Shop Smarter This Holiday Season
When shopping for your loved ones, you may look for handmade products from individual sellers or small businesses. Online marketplaces, such as Etsy, have grown in popularity over the past few years, but with that popularity comes opportunities for scammers. In this blog we will highlight online scams, offer local alternatives for holiday shopping, and let you know what to do if you suspect you are a victim of fraud.
Sellers asking for alternative payment methods- If you are shopping on an online marketplace that has independent sellers, be sure to use payments options through the website that you are with. Once you pay through a third-party app (Venmo or Cash App), send a check, or send a gift card, the website cannot offer you any purchase protection. Scammers will accept your payment, but may not send the product to you, send a damaged product, or send a product that does not match the description that was promised. Reputable online marketplaces have policies in place to protect both the buyer and the seller, so adhere to their terms and conditions.
Check the reviews of the independent seller before purchasing their products- Online platforms allow you to read reviews from other customers to help you determine whether a seller is reputable or not. Previous unsatisfied customers often leave reviews if they have been scammed, or the product quality is not what they expected. If there are a lot of negative reviews, it is probably best to move on and find an alternative.
Products priced significantly lower than similar options- Scammers typically offer deals that seem too good to be true. If an offer is too good to be true, it probably is. There has been an uptick in online sellers claiming to have high quality homemade products, but are actually selling mass produced products that are made of cheap materials. What looks like a great deal might turn out to be a scam. Be wary of sellers offering steep discounts or prices far under other similar items.
Suspicious messages and links- You may receive suspicious messages from the seller, or phishing emails that ask for your personal information. Never provide any personal information to these sellers, or reply/open links of phishing emails. Phishing emails are emails from scammers that are pretending to be an organization that you are familiar with. Check the email address, and verify the URL of the website. It may look like you are logging into a reputable website, but it may be an attempt to steal your information to make unauthorized purchases. Suspicious messages on websites you frequent may look similar to phishing emails. You will be asked to provide information or money to scam sellers that will use your information for their own financial gain. Remember – never click on links inside of emails, and check to make sure the website you think you’re on is the website you’re on. Most reputable marketplace websites (like Etsy or Airbnb) have messaging right within the app/website itself – this is an important way to protect you from scams, spam, and fraud. Be very careful about giving out your email address directly to a seller – if they ‘prefer’ to communicate outside of the website/app, it’s a red flag that you should find another seller.
Local Alternatives-If you want to avoid taking chances on ‘homemade’ products from unknown sellers, Maine has a variety of small craft stores, and craft fairs that offer high quality products. Not only will this positively impact small businesses and independent local sellers, but it will give you piece of mind. Fairs and Festivals lists details of upcoming craft fairs in Maine, and the list can be found here. Maine Made also has an events page that lists craft shows, holiday pop ups, and more. There is a filter that allows you to search by region, event type, and month, to ensure you are finding events that match your interests. Another great resource for local handcrafted items is https://www.mainemade.com/ .
What you should do if you think you have been scammed, or a victim of fraud-
- Try to work with the website you purchased the product through. Some websites offer purchase protection, and allow you to put in a claim to get refunded.
- Report the scam to your State’s consumer agency. Maine’s can be found here.
- Notify your financial institution if you believe someone has used your card in an unauthorized manner. If someone has stolen your card information, you can cancel your card and have a new one issued. To determine whether an unrecognized transaction is fraudulent or disputed, and what steps to take, please click here.
- Periodically review your credit report to ensure there is no suspicious activity.