Be wary of scams when deal-hunting.

As holiday shopping rears its ugly head, we can anticipate more scams.

Let’s say John Smith did some Black Friday/Cyber Monday internet bargain-finding.
He found a deal he’d been dreaming of. A price too good to be true, and, to his sorrow, several weeks later it turns out that it wasn’t true at all.

Here are several common scam types:

  1. You purchase from an online retailer, but never receive information or a package.
    The seller fails to reply when you try to contact their helpline.
    You contact your bank, card company, or PayPal, and have them cancel that transaction.
    Suddenly, the seller is responsive! They supply a tracking number that was delivered to your approximate area. Onward to scam type two.
  2. You receive a real tracking number, but never get the package.
    On further investigation, the tracking number was for something sent to the same area (town, zip code, etc.), making it easy to shift blame onto the package delivery service.
    However the tracking number isn’t for your package – it doesn’t have your address, and often has a very different weight. Even if you’ve been given a valid tracking number, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your package is real!
    And now you, the scam victim, are stuck with the burden of proof.
  3. You receive a tracking number, and the package associated with it is sent to you, but isn’t what you ordered.
    Perhaps you open it up, think “what the H-E-double-hockysticks is this?” and promptly forget about it…
    A month or so later, when you realize that you never got those fancy pajamas, you realize that the time window to contest the charge is now closed.
    (This is a common scheme for international scam packages – even if you want to return it for your money back, the postage to ship it back may be more than what the item or refund is worth). For example, mailing a package from China to the USA is far less expensive than vice versa.

eBay and PayPal will almost always side with the scammer if they can produce a tracking number that got delivered in your town. And, regardless of how they’re doing this, scammers seem to be pretty good at finding tracking numbers.
You can appeal this, by showing evidence that the item you ordered was not the item that they sent. The US Post Office, FedEx, and UPS all have the ability to check the addresses associated with their tracking numbers, and sometimes may have GPS coordinates for delivery as well. If you have a FedEx or UPS tracking number, chances are you can get the package weight and dimensions from their tracking websites, too.

Here’s a story from a relatively local eastern Idahoan who experienced a valid tracking number scheme earlier this year. The comments below the story are good and discuss a number of scam websites and apps to avoid buying from.

Safeguard your purchases ahead of time by checking the sale websites – google it, and see if folks think it’s a good place to shop, or if the website sells lower-quality items than it claims. Do a search on the Better Business Bureau’s “Scam Tracker” to see if the site you’re contemplating buying your firepit or that steal of a computer from is legitimate.
Consider trying to call the helpline phone number provided on an online retailer’s website. Be wary if an online retailer redirects you to a new website to pay via PayPal.

If you receive a package you’re not expecting, take pictures of it while you open it.
Photograph the label and tracking number, and record the weight and parcel dimensions – it might pay off just a little ways down the road.

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