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Online purchase scams are the riskiest type of fraud

Online purchase scams shot up from number four in 2016 to number one.
Online purchase scams shot up from number four in 2016 to number one. MCT

When Better Business Bureau recently released its 2018 Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report there were a couple of surprising and not-so surprising revelations. Not surprising was the 60 percent drop in tax collection scam reports. That is likely due to the 2016 arrest in India of the ringleader of a network of call centers primarily responsible for the IRS scam. It might also be to the amount of media attention tax scams garner each year.

But the biggest surprise we noticed in this latest report was that online purchase scams shot up from number four in 2016, to number one. The most common online purchase scams in 2017 were related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics and automobiles. The offer of free trials was a common tactic for these online purchases with 67 percent of scams involving cosmetics and 60 percent involving nutrition products mentioned as a free trial opportunity.

This recently hit close to home when your BBB received a report from a Ketchum area woman in January claiming she lost more than $350 to a free trial scam. The woman reports she purchased weight loss products online through a free trial offer where she was only required to pay the shipping and handling fees of $5.95. But two weeks later she was charged $92.97 for a monthly subscription of the product. Then she was charged another $92 two weeks later. The woman called the company, and they stopped the auto-draft payment, but she was only refunded $23.24, and despite paying for the second month of products, she never received them.

Free trial offers can be a great way to try out new products or services without making a long-term commitment. However, you should be aware that by accepting a free trial offer, you might be agreeing to buy additional products and services, if you do not cancel within a specified period.

Before you accept a free trial offer, be sure you know what your obligations will be. You may have to contact the company to cancel during the trial period to avoid receiving goods and services or paying for what you have already received. By not canceling, you may be agreeing to let the company enroll you in a membership, subscription or service contract, and to charge the fees to your credit card.

That’s why it’s so important to research a company before doing business with them. If you do find yourself a victim of this tricky marketing ploy, you can report the business to BBB at bbb.org or to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov. Read the full Risk Report at bbb.org/riskreport.

Veronica Craker, veronica.craker@thebbb.org, is the content and communications director for Better Business Bureau Northwest +Pacific. To check a business or report a scam, go to bbb.org or call 208-342-4649.

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