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Newport Beach-based Better Business Bureau shares tips to shop safe and smart this holiday season

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the marketplace including consumer purchasing trends. According to the National Retail Federation, people are predicted to spend just under $1,000 on holiday gifts, slightly less than 2019. The rush of crowds is expected to be reduced, due to social distancing requirements and shopping will most likely be online. Better Business Bureau Serving the Pacific Southwest (BBB) based in Newport Beach is warning consumers that the shift to online shopping can lead to an increase in scams.

Since January, BBB had over 1.5 million inquiries about online retailers, received over 3,000 complaints and reviewed 569 scam reports with consumer losses totaling $298,027 in the Pacific Southwest region. Online shopping has been in the top three riskiest scams for the last three years, according to the 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report.

Experts predict at least a 35 percent increase in e-commerce sales allowing retailers to enhance online offerings much earlier than the traditional Black Friday deals. For consumers, this also means more reading, researching and checking on both the products and sellers. “We recommend that consumers contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to verify the legitimacy of the business prior to making an online purchase” says Gwen Earle, Orange County Regional Director.

In addition, BBB recommends the following tips to “Shop Safe, Shop Smart”:

  • Research before you buy. Of the 57 percent who did not research the website or business before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money. Verify a business on bbb.org before making a purchase.
  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Price was the top motivating factor for people who made a purchase and lost money. Don’t shop based on price alone.
  • Make sure the website is secure and legitimate. Look for the “https” in the URL (the “s” is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. A website with only “http” is NOT secure. Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, misleading photos, search for contact information and read online reviews.
  • Be careful purchasing sought-after products. Scammers watch trends and offer the most popular products for the season at too good to be true prices.
  • Beware of making purchases on social media sites. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors and seemingly offer exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
  • Use a secure payment method. Those who pay with a credit card are less likely to lose money and have more recourse if something goes wrong. Be cautious when paying through digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards or other non-traditional payment methods.
  • Be cautious before clicking. Shipment tracking information or codes can be faked. Look closely to make sure it is a legitimate business. Avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it is real.

For more information on how to spot and protect yourself from current scams targeting you and your business, attend BBB’s free webinar on December 1 facilitated by the Federal Trade Commission. More tips are available at BBB.org/holiday-tips. Consumers unhappy with a purchase, can file a complaint at BBB.org/complaints. Scams can be reported to BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid the same pitfall.

This article was released by the Better Business Bureau.