How to avoid merchandise scams

Merchandise scams topped the list of complaints reported to in 2017, beating out check fraud, phishing emails, phone scams and other similar crimes. Merchandise scams can happen to anyone, regardless of whether or not you have ever had your information stolen.

In this type of scam, a victim makes a purchase online. Usually, the issue is that an item never arrives after the payment was made, but it can also happen when a cheap knockoff of the item arrives instead of the high-dollar item that was advertised with stolen images of the real thing. Typical items that scammers sell to lure in victims include cars or boats, dogs/puppies, airfare and accommodations, sought-after tickets to concerts or sporting events, and high-priced electronics.

There are a few ways to avoid merchandise scams, but they involve being particularly discerning. Follow these tips to help avoid a scam:

  1. Avoid sight-unseen purchases: Never pay for an item sight-unseen unless you can guarantee your payment method will be secure. A service like PayPal or Amazon Pay or using a credit card can help protect you, so if the seller refuses to accept any of those payment methods, something isn’t right.
  2. Consider the message behind the payment method requested: Never pay for an item with an untraceable payment method. There’s a reason scammers demand iTunes gift cards, wire transfers or prepaid debit cards: once you supply them with the payment or the card information, your money is gone. Insisting on one of those methods should make you stop immediately.
  3. Avoid “too good to be true pricing:” If you’re getting the deal of the century — no matter what plausible excuse the seller gives — think twice before you make the transaction.
  4. Make sure the stories make sense: There are a few common stories in merchandise scams. The seller might claim to be a deployed soldier who can’t talk on the phone or meet you in person or the dog breeder might string you along with one unexpected fee after another. Wouldn’t an experienced breeder know all the required fees? Why would someone sell a car from halfway around the world without someone trustworthy to ensure that they weren’t the ones getting ripped off.

The internet is a great resource for retail shopping and finding obscure items, but it’s also an easy way to swim in the shark-infested waters of scams and fraud. Be on the lookout, trust your judgment and walk away if something isn’t right.