Shopping online amid inflation crunch? Here are 6 tips to avoid scams

With high consumer prices brought on by inflation, many US consumers are looking closely for the best deals, and scammers are ready to lure online shoppers to fraudulent websites with “unbeatable” prices, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Not every unfamiliar website is suspicious, but some can lead to sites that deliver low-quality products or nothing at all, according to the Washington-based Better Business Bureau of the Great West and Pacific.

Though inflation has slipped from the four-decade high it reached in June, people are still grappling with high consumer prices.

Consumer prices jumped 8.5% in July compared with a year earlier, the government said Wednesday, down from a 9.1% year-over-year jump in June.

When shopping for the best online deals, “The key is knowing how to spot suspicious websites and using trusted resources to research a business before making a purchase, said the BBB in a news statement. “Unfamiliar websites aren’t always a bad thing — you may have just found your new favorite small business!”

The BBB encourages consumers to be extra cautious when making online purchases from unfamiliar websites and be mindful of the following tips:

1. Check the design quality

Low-quality visuals, odd layouts and poor web design can all be warning signs of a fake website. Ask yourself if the design quality measures up to the reputation of the business or person it represents. However, scammers are catching on to how important design quality is to appear more convincing, the BBB warns, so be sure to also look for any grammatical errors and inconsistent content quality.

2. Pay attention to address and contact information

Legitimate online stores should have a contact section with a physical address and functional phone number. Consider looking up the address to check whether it really is where the business is located. The BBB suggests calling the customer service number to verify it’s operational and to get a sense of how responsive the business is.

3. Check for a clear and transparent return policy

Return and shipping policies should be clear and easy to understand, the BBB said. If a shop shares policies, but you are concerned the site is not legitimate, copy and paste the policy section into a search engine to see if it’s been copied and pasted from another website.

4. Do a search for reviews and potential scams

Try searching for the website name along with the word “scam” or “reviews.” If other people have been victims of a fake site, you might find reports of scams. A reputable store should have plenty of reviews for you to examine. The BBB warns reviews that are generic, robotic, unnatural or too brief could be fake.

You can also check BBB business profiles on BBB.org to view ratings, potential consumer alerts, complaint reports and verified customer reviews.

5. Shop online with a credit card

In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card provides some protection. It’s also another outlet to report the incident and potentially get your money back.

6. Keep documentation of your order

Save a copy of the confirmation page or email confirmation. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s mail order rule, 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 cannot ship within the promised time, they must give you a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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