Have you ever bought something online because a notice popped up suggesting that the viewed item was nearly sold out? Perhaps you’ve bought something under pressure of a timer that urged you to complete your purchase before the item is deleted from your cart? These common online selling tactics are called ‘dark patterns’ and they are used by online retailers to play on shoppers’ emotions and insecurities when shopping online. Don’t be fooled. Here is what to look for – and be suspicious of:
Notices that a product is nearly sold-out.
Timers that limit the time a product can stay in your shopping cart.
Messages that suggest there is high demand for an item in your shopping cart.
Countdown timers that restart when your refresh the webpage.
Before shopping online, be sure to secure your computer or mobile device with up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Set your operating system and web browser to update automatically, ensuring your devices have the latest protections.
Use a pop-up blocker and do not open files, click on links, or download programs sent to you by strangers. Pop-ups are used to expose your devices to a virus.
If you shop online using a public Wi-Fi, install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will allow you to securely send and receive information on a shared or public network. If you do use a public wi-fi, look for indicators that you are on a secure website before you send any personal information including account or payment information. Make sure the site you use has SSL (secure sockets layer) Encryption installed. You will know if it does because the site will start with HTTPS—instead of just HTTP. You should also see a locked padlock icon appearing to the left of the URL in the web address bar.
Finally, if you are shopping online using a mobile device, take steps to ensure the device and any personal information stored on it is secure if lost or stolen:
Set up a remote wipe that allows you to take everything off your device.
Enable a find-your-device option so it can be found.
Select settings to make your device undiscoverable; and
Turn Bluetooth OFF when you are not using it.
Online shopping is easy to love. What’s more fun then finding what you need and – after a few clicks and a short wait – having it show up at your door? Except when it doesn’t. Fake companies and identity thieves can turn the joy of buying into a nightmare.
Trust Where You Shop. Shopping IRL (in real life) offers this advantage. You will know the business and their existing inventory. But on the web, some businesses are fabricated by people who just want your credit card information or other personal details.
Avoid online retailers if you cannot verify their listed physical locations and customer service phone numbers. Anyone can set up an online shop, list a physical location and phone number; that does not guarantee the business is legitimate. Research unfamiliar companies before you place an order.
Do an online image search of the product and any other images the seller has posted to see where the product is coming from, how much it really costs and who else is selling it. Watch this video to learn how to do that.
When making online purchases pay with a credit card. Credit cards provide protections that allow you to dispute charges if an item is not delivered or is not as promised. For more information, see our Attorney General Consumer Alert Card v Debit Card – Know the difference.
The Better Business Bureau reports the most common place to find sites selling counterfeit goods is on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, which share the same ad network. A study by two cybersecurity experts found that one in four Facebook ads for fashion and luxury goods are linked to websites selling counterfeits.
The International Trademark Association has warned consumers about shopping on social media and encourages anyone shopping online to check a brand’s list of authorized retailers and look for suspicious errors in spelling of the brand name or trademark. Researchers report difficulty distinguishing real from fake items based on Instagram images, and even trademark holders of a brand have difficulty spotting a fake unless they actually buy the item. Read about more online shopping tips in our Attorney General Consumer Alert, “Drop-shipping: What You Need to Know Before You Buy or Sell Online.”
And even if a product is not counterfeit, read the seller’s description carefully — especially the fine print. Is it “refurbished,” “vintage,” “gently used” or a “close out”? A bargain price may mean the item is in less-than-new condition.
Know the terms of the deal. What is the delivery date? (Federal law requires
sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised.)
Locate and learn their refund policy. Can you return the item for a full refund? Who pays shipping costs? Are there any restocking fees?
To learn more about a product, brand or seller, type the name into a search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” You can also check out a company by contacting the Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team or by searching the Better Business Bureau’s website.
In addition to shopping on a secure website, never use text or email to send your personal or financial information like your credit card, checking account, or Social Security Number — it is not secure. Give as little personal information as possible when you place an order. Some sites sell your information to other merchants, direct marketers, and even telemarketers.
Uncheck any box that allows the seller to share any of your information or that signs you up to receive more offers or communication from the seller other than updates about your order. (You can also do a control/find search for “opt out” language in any terms of agreement or posted privacy policies.)
Making an online purchase requires providing your email to the retailer so they can send confirmation, receipt, and tracking information. They also use this information to send promotional material, discounts, and coupons. Retailers are often affiliated with other companies and will share your email with them, increasing the amount of emails you receive.
Creating a separate email account for online purchases will keep your inbox less cluttered and help you locate and organize specific topics. If you start to get too many emails or no longer need it, you can easily delete the account and no longer receive future communications from those vendors.
To report fraud or if you have a general consumer complaint, contact the Michigan Attorney General: