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Scammers seek to target holiday shoppers as COVID pushes sales online

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INDIANAPOLIS — Holiday shopping will look different this year and it leaves an opening for scammers to target shoppers seeking virtual deals.

Reports of online shopping scams have already increased in 2020, according to the Better Business Bureau. Those scams often involve promises of special deals, which coincide with deals being offered by legitimate businesses hoping to make up lost sales this holiday season.

“Scammers are getting more and more sophisticated with technology and they can do very creative things to mask their identity and to claim they are somebody who they are not,” said Scott Barnhart, Director of Consumer Protection for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

John Edge, a Florida resident, clicked on an ad in a mobile game he was playing back in April. Edge thought he bought a DeWalt tool set from a company based in Indiana. Despite receiving a real-looking invoice and tracking numbers, he never received a package.

“I just got sick to my stomach and was like, ‘Dang, I’m out that money now,'” Edge said.

Edge corresponded with the supposed company, Somaop, through email. A representative apologized and claimed a new package was on the way, but once again it never arrived. Somaop is not registered as a business in Indiana and a Facebook page for the company is filled with complaints from customers who say they never received their orders.

“Oftentimes they are overseas and can be very difficult to track who exactly is behind that scam,” Barnhart said. “If the price is wildly out of line with the competitors then that is a strong sign that there’s area for concern.”

Barnhart suggested comparison shopping online if you find a good deal. In Edge’s case, the tool set he thought he was buying cost only $58, when it should have been hundreds of dollars. DeWalt also posted a warning on its website about scams using its name.

You should never pay for an item in unrelated gift cards or wire transfer. Your best bet, according to Barnhart, is to pay with a credit card and dispute the charge as soon as possible if an item does not arrive.

Edge contacted his bank too late to receive a refund. He wanted other shoppers to know that it can be easy to fall for a website that looks legitimate and even advertises on other sites.

“Just because they give you a tracking number doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed anything,” Edge said. “It showed the package coming here and it never made it.”

You can report online shopping scams to the FTC, Indiana Attorney General’s Office and Better Business Bureau.

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