components

  • Enter URLs directly to avoid the fraudulent results that search engines can yield 

  • Shop only on secure websites by looking for “https” (“s” stands for secure, which signals encryption) in the address bar along with a small lock icon

  • Avoid coupon sites and freebie offers that require you to give away information in order to protect your personal data 

  • Pay with a credit card to minimize your financial risk. If the transaction ends up being fraudulent, you may be responsible for only a small amount (say, a $50 maximum)

  • Look for a phone number and address to confirm that a company exists in real life before making a purchase

  • Read the fine print of purchase agreements to ensure that you don’t get stuck with a recurring charge or a no-refunds return policy

  • Search “scam” or “complaint” alongside the company name to find potential problems

If you’re ever in doubt, our restoration specialists are standing by to help you determine if something is a scam.

If you’re a member, you can give us a call and we’ll help you discern which deals are worth your hard-earned dollar. And if fraud should become identity theft, we’ll fully manage the recovery process from making phone calls to filing paperwork on your behalf.