We want to help you "keep your spirits bright" during the holidays, so your BBB reminds you to do your homework before buying that perfect addition to your decorating collection from an online ad. BBB is receiving more and more reports on BBB Scam Tracker about false advertisements and phony promises for holiday décor, many of which are being touted on social media.
How the scam works
You are searching for some holiday decorations for your home or lawn. You come across the ideal item(s) through a social media ad or a search result. The photos on the website look great and the decorations are larger-than-life with incredible lights and/or features and, best of all, low prices.
You make your payment and wait for the decorations to arrive. However, when your package is delivered, the product could be nothing like what you saw online. In some cases you might not receive anything at all.
It's likely you'll struggle to locate the company or an ad again, leaving you without a way to return the items or receive a refund directly from the business.
A great example happened last year when a consumer says she purchased a rainbow colored Christmas tree from a social media ad. The ad listed the price at just $27.99 and pictured what appeared to be a 7-foot tree with branches fully adorned in rainbow colors.
When her package arrived the purchaser was shocked to find a miniature tree with just five colored branches – so small that one news outlet compared it to a handheld feather duster. She was charged $34.00 for shipping and handling on top of the original price. When she returned to the company's website she realized they were located in another country.
Research shows a similar tree 7-foot colored tree retails for $150- $200 on sites offered by reputable US retailers, while a miniature tree retails for $10 or less. The old adage, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," certainly rang true here.
How to avoid holiday décor scams
Your BBB suggests the following tips to help you avoid having your holiday spirit dimmed by unscrupulous advertisers:
— Do your research before you buy. Before you make a purchase on an unfamiliar website, check out the company. Make sure they have working contact information. This should include a telephone number, email address, and, preferably, a physical address. Verify that the address is valid by checking aerial or street front images that can be found online. Look on other websites for reviews of the company and reports of scams. Check out business ratings and customer reviews on BBB.org.
— Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Keep in mind that large decorations that involve special lights and technology are expensive. If you find something amazing for cheap, it could be a scam or have inferior quality. Do some comparison shopping and be wary of hard to find items being offered at extremely low prices.
— Don't make quick purchases on social media. Scam advertisers can track your buying habits from social media ads and then target you with specific products they think you'll fall for. Don't buy anything on impulse while scrolling through your feed. Do research first to avoid getting scammed.
— Always use your credit card for online purchases. Credit card companies allow you to dispute fraudulent charges, a resource you may not have at your disposal if you purchase an item with a debit or gift card. You should also check your credit card statements regularly to make sure your account isn't duplicated by the online retailer and used to make other purchases.
For more information. Review the BBB Tip: Shop Safe and Shop Smart this Holiday Season on BBB's website for more ways to protect yourself from scams while holiday shopping.
If you spot a scam, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others recognize a scam before they fall victim.
You can also contact your local BBB team with questions at 423-266-6144.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.