Cyber Monday — Dec. 2 this year — is poised to be among the biggest shopping days of the year. The National Retail Federation estimates total retail sales for the season to reach as high as $730.7 billion, and 56 percent of holiday shoppers plan on clicking to shop.
While most online retailers are reliable, some are not. Better Business Bureau received more than 32,000 complaints about online retailers and more than 7,200 BBB Scam Tracker reports about online purchase scams so far in 2019. Online purchase scams ranked as the second riskiest scam of 2018 in the St. Louis region.
A St. Louis woman told BBB Scam Tracker in late October 2019 she never received a college sports-themed gift she purchased for her husband in early September 2019. She said the company charged her credit card the day of the purchase and sent an order confirmation, but never sent a shipping confirmation, nor did the purchased item ever arrive. The woman told BBB when she attempted to contact the company, its phone number had been disconnected, and the website URL listed in the order confirmation email pointed to a day care in Australia.
Shoppers can prepare themselves for online shopping by watching ads and browsing for the items they're seeking in advance. Many online retailers already have set up sites where Cyber Monday offers will be advertised. Unless you're educated, it can be hard to tell whether an online deal actually will save you money. Read a site's policies for returns and understand shipping schedules before you enter your credit card number.
BBB's 10 tips for safe online shopping are as follows:
1. Protect your computer. Install a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly.
2. Check a site's security settings before entering financial data, such as a credit card number. If the site is secure, the URL (web address) on the payment page should start with "https://."
3. Shop trustworthy websites. Look for BBB Accredited Business seals on websites and click to confirm they're valid. BBB's dynamic seal will take you to a site's BBB Business Profile. You also may find reviews at bbb.org.
5. Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may display free or low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs, or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
6. Beware of phishing. Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order, account or a package to lure the buyer into revealing financial information. If you receive such an email, BBB recommends you call the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm a problem.
7. Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don't receive an item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are any unauthorized charges on the card, and many card issuers have zero-liability policies if someone steals and uses your card number. Check your credit card statement regularly for unauthorized charges. Never wire money to someone you don't know.
8. Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page of an order or emails confirming the order until you receive the item and are satisfied.
9. Obtain a tracking number for shipments. If you need the product before the holidays, find out when the seller intends to ship it and, if possible, how it will be shipped. The tracking number can help you find a lost order.
10. Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by phone, mail or online be shipped by the date promised or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If goods aren't shipped on time, shoppers can cancel and demand a refund. Consumers also may reject merchandise if it is defective or was misrepresented.
Check a company's BBB Business Profile before you make a purchase by going to bbb.org or by calling 573-886-8965.
Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.