Q and A: Protecting the online shopper

When online shopping, who do you trust?  Los Angele's Scambook ( has some hints and tips on how to make sure you can trust an online retailer. Photo:, online retailer watchdog web site

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2012 – With only a few more days before Christmas, many are scrambling to get the last minute shopping done and plenty of online retailers are tempting shoppers with promises of “Delivery by Christmas.”

Who do you trust? Scambook is an online watchdog group where you can check out online retailers, read feedback from other consumers and Scambook’s Advice for Online Retail Shopping

Over 30 million consumers are the victim of online shopping fraud.  ScamBook works to resolve issues, in the third quarter of 2012 m facilitating over $895K in resolutions. 

The group also works to provide information to consumers, often via the press, of scams they should be aware of.  We asked Kase Chong, Director of Marketing a few questions about onlines shopping safety.

What is the biggest mistake consumers make online?

The biggest mistake consumers make online is jumping on a deal without researching the website first. It’s extremely important to make sure the merchant is reputable before completing any financial transactions. The second most common mistake is buying something just because it’s advertised as a hot deal, without doing any price comparison research or reviewing the site’s terms and conditions of sale. It’s important to make sure the discount is really worth it and verify that there are no hidden fees.

What can consumers look for at an online retail site?

Today, virtually anything can be purchased from an online retail site and consumers can find great details over the web. However, it’s important to shop only at legitimate, trusted websites to avoid being scammed or falling victim to identity theft.

Before purchasing from an online retailer, we advise consumers to search for “[company name] review.” See what other consumers have to say about this website and its products or services. However, Scambook reminds consumers to take these third-party reviews with a grain of salt and remember that the reviewers are still strangers (or possibly employees of the company!)

Finally, make sure you can find the online retailer’s contact information as well as their return policy. Read all the fine print and make sure you won’t be signing up for any membership subscriptions or paying for anything except the product you want.

Are consumer logos, like VeriSign, enough to say a site is safe?

No. Consumer logos like VeriSign, Truste, and McAfee are only as safe as the merchants themselves. These companies verify a website’s security technology but they don’t examine the site’s business practices, its services, or its product inventory. A retail site displaying a VeriSign logo isn’t guaranteed.

Should consumers only shop from known retailers?

It’s always safer to purchase from retailers you trust personally. Scambook recommends that consumers always shop on sites they know before going to a new online retailer. Many new, up-and-coming stores advertise great deals online, but it’s difficult to say whether consumers can trust them. Be very careful buying from new online stores that haven’t existed long enough to accumulate independent reviews.

Who is the biggest target?

Anyone who shops during the holiday season can fall victim to the manipulating sales tactics. Online retailers are relying on consumers who don’t pay attention or think before they buy. Avoid falling victim to bad business practices by taking time to educate yourself, make a shopping list, and create a budget.

When we receive emails from unknown retailers should we be more cautious?

Yes. It’s very suspicious to receive emails from an unknown retailer. Ask yourself; did I sign up to be on this company’s mailing list? How did they get my email? If you’re not sure, it’s a red flag.

Should we always look for free shipping and returns?

Yes. However, be mindful that many retailers will have special conditional policies due to the holiday season. They may offer free returns for the holiday season only, or they may require a special packing slip to accept returns. Don’t get sucked in by free shipping. Sometimes, retailers use free shipping to reel you in but mark up the prices to compensate for the promotion. Always research the market price for a product before jumping on a deal or special offer.

Can we assume that all online retailers will allow after Xmas returns?

No. Always look for the retailer’s written condition. If possible, take a screenshot of their promotion or print a copy just in case you need to file a dispute in the future. Scambook also recommends contacting the retailer’s customer support. Never engage in any kind of online transaction without reading the fine print and understanding the details.

As always, consumers can visit and search Scambook’s complaint database for information about any online retail site.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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