When the news began reporting the seriousness of COVID-19, a mass panic ensued. People everywhere began hoarding supplies. Everything from toilet paper, baby formula, bleach, face masks, and rubber gloves became scarce. Because of this, many of us turned to online sources for supplies. According to the FTC’s most recent Data Spotlight, in April and May of 2020, the FTC received more complaints about online ordering problems than any month on record. More than half of these complaints were for products that did not arrive, and people have reported losing more than $420,000.
Online shopping fraud has always existed, but reports of fraud typically spike during holiday shopping seasons. When COVID-19 hit, it was like Christmas for cybercriminals, only this time, instead of shopping for the latest “must-have” toys, people were shopping for essential items that stores could no longer keep in stock.
When Orders Don’t Arrive
Shady sellers began creating brand new websites offering hard-to-find products. In the midst of the panic, people didn’t care to research these companies. They simply saw that someone reportedly had an essential item available, and they wanted to get their hands on the item(s) before anyone else could. People ordered things like facemasks, thermometers, gloves, hand sanitizer, bleach, toilet paper, and other necessities. When orders didn’t arrive on time, scammers said that the pandemic was causing shipping delays. This story was believable to many, considering that even large, reputable online retailers like Amazon reported shipping delays. The problem was--months later, these orders still haven’t arrived. When shoppers began reporting undelivered orders to the FTC in April and May, facemasks were the #1 reported missing item.
How Can I Avoid COVID-19 Online Retail Scams
Always check out a seller before you make a purchase.
A company that you’ve never heard of or a website that doesn’t have any reviews is highly unlikely to be legitimate. To learn more about a company before you purchase, type the company name into a search engine with words like “reviews”, “complaints”, or “scam”.
Use your credit card or Paypal account.
If you’re charged for an order that never arrives, take advantage of the protections offered by Paypal or your card issuer and contact them to dispute the charge if your order doesn’t come. Scammers will often ask you to pay using a money order, pre-loaded money card, or wire transfer. This is because they don’t offer you protection as the buyer, and you’re unlikely ever to see your money again.
Use browser protection.
One of the main things we noticed with these popup online retailers is that the websites were very recently created. Providers of browser protection, like Guardio, will warn you when a site you’re visiting is too new to be trusted, so you’ll know to be overly cautious. If it’s already discovered that the site is a scam, Guardio will block it altogether.