Back in April, Yazmine Garcia, a college student from Dallas, said she was scrolling through her social media feed when an ad caught her eye.
“It's quick access. I click on the link and it took me automatically to a nail kit I was looking for,” said Garcia.
Garcia said she was looking for a do-it-yourself gel manicure kit to save money during the pandemic. She clicked through the ad, went to the website and purchased the kit.
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“It cost $30 bucks and that's how much I spend at one time at the nail salon,” said Garcia.
But weeks and weeks passed and the kit never came. Garcia received an order confirmation and a tracking number from China. She said she reached out to the company and didn’t get any clear answers.
“I kept contacting them and they just kind of looped me around. They're like, here's the tracing number. And the tracing number was the same for weeks,” said Garcia.
Nearly seven months later, the website appears to be down and Garcia isn’t holding out hope the kit will ever come.
Kristina White of Irving paid $22.96 for beauty cream in May after reading glowing reviews on social media.
“The reviews make you feel comfortable,” said White. “You feel like it's a regular person just like you.”
When White didn’t receive the small tube of cream in the mail several weeks later, she said she began contacting the company through email and couldn’t get any clear answers on the status of her order.
“It was some God-forsaken, off-the-wall tracking. Nothing related to UPS, FedEx, USPS, nothing like that. So, I wasn't able to even track this package,” said White.
More than five months later, White said she never received her purchase.
White and Garcia filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau which said reports of online shopping scams surged during the pandemic.
In 2015, the BBB said online purchase scams made up 13% of the scam reports with money lost at the BBB.
So far in 2020, it’s 64%,” according to Monica Horton – spokesperson for the BBB Serving North Central Texas.
“It's very easy to put up an authentic looking website these days,” said Horton.
Horton said the combination of shortages of high-demand products and shoppers staying home to stay safe fueled the rise in shopping scams.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more people reported problems with online shopping in April and May of 2020 than in any other months on record.
More than half of the shoppers told the FTC they never received what they ordered.
The scams aren’t likely to slow down as the holidays approach.
“I think with COVID-19, we saw a spike where people were purchasing in-demand items and they were purchasing those items online. We generally see this trend around the holidays when people are searching for those in-demand items and products, but it started a little early this year,” explained Horton.
Horton said consumers should understand scammers have the same tools legitimate companies use to market products to you on-line. Don’t trust that a site has been vetted just because the ad has been targeted to you on a social media platform you regularly use.
“The technology is in place where you're going to be followed with the items that you're actually shopping for. Retailers have access to that information, but you need to know that the crooks have access to that information, too. They're going to populate ads and pop-ups in your social media feeds that you have been searching for,” said Horton.
If you’re considering buying from a company or website you’ve never done business with, look up the company on another independent site. Check Google and the Better Business Bureau. You can search for complaints or navigate the BBB’s scam tracker tool.
You can also look into who created the website by looking up the owner of the domain name. You can copy and paste the website URL into https://www.whois.net/ to learn more about the site.
Horton said if the site is brand new or the owner information is private, investigate further.
You can also try a reverse Google Images search to check the authenticity of the photos you see in ads. Some scammers may steal high-quality images from a legitimate company. Look to see if the photos appear anywhere else on the internet before making a purchase by checking Google Images. In the search bar, click the camera outline on the right and upload the image from the site or paste in the URL. If you’re on a mobile device, there are third-party apps that help you conduct a reverse image search.
Finally, use a traceable form of payment like a credit or debit card to shop. That gives you the option to dispute a charge with your credit card company if you don’t receive the product or if what arrives is not what you paid for.
Horton said it’s important to note some scammers may send spoofed tracking information to your financial institution to resolve the dispute. Keep tabs on your disputed charge and be prepared to follow up if that’s the case.
“Who wants to lose $20? Who wants to lose $30, let alone, who wants to lose $5? Nobody does at this point,” said White.
White said she’s monitoring her credit after her experience and she’s sticking to shopping with companies she knows and trusts.
Garcia said she disputed the charge with her bank and it credited her debit card.
Looking back, Garcia said the company only offered an email to contact customer service. Garcia said looking for multiple points of contact, including a phone number, may help other customers avoid problems.
“I just hope others don't make that mistake because you worked for your money,” said Garcia.
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