7 Tips to Protect Yourself from Online Scammers
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Black Friday, great prices, what's not to love? Getting swindled 😡!!! If it can happen to me (a savvy computer tech) it can happen to you! Let me show you what I did wrong so you don't fall into the same trap!
Confession from a Computer Technician
I've been a computer tech for over 20 years. I've never gotten a virus on my computer nor had my identity or credit card number stolen (except that time in Vegas).
However, I've been scammed twice online while shopping!
One time on Amazon over a Sony mirrorless camera and the other day while helping my father find a deal on a Breville espresso machine.
If it can happen to me (and I know what to look for) it can happen to you! Let me show you how NOT to fall in the same trap!
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
What's the #1 bait Scammers Use?
A Price You Can't Refuse!
That's right. These clever thieves understand human nature and how the world wide web works. They are incredibly sneaky and know how circumvent the system!
Every shopper loves to save money, is proud of finding a great deal and can't resist the greatest marketing technique of all time: Scarcity!
Buy NOW before it's gone or buy NOW to get that ridiculously low rate!
That's how I fell into the trap even though my GUT told me the website and offer were a scam. That's right! MY GUT the whole transaction was screaming FAKE but human emotion took over. I wanted my daddy to get the best deal for his morning espresso! ☕ Awwwww!
Here are the clues along the way that were screaming 😱 the deal was fake!
The Quick Tip-off List
The website name was generic (an unknown retailer).
The price was too good to be true.
The deal didn't show up in Google's shopping list.
The website was a paid Ad on Google to rank it higher on the search engine.
There were no reviews on the website.
The website only accepted PayPal (what online merchant doesn't accept credit cards???).
The Final Tip-off that I was Swindled?
My dad was in a rush to buy his deeply discounted coffee machine (55% off). I was working and distracted and we accidently entered the wrong shipping address during checkout and didn't realize until after we paid. I immediately attempted to contact the company. Uh oh! The customer support number was not in service! The support email listed on the website returned undeliverable!
(blackfridaycoffee is the fraudulent website that swindled me. Please don't shop there!)
Busted! Ever know that feeling? It's not a good one!
The funny thing is that before I purchased I thought everything looked good. I double checked the website on my computer and not just on my dad's iPad. It had a phone number, an address and email address. There were other kitchen items, so the theme fit. They had a stated refund policy. There were no ads on the page. No misspellings. Looked good at first glance!
The website even had the Chrome padlock in the address bar identifying it as a secure website. It also had a valid certificate (which shows up when you click on the padlock).
So this is a legitimate website. This thief's level of cleverness is pretty incredible. He (or she) didn't contaminate the site with spyware, viruses or malware that steals information without my knowledge. According to Google, it's a valid place to shop!!!
In fact, this scammer didn't STEAL anything from me, I handed over my money to him willingly!!!
Of course, the entire transaction was deceitful. There's no Breville espresso machine coming, sorry daddy. 😢 And it will be some time before we know if we'll get our money back!
7 Tips to Protect Yourself from Scammers
# 1 Control your emotions. Stop worrying about scarcity and losing a great deal. I'm serious! The marketing manipulation is unbelievably effective: 'buy now or you'll forever lose this deal' creates emotional anxiety and manipulates us to buy. This puts sellers in the control seat.
I love a good sale and saving money, there's nothing wrong with that! At times I'll watch an item and wait to see if the price goes down. But this puts ME in control of the buying decision NOT the seller. I don't care as much anymore if I save a few dollars. I'll buy it when I decide I'm ready for it.
# 2 Walk away from deals that are too good to be true. How do you know if the deal is too good to be true? Compare prices on other sites. The coffee machine my dad was looking for was selling for a minimum of $600 everywhere else. The price that baited him in? $299.99. No one else, and I mean no one, had this machine for that low! HUGE TIP OFF.
# 3 Check the domain name in the address bar of your browser. Another huge tip was the website name, blackfridaycoffee dot com. Who is that anyway? I normally shop on Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, JC Penney, Vitacost...you get my drift!!! Shop at well-known retailers not from websites that are unheard of! Also make sure you aren't redirected to a different website than the one you clicked on or that the name isn't misspelled.
# 4 Are there product or shopper reviews on the website? If not, it's an indication that no one shops there and probably for good reason!
# 5 Verify the contact information on the website. Drop them an email. Do they reply? Call the customer service line (don't purchase over the phone in case they pretend to be a salesperson). Check Google Maps to see if their address is real and matches their description.
# 6 Go to who.is to check vital info about the website. You'll look for 3 important details. When the website was registered, the registrant's name and address and what is listed under similar domains.
For example, notice the difference between blackfridaycoffee and Macy's information.
blackfridaycoffee domain was registered just a few weeks ago!
And it's registered to someone in Panama by WhoisGuard?
Now compare Macy's date, a company with a long record of service.
And the registrant info is definitely more transparent and accurate.
blackfridaycoffee has porn names under similar domains and Macy's doesn't.
(not shown here for obvious reasons)
# 7 Pay attention to how you found the website. Is the link a paid Ad on Google from the official website? My dad searched google for 'breville espresso machine black friday sale'. The first link Google listed was an Ad but it's the Official Website for breville.com. This is a legitimate link. It's ok that it's an Ad. Many companies will pay to show up high on Google.
My dad however clicked the Ad below Breville and thought it was taking him to Breville's special sale. Unfortunately, scammers will also pay to have their Ads high up on Google. Not only do they recoup the money it costs to buy the Ad, they make huge profits depending on how many people buy from them.
To check if a website is unsafe to browse due to malware or viruses use this link
https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/search Just know it's not useful if the site is clean like the fraudulent one I went to.
I hope these tips will provide you with enough information to protect yourself from the trap of an online scammer!!!
What If You've Been Scammed Already?
I'm sorry to say, you're in for a big hassle! I've wasted so much time on the phone with my credit card, PayPal (twice) and FedEx trying to resolve this and get my money back. And I'm still NOT DONE.
Initially, I was grateful that I used PayPal since they have buyer protection but they also have seller protection. PayPal warned me that if the merchant provided a real tracking number after the item was shipped, they would close the case in the sellers favor.
Well, can you guess what happened next?
The very clever fake merchant sent a "package" to an unknown address in my town and provided PayPal with a real tracking number. My case was closed and not in my favor!
Meanwhile, I never received a package although FedEx declares it delivered. FedEx refuse to provide me the address the package was delivered to and so I can't prove to PayPal that I never received it.
To prove to PayPal that the package sent was also fraudulent I gave them the information listed in my tracking number about the package that was supposedly deliverd to me. Fedex shows by order was shipped in an envelope that weights 2 pounds.
Ummmm...Breville barista coffee machines weigh 17 pounds and do NOT fit in an envelope!!! 😲 Still PayPal refuses to see change the status of my case.
I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone!!!
Now, it's up to my credit card company to save me.
I will keep you posted as to what happens with my case.
The only way to truly protect yourself is to think twice before you hit the PAY button!
Check the fine print on your choice of payment be it credit card, bank account or PayPal. Do they provide buyer protection, if so, what are the details? What proof do you need to provide? You always have a right to dispute a charge but you might not always win.
NEVER send money through PayPal as a friend unless you KNOW the person WELL.
***PayPal buyer protection does NOT cover money you send via friends and family***
A friend of mine told me a story about a woman in her online group who was scammed thousands of dollars through PayPal. She thought she was buying a car and the seller requested that she send the money as a friend. Well, she never received a car and the thief walked away with thousands of dollars and there was nothing she could do about it! 😡
These are the steps I took immediately after realizing I was scammed...
I called my credit card company, closed my account and opened a new one to change my account number (probably overkill but I felt safer doing so). Just be warned, my credit card would not reverse, cancel or dispute the transaction until it was complete. And said I wouldn't receive a refund until I didn't receive the item.
I called PayPal and reported the fraudulent merchant. They give merchants 10 days to respond. If the merchant fails to respond or the item is never received you get your money back, unless the merchant provides a tracking number.
I changed my PayPal password.
I reported blackfridaycoffee dot com to Google's safe browsing page which you can find here. Even though it isn't technically a phishing site I gave additional details to Google explaining what happened.
After a few days, I went online and disputed the charge with my credit card company.
Your Action items
Never give anyone access to your computer, phone or personal information that you don't trust.
Never send money through Friends or Family method on PayPal, unless you know the person. Use a credit card when shopping or ask your credit card company for a one time use credit card number. (Thanks Shannon K. for that tip).
Make sure you are using an antivirus program on your computer and that it's up to date.
When shopping online follow the 7 steps outlined above to protect yourself from scammers!
Don't forget to check out some other articles you might have missed...
The Truth about Racism (my 2nd most popular post)
Harsh Truths From Your Introverted Friends (my most popular post so far 😀)