Shoppers should be on the lookout for fake apps and lookalike websites
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is urging consumers planning to shop online during the holiday season to protect their money and personal information when doing so.
"Online shopping can be simple and convenient, but it can also put you at risk of scams and fraud," Cooper said. "No matter how you shop for the holidays, make sure you guard your money and your personal information."
Cooper offered tips last week for those consumers who were planning to shop on Black Friday either in person or online. More consumers than ever before are planning to shop online over the upcoming holiday season; therefore, everyone needs to be on the lookout for fake mobile shopping apps, lookalike websites, and similar problems.
The below tips can help online shoppers avoid being taken advantage of by frauds and misleading offers:
- Only shop on sites that you know and trust. When in doubt about any online retailer, check it out with the North Carolina Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division and the local Better Business Bureau. Online review sites such as Yelp, Angie's List, and Google Reviews can also help you spot potential issues. Beware of lookalike sites that might pop up or be included as a link in a phishing email.
- Be careful when using a shopping app. Many retailers have developed their own legitimate apps for shoppers' convenience. Taking a leaf out of their book, scammers have created phony lookalike apps to gain access to consumers' mobile devices. Take the following precautions before downloading a shopping app: check reviews, look for typos, and when possible, use a download link from the retailer's official website to download the app.
- Compare prices. Most online retailers claim to beat the prices set by their competitors, so don't take their word for it when you see such a claim. To make sure you are really getting the best deal, compare prices both online and at brick-and-mortar stores. In addition, be aware of phony items or knockoff products that may be of poorer quality.
- Thoroughly read return policies. The law does not require merchants to accept returned products. There are some online retailers that will not allow you to return an item to one of their brick-and-mortar locations, while others charge a restocking fee or refuse to process a return on an item that has already been opened. You may also be required by an online retailer to pay a shipping fee to return or exchange a product.
- Know how to contact the merchant directly. Before placing your order, get both the street address and phone number for the company and verify them. Take particular care when shopping on an overseas site, as no federal or state agency has legal authority over business deals made with merchants in other countries.
- Use secure websites only. Before entering any payment information into a site, make sure there is a lock icon in the address bar as well as a web address beginning with "https" instead of "http."
- Pay by credit card, not debit. If you order does not arrive or is in any way not what you expected, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company if you paid with a credit card. If your credit card number is stolen, your liability is limited to $50 under federal law. Have a chip card? Keep in mind that cards containing EMV chip technology are not more secure when it comes to online shopping.
- Avoid pop-ups. Be careful if a message appears at the end of an online purchase offering a discount on your next purchase. Such messages can trick you into signing up for a travel membership or another unwanted service with fees that will appear later on your credit card of bank statement.
- Be aware of when your order is scheduled to arrive. The federal Mail or Telephone Order Rule requires companies to ship your online or catalog order within the stated time. If you are not provided with a delivery date, the company has 30 days once it receives your order, and if the product does not ship on time, the seller has to notify you and allow you to cancel the order and receive a full refund.
- Getting a delivery? Get a signature. Thieves sometimes follow delivery trucks into neighborhoods and then steal packages left at the houses. If you expect a package to be delivered at a time when you are away from home, choose to have it held at the nearest service location.
- Keep records of all online orders you place. Save relevant information such as the product description, price, online receipt, order number, and customer service number. If you receive any confirmation emails from the merchant, archive them.
- Review your credit card statements. the North Carolina Attorney General's Office has received complaints from consumers regarding unauthorized charges that were billed to their account after they shopped online. If you find any charge that you did not consent to, contact your credit card company immediately and request a refund and a new card.
- Safeguard your identity. When shopping online, guard your Social Security, driver's license, and bank account numbers. Share financial information only on secure sites, never through email or social media. Do not respond to unsolicited messages requesting your personal information.
- Take immediate action if your information is compromised. If you receive notice that your information has been hacked, follow these steps to avoid having your identity stolen.