Shopping and Buying Online - Online Purchasing Scams and How to Avoid Them

Shopping and Buying Online Scams
Learn about the many ways you can be scammed while shopping and buying online!

Shopping onlinbe has become big business and for good reason; it can be easy, convenient, save gas, allows comparison of many products and services and

How You Can Get Scammed When Shopping and Buying Online

Scammers are buusy trying to trick you out of your hard earned-money by:

  1. Simple scam: there is no product, you send a check and get nothing in return
  2. Counterfeit product: your order a brand name product but a fake, knock-off or generic version
  3. Empty box:  You receive an empty box and the seller claims it must have been stolen in shipping and that's "your responsibility" (it isn't)
  4. Credit card thefy: You pay by credit card and they run up charges against your card
  5. Subscription or recurring charges scam: You knowlingly agree to receive repeated shipments, like month supplies of their products, when you thought you made a one-time purchase.

How to protect yourself and avoid getting scamed when purchasing online

When buying products online:

  1. Stick to reputable, well-established selling websites, like or directly from manufacturer websites for well known products like or
  2. Google the name of the individual or company and the word scam or complaints to ensure that they are legitimate.
  3. Get a physical address rather than just a post office box and a telephone number, and call the seller to see if the telephone number is correct and working.
  4. Send an e-mail to the seller to make sure the e-mail address is active, and be suspicious of those that use free e-mail services (like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail) where a credit card wasn�t required to open the account. Real companies have their own email service unfer their own domain name.
  5. Avoid sellers who won�t provide you with this type of information.
  6. Check with the Better Business Bureau from the seller's area.
  7. Don�t judge the seller or company by their website. Slick websites can be set up quickly.
  8. Be careful responding to offers that come in unsolicited emails.
  9. Avoid dealing with individuals and companies from outside your own country.
  10. Ask about returns and warranties and document their responses.  But realize theymay promise anything and later not stand behind it.
  11. Only purchase items online using your credit card, because you have additional protections, such as you can often dispute the charges if something goes wrong.
  12. Make sure the transaction is secure when you electronically send your credit card numbers. Look for https:// in the website address.
  13. Consider using an escrow or alternate payment service. 

Additional tips for specific situations:

Auction websites like eBay:

  • Understand as much as possible about how the auction works, what your obligations are as a buyer, and what the seller's obligations are before you bid.
  • Find out what actions the website/company takes if a problem occurs and consider insuring the transaction and shipment.
  • Learn as much as possible about the seller, especially if the only information you have is an e-mail address. If it is a business, check the Better Business Bureau where the seller/business is located.
  • Examine the feedback on the seller.
  • Determine what method of payment the seller is asking from the buyer and where he/she is asking to send payment.
  • If possible, purchase items online using your credit card, because you can often dispute the charges if something goes wrong.
  • Be cautious when dealing with sellers outside the United States. If a problem occurs with the auction transaction, it could be much more difficult to rectify.
  • Ask the seller about when delivery can be expected and whether the merchandise is covered by a warranty or can be exchanged if there is a problem.
  • Make sure there are no unexpected costs, including whether shipping and handling is included in the auction price.
  • There should be no reason to give out your social security number or driver's license number to the seller.

When using your credit card online:

In addition to the tips above:

  • Don�t give out your credit card number online unless the site is a secure and reputable. Sometimes a tiny icon of a padlock appears to symbolize a higher level of security to transmit data. This icon is not a guarantee of a secure site, but provides some assurance.
  • Don�t trust a site just because it claims to be secure.
  • Before using the site, check out the security/encryption software it uses.
  • Make sure the transaction is secure when you electronically send your credit card number.
    Keep a list of all your credit cards and account information along with the card issuer's contact information. If anything looks suspicious or you lose your credit card(s), contact the card issuer immediately.

Tips for Avoiding Investment Fraud:

  • Don�t invest in anything you are not absolutely sure about. Do your homework on the investment and the company to ensure that they are legitimate.
  • Be cautious when responding to special investment offers, especially through unsolicited e-mail.
  • Inquire about all the terms and conditions.

Tips for Avoiding Business Fraud:

  • Purchase merchandise directly from the individual/company that holds the trademark, copyright, or patent.

Anytime you need to go to a website for your bank, credit card companies or other personal, financial or confidential information; do not follow a link in an email; just type their address in your browser directly (such as )


Recommendations- What to do:

  • Only open email or IM attachments that come from a trusted source and that are expected
  • Use an anti-virus/anti-spam package (we recommend Norton 360 or Norton Internet Security scan all attachments prior to opening. Click here to see Norton 360 2013 on .
  • Delete the messages without opening any attachments
  • Do not click on links in emails that come from people you do not know and trust, even if it looks like it comes from a company you know.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date
  • Keep your operating system up to date with current security patches. Click here for an article that describes how to do this.

And please let us know about any suspicious calls or emails you receive.  We look for patterns so that we can alert the authorities and victims to new scams, before it is too late!



  • 16 CFR Part 310: Telemarketing Sales Rule; Notification of Termination of Caller ID Rulemaking Federal Register Notice (December 20, 2013)
  • 16 C.F.R. Part 310: Telemarketing Sales Rule Fees; Final Rule Updating the Fees Charged to Entities Accessing the National Do Not Call Registry (August 30, 2013)
  • 16 CFR Part 310: Telemarketing Sales Rule: Federal Register Notice Containing Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Soliciting Public Comment on Proposed Amendments to the Rule (July 9, 2013)


For a comprehensive list of national and international agencies to report scams, see this page.