The pandemic forced consumers to shop more online, while opening the door for scammers to double down on their worst practices. Conmen preyed on these online consumers, taking advantage of the hard-to-find items by creating fake websites and substandard products and offering them at “too good to be true” prices.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against one of those bad actors. The FTC alleged that Frank Romero (doing business as Trend Deploy) failed to deliver advertised personal protective equipment (PPE) on time — if at all. The items sent were cloth masks, not N95 masks as advertised. Customers also were not told about shipping delays, offered order cancellations, or given refunds.
According to the FTC, when you shop online, sellers are supposed to ship your order within the time stated in their ads or within 30 days if the ads don’t give a time. If a seller can’t ship within the promised time, it has to give you a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.
Tips before you shopping on web with unfamiliar retailer
- Do online research of the company/product. Some of the best deals are only available online, but be careful. Search online for the name plus terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam” to see what others are saying. The website could be a fake site, so make sure you are shopping with a legitimate site. If the site is missing contact information or the seller has name-brand goods at steeply discounted prices, these are red flags. Check out retailers at BBB.org.
- Look at the terms of the sale. Make note of the total price, including taxes, shipping, and handling; the expected delivery date; and policies for refunds, including who pays for return shipping and if there is a restocking fee.
- Pay by credit card when possible. In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card provides additional protections; it’s easier to dispute charges that you didn’t approve or to get your money back if there is a problem. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards don’t have the same protections as a credit card.
- Do some comparison-shopping. Before you buy online, compare prices on different websites. The FTC offers tips at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/online-shopping#comparison.
- Be wary about online reviews. Reading other people’s opinions about a product can help you make a decision. But all reviews are not genuine and some are just made up or not completely honest. Some reviewers have been “paid” for their testimony.
- Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page or email confirmation until you receive the item and are satisfied. Be sure to know and understand the return policy and keep this documented with your purchase records.