The 2023 holiday shopping season promises to be an unpredictable one. Electronics, toys and other products will be in short supply, especially with many people starting their holiday shopping early, thanks to several early Black Friday promotions.
Retailers are also expecting to see continued growth in online shopping. Unfortunately, the combination of possible product shortages and increased online shopping means online purchase scams will likely be on the rise again this holiday season.
Online retail scams accounted for nearly a third of all scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2022, and scammers are putting their focus on shoppers who are distracted by their mission to find the year's "must-have gifts."
BBB recommends the following tips to shop safe and shop smart this holiday season:
— Research before you buy. Use BBB.org and shopper reviews to do your homework before paying. Also, read our tips for spotting phony reviews.
If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Many people reported it was the price that lured them into a false purchase. Don't shop on price alone.
— Beware of fake websites. Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the website's domain and search for contact information. If an address is offered, check it online to see if it really exists at the location provided. BBB offers additional tips to identify a fake website.
Professional photos do not mean it's a real offer. Respondents reported website photos motivated them to unknowingly engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories and vehicles.
— Make sure the website is secure. Look for the "https" in the URL (the extra s is for "secure") and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only "http" -- it is not secure.
— Be careful purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers falsely claim to have the most popular products for the season at great prices.
— Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
— Look for the BBB seal. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify their accreditation by visiting BBB.org.
— Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB's research, those who paid with a credit card were less likely to lose money. Be cautious when using digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards or other non-traditional payment methods.
Shipment tracking information can be faked. With so many people shopping online, fake tracking text messages and emails spike during the holidays. If you receive a message, avoid clicking on the tracking link and instead visit the shipper's website at a URL you know to be authentic and type in the tracking number to see if it is an authentic message.
Count on BBB to help you shop safe and shop smart through the holiday season by visiting our Holiday HQ site at BBB.org/holiday.
If you run into any concerns about your purchases, you can turn to BBB for assistance at bbb.org/complaints. If you find you've been targeted by a shopping scam, reach out to your financial institution and/or law enforcement. Please also consider reporting it to BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed.
Join us for the Festive Forest Kickoff
BBB is teaming up with EPB and city of Chattanooga to light up Miller Park with our Festive Forest holiday event. We're partnering with local companies and organizations to creatively decorate 50 Frazier Firs for everyone to enjoy throughout the holidays.
The Festive Forest goes live at 5 p.m. Wednesday as EPB unveils its holiday windows -- and our lighted display will continue through the year.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.