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Black Friday online shopping draws scammers

Like most everything else, holiday shopping will be different in 2020. Long lines and crowded stores normally associated with this time of year are now considered activities more likely to spread germs than holiday cheer.

But not even the Grinch could steal Christmas.

Some retailers kicked off the holiday shopping season with deals beginning as early as October. Any sense of urgency that typically accompanies Black Friday purchases has been replaced by a much slower pace. Most of this year’s sales have been ongoing, and they’re almost all happening online.

With more people abiding by social-distancing requirements, online shopping in 2020 is now expected to see a 28% increase over last year.

But buyer beware: The internet is filled with fake sites, fraudulent deals and illegitimate retailers designed to dupe shoppers. A study released by Better Business Bureau revealed that more than 80% of consumers who reported an online purchase scam in 2020 lost money.

Every year, there’s always a few “must-have” toys topping holiday wish lists. Due to their high demand, those gifts tend to be expensive and hard to find. Scammers use the scarcity to trick consumers out of their holiday cash.

By lifting photos and logos from legitimate online retailers, con artists create fake websites offering in-demand toys at low prices. The messaging usually includes “last-minute deals” or “flash sales” or “limited quantities.” Unfortunately, many such offers are rarely as good as they appear.

One shopper reported to BBB Scam Tracker that a $59.99 Baby Yoda toy quickly fell short of expectations upon arrival.

“It was supposed to be animated and make sound. When I finally got it, it is an ugly plastic hand puppet. I contacted them for a refund and an address to send it back. They say I have to pay for shipping, and it will be $20.00. And they will give me a 10% refund.”

BBB recommends these tips to “Shop Safe, Shop Smart” this holiday season:

• Be a smart shopper. According to BBB survey respondents, out of the 57% who did not research the website or business before making a purchase, more than four out of five lost money. This year alone, BBB.org experienced a 383% increase in searches for online retailers. Shoppers aren’t just purchasing more products online right now; they’re also doing their homework;

• Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have tools to learn about your buying behaviors, enticing you with advertisements for products you want at low prices;

• Use secure and traceable methods of payment. According to BBB’s research, consumers who pay with a credit card are less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards or other non-traditional payment methods;

• If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivator for people who lost money on a purchase was price. Unreasonably low prices are a red flag. Scammers offer high-demand products at a significantly reduced dollar amount to make the item more enticing.

Find more resources on how to shop smart this holiday season at bbb.org.

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Roseann Freitas, marketplace manager Hawai‘i, Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, is at 900 Fort Street Mall, Ste. 1310, Honolulu, HI 96813 260-0643, or bbb.org.

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