Buyer beware: Hoosiers’ online purchases look nothing like advertised products

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INDIANAPOLIS — Complaints to the Better Business Bureau about online purchases rose in 2020, as shoppers described spending hundreds of dollars for items that left them disappointed.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers team heard from consumers who stumbled on deals that turned out to be too good to be true.

When Karla Ray saw a Facebook ad for seaglass Christmas trees, she thought she’d stumbled on the perfect gifts.

“I clicked on it and ordered 10,” Ray said. “I just totally trusted that it would be okay.”

After a long wait, Ray received 10 plastic trees that looked nothing like the advertisement.

“I spent $195 … they were probably only worth a quarter a piece,” Ray said.

The same thing happened to another consumer who purchased two toy dogs through an ad on Pinterest. The website advertising the dogs claimed they were lifelike, “handmade” and “hand sculpted,” but the consumer received two stuffed animals instead.

“It is a little bit of a leap of faith when you do shop online,” said BBB of Central Indiana CEO Tim Maniscalo.

More than a third of all reports made to the BBB’s Scam Tracker tool in 2020 involved online purchases, including a report made by Ray.

“I don’t know what to look for obviously, so I would appreciate knowing a red flag,” Ray said.

Red flag number one: a website without much information. Ray bought through a social media ad and said she did not recognize the website or pay attention to its particulars.

“Do they have a customer service number? You might want to call that ahead of time just to see if somebody answers the phone,” Maniscalo said.

In the case of the stuffed dogs, CBS4 looked also through terms of service found on the website, which noted, “We do not warrant that the quality of any products … obtained by you will meet your expectations.” No one answered a phone number for the company and an email received an auto-reply rather than a personalized response, both additional red flags.

Another trick can be to right-click photos, download them and then upload them into Google Images. CBS4 did that with the dog photos and found hundreds of nearly identical sites advertising the same product, many with bad reviews and complaints.

Ray did get a refund by disputing the purchase through her credit card company, but she had to pay $35 to ship the items back. She won’t be shopping online the same way again.

“I won’t order anything from a Facebook ad at all and they’re really tempting, you know, there’s a lot of good stuff,” Ray said.

If you think you stumbled on a possible scam or want to report a suspicious purchase, go to the BBB’s Scamtracker website by clicking the link here.

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