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How to spot fakery when websites offer shoppers unusually deep discounts

This screen capture of the BBB Scam Tracker shows nearly 3,500 “online purchase” scams.
This screen capture of the BBB Scam Tracker shows nearly 3,500 “online purchase” scams.

When it comes to buying pretty much anything other than groceries, I do research. I look at websites, coupons available and upcoming discounts. Who doesn’t love a good deal?

Online shopping can be a great thing, but the Better Business Bureau is hearing reports of bad experiences with deep-discount websites. This capture of the BBB Scam Tracker screen shows nearly 3,500 “online purchase” scams reported, with some as recent as last week.

Yes, there are legitimate sites offering deals. But some “shops” offering products well below the typical price are ripping off customers. You may find these sites on a web search or a social-media post. Often, the advertisement is for designer clothing, electronics or sports-team memorabilia, and the deals are amazing. For example, the BBB reports that one scam website offers $400 designer handbags for $49. The website looks real: It has the company logo and pictures of products, and it uses the brand name in the URL.

No matter how tempted you are by an unreasonably good deal, don’t fall for it. In the best-case scenario, you will be buying counterfeit goods. Some shopping-scam victims report unauthorized charges on their credit cards after purchase. Sharing personal information with scammers opens you up to identity fraud.

Here’s how to spot a fake website:

1. Don’t place faith in the design or logo: A site may have the logo or design of a legitimate retailer, but that can be easily copied from the real website.

2. Realize that contact info may be fake: The lack of any contact information is a huge red flag and probably means a scam. But some fake websites craftily provide fake contact info. Consumers report calling a toll-free number to confirm the website’s legitimacy. The scammers simply impersonate the company.

3. Double check the URLs: Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use one of the new top level domains (brandwebsite.app or brandwebsite.bargain). Not all sites using these new domains are scams, but many are so check them carefully.

4. Look for a secure connection: Make sure your personal information is being transmitted securely by ensuring the web address starts with HTTPS and displays a lock.

5. Watch for deep-discount deals: Comparison shop, and be suspicious of a site that has prices significantly lower than those listed elsewhere.

If you’re uncertain about a website, do more online research and read what others say about it. If you don’t like what you see, steer clear.

Emily Valla, emily.valla@thebbb.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.

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