While it’s true that consumers can buy almost anything online, some of those goods are no good or include unexpected costs.
The totals are not in yet, but consumers were on track to spend an estimated $9.4 billion on Cyber Monday alone, according to Adobe Analytics.
Recently, many shoppers have complained to the Nebraska and Iowa attorneys general about never receiving refunds after they discovered that their purchases cost more than advertised or were counterfeit.
“Take the time to compare prices between online and brick-and-mortar retailers,” said Meghan Stoppel, chief of the consumer protection division of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. “While a price advertised online may initially appear lower, it may not include shipping and handling or restocking fees.”
Shoppers need to beware of unscrupulous people who are out to fool them or steal their money or personal information. Even if people stick to known online retailers such as Amazon and Walmart, they may encounter third-party vendors that fulfill orders and ship their own inventory.
Such third-party sellers are notorious for selling fakes, according to a 2018 study by the Government Accountability Office and a November article in the Washington Post. In fact, 20 of the 47 items that the GAO purchased from third-party sellers on five popular consumer websites were counterfeit.
“If you’ve never dealt with a particular retailer or website before, take a moment to do a little research,” Stoppel said. “With the Internet at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to find customer reviews and information about how a company responds to customer complaints. If you can’t find this information, consider making your purchase elsewhere.”
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Here are some ways to avoid questionable vendors:
Check out the seller
On Amazon and Walmart.com, look below the “Add to Cart” button to see the name of the entity that ships and sells the product. Click on the vendor’s name to see consumer reviews, return policies, contact information and other information. Search the name on the Better Business Bureau’s website and through a search engine to spot possible red flags.
Read customer reviews with caution
Consumer Reports advises that reviews on product pages are aggregated regardless of who the seller is.
“If you look closely, you may see reviews that are wildly different for the same product, which could be due to quality control issues, durability issues, and different customer experiences — or this could signal a problem,” the magazine notes.
Review the return policy
Some third-party sellers will offer a return policy equivalent to Amazon or Walmart, but others do not. If you cannot find a third-party seller’s policy on returns and exchanges, including whether the retailer charges a restocking fee and who pays for return shipping, you may wish to purchase your item elsewhere. Also, beware if there’s no way to contact a seller. If a seller states “no returns” or “all sales are final,” carefully consider that before placing an order. A reputable retailer will almost always accept returns and will clearly disclose its terms and conditions.
If your purchase isn’t what you expected and you seek a refund, contact the third-party seller first. If you do not receive a response or if you are denied a refund, you can see if you are eligible for a refund from the website that facilitated the purchase. You may be eligible for Amazon’s A-to-Z Guarantee, for example, but other retailers may cover only the products they sell directly.
Fraudulent sites and phishing attacks
Online shoppers also should beware of fraudulent websites that fool consumers into entering personal data and credit card information. Many scammers create websites that closely mimic a genuine e-commerce site or send out phishing emails and text messages promising big discounts or free gift cards. A report by cybersecurity firm NormShield says the number of potential phishing domains for 50 major e-commerce sites has multiplied six times in the past four years to 6,000, and NormShield expects the number to exceed 9,000 by the end of 2019.
Ways to protect yourself
Examine emails and texts carefully: Scammers can easily copy company logos and other details. Look for clues like generic greetings and misspellings to spot scam messages. If the message asks you to click a button to update account information or provide other details, stop. It’s always better to visit a web retailer’s site through your web browser to contact them regarding your account or to make purchases.
Protect your computer and mobile phone by using security software: Set the software to update automatically to ensure that it’s equipped to deal with the newest security threats. Using multifactor authentication also can provide security by requiring two or more credentials to log on to an account.
Look for the secure “S”: Does a website have “https://” at the beginning of a web address (and perhaps a padlock symbol before it)? The “s” stands for “secure,” which means that the information passed between your computer and the website is encrypted. This makes it difficult for hackers to intercept sensitive information that they could use to charge your credit card or, even worse, steal your identity. Keep in mind, however, that even a “secure” website doesn’t absolutely guarantee security — it simply means your data safely travels from your device to the site. A secure site does not ensure that the site stores your data securely or is legitimate to begin with.
Use your credit card: A credit card is generally the safest way to pay online. It provides you more protections than a debit card, prepaid money card or gift card. Credit card issuers generally offer you the ability to dispute charges for unsatisfactory goods and services and protect you from unauthorized charges if a criminal steals your credit card information. If you think you may have provided card information to a website that is fraudulent, contact your card issuer as soon as possible. Avoid sites that ask for payment by cashier’s check or wire transfer. However you pay, be sure to keep copies of your purchase records and emails.
Review financial statements: Make sure you were charged the right amount, and also make sure there aren’t any unauthorized charges after your purchase. If you discover something wrong, contact your card issuer immediately.
Be wary of purchase discounts tied to “free trial” offers: These often are buying club solicitations, which may lead to automatic billing for an unwanted membership if you don’t cancel by a certain date or charges in the future for goods or services you didn’t authorize.
Know the total price: Make sure it includes all charges including shipping, handling, insurance and taxes. Be sure coupons and other discounts are properly applied.
Know what you are buying: Watch for words like “refurbished,” “reconditioned,” “close-out,” “discontinued” or “as is.”
Check the fine print: Companies may charge “restocking fees” for items you wish to return.
Keep a record of your purchases: Keep track of what you ordered including the date of payment, the price and the payment method. Save any information the seller provides to you, such as product description, delivery date, cancellation policy, warranties and confirmation numbers.
How to file a complaint
If you believe you have been scammed, contact your local law enforcement agency or the consumer protection division of the Iowa or Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. To file a complaint in Nebraska, call 800-727-6432; in Iowa, call 888-777-4590.
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The moon rose over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in the early morning hours.
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Ed Morrissette a 95-year-old WWII veteran of Papillion, reminisced while toasting to his fallen comrades with a drink accompanied by John Adams, Tom Demro, Antonio Chickinelli and Jeff Hadden at Patriarch Distillers Inc. in La Vista, Nebraska, Thursday, June 6, 2019. Morrissette who was part of the second wave on D-Day at Omaha Beach drank a Canada Dry while the others had Soldier Valley Omaha Beach D-Day 75th anniversary bourbon whiskey.
Major League Baseball debuted in Omaha on Thursday June 13th as the Royals faced the Tigers at TD Ameritrade Park.
Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera signed autographs for fans prior to a Major League Baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
Omaha Burke's Jaylon Roussell jogged the field people to participating in the Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday Night Lights event at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Louisville's Adam Elliott warmed up before the start of game 7 of the College World Series.
Louisville's Drew Campbell celebrated a walk-off win on his hit in the bottom of the 9th against Mississippi State during game ten of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
Te'Andi Titus, left, and Kevin Kalaw, both of Omaha, read on the dock at Standing Bear Lake as a cool breeze swept over the lake, keeping the mosquitoes at bay.
Vanderbilt and Michigan faced off in the College World Series finals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska in 2019.
Michigan's Jordan Brewer and Jack Blomgren celebrated after defeating Vanderbilt in their College World Series game.
A B-2 stealth bomber flew over as Michigan stands during the National Anthem before their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt faces Michigan during their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt's Harrison Ray signed autographs before the start of game 3 of the CWS championship.
Vanderbilt fans celebrate at the Commodores capture a national title with a win over Michigan.
Michigan players mingled prior to their College World Series game against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt celebrated their win over Michigan during the third game of the champion series of the College World Series.
Chris Isaak performed at the free Memorial Park Concert at Memorial Park.
Omaha firefighter David Kirchofer provided water to Louie the dog, after Kirchofer helped battle a a fire at 5427 86th Court. Louie, who does not live in the unit that caught fire, was interested in all the action.
Ray Renk of San Francisco, California, holds his daughter Kennedy, 8, alongside his son Benjamin, 10, while sporting personalized suits and watching Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, walk the convention floor during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Phoebe the giraffe eats lettuce fed by visitors as the Lincoln Children's Zoo provides a sneak peek at their new exhibits and expansion in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thursday, May 9, 2019.
Lincoln Southeast’s Katie Whitehead, center, and Caroline Miller, right, celebrate with teammates including Ally Keitges, left, after winning the No. 1 doubles against Millard North during the NSAA Class A girls state tennis championship match at Koch Family Tennis Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Friday, May 17, 2019.
Omaha Bryanâ€™s Darwin Loftin lands a long jump during the Metro Conference track meet at Omaha Burke.
Millard West's Corbin Hawkins waits out the rain delay in the dugout. The baseball game between Millard West and Creighton Prep was postponed because of the weather.
Archbishop Bergan's Luke Jessen hits the center field wall trying to catch a hit from Millard West's Max Anderson resulting in an in-field home run during their state tournament game.
Crawford's Jillian Brennan (13) points up to the sky before the Class D 3,200-meter final at Omaha Burke High School during day one of the state track meet.
Gretna's Ashley Marsh connects with the ball alongside Marian's Maureen Tolley during the semifinal round of the Class A girls state soccer tournament at Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 11, 2019.
Elkhorn South players celebrate their championship while reading the name plate on the trophy after defeating Skutt during the NSAA Class B girls state soccer championship game Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
Jacob Himelick, left, a Millard north senior, chats with fellow senior Jace January as he signs January's year book. January likes to spend the time between classes greeting fellow students in the hallway.
Hannah Gruhlkey hugs her goat Griffin as he nibbles on her hair during a Country Bumpkin 4-H Club meeting at the Living Legend Farm.
Chipper Fyfe stands on a dike to see how far floodwaters have risen just west of Hamburg, Iowa.
Nebraska pitchers stay loose before their NCAA Regional game in Oklahoma City.
Tad Badje, 49, right, and wife Shelly Badje, 48, pepper Title Boxing Club's general manager, Chris Gerhardt's mid-section during a two-on-one body shot race as part of their work out at Title Boxing Club in Omaha, Nebraska.
Two-year-old Hannah Bonnot of Denver, Colorado, stands in awe before "Mountain Outlaw" taken at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, on display at Tom Mangelsen's "Life in the Wild" exhibition at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer walks through the tall grass at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska.
Canada geese fly over Flanagan Lake at sunset in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sunset is reflected in some open water at Flanagan Lake in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ian Murphy, canvases the nearly 90 snow people which are on display at the Leavenworth Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Neighbors such as Murphy say the snow people didn't exist yesterday and claim it happened over night or possibly early this morning.
Husker fans rock The Rock and corn hats in the first half as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln men's basketball team hosts Michigan State at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
An allosaurus appears to be eyeing a tasty, 19-month-old morsel named Austin Haseltine as he is lifted from the shoulders of his grandpa, Greg Fasano, by his mother, Amy Haseltine, with his father, Jim Haseltine looking on. The Dinosaur UpROAR exhibit at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft Street in Omaha, Nebraska, features 20 life-sized installations as well as discovery stations and educational activities set throughout the gardens.
The setting moon is framed by some dried flowers at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
A person goes for a run along the snow covered trails at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sun rises on a snow covered Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Pink and blue balloons float past the Sower statue on the Nebraska State Capitol after balloons were released for the 45th annual Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Steam rises over north downtown Omaha, Nebraska, as morning lows were below -10 degrees.
Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska, on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Heavy machinery stacks up concrete chunks on the shore of the Elkhorn River at the Q Street bridge as part of an effort to stabilize the bank on the recently flooded river.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Deputy Darin Morrissey rides an ATV through floodwaters in Hawaiian Village.
Omaha Roncalli's Shane Orr celebrates their double overtime win over Aurora during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Auburn bench and crowd react to Auburn's Cameron Binder hitting what would be the game winning shot against North Bend Central during the championship game in the Class C1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraskaâ€™s Adrian Martinez runs out of the end zone after a play during spring football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Treyton Gubser, left, and his uncle Daniel Gubser paddle using shovels through the floodwaters after they rescued Daniel's kid's cat, Bob, in Hamburg, Iowa.
Highway 81 is covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over a flooded Waterloo, Nebraska, in March.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville, Nebraska.
A Canada goose flies over Matthew J. Placzek's "Monument to Labor" sculpture as floodwaters from the Missouri River begin to recede on the Omaha riverfront.
Floodwaters closed Ave I at North 26th Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River in April.
Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski holds up the net after his team defeated Omaha Roncalli in the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Amelia Fritz, right, holds on to her daughter-in-law Tesha Fritz in Glenwood, Iowa. They were evacuated from Pacific Junction, Iowa, after floodwaters hit the town last night. They were part of 15-relatives all staying in the same house or in a camper in the front driveway.
Robert Jones looks around his flood damaged house north of Highway 50, near Louisville,Nebraska. The floor, which is normally a white tile, is covered in mud.
Aurora's Nicholas Hutsell, left, fouls Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lincoln Pius X's Charlie Easley, left, and and Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers stretch for a loose ball during the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's Trent Reardon, left and Jason Sjuts celebrate their victory over Fremont Bergan during the championship game in the Class D1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Aurora's Kaleb Moural wipes the sweat from his face during the second half against Omaha Roncalli during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bob the cat looks on from a basket in a boat after being rescued from floodwaters in Hamburg, Iowa.
A vehicle is stuck in floodwaters near 1st Street and Pierce Street in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tim Rockford, left, and David Bauer, tour the Bellwood Lakes neighborhood which was destroyed by the flooding days prior along the Platte River in Bellwood, Nebraska.
Lincoln East's Charlotte Bovaird practices her shot and she and her teammates warm up in the hallways before the start of the game. Lincoln East played Millard South in a Class A first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Westside poses with the championship plaque with the winning score on the wall behind them after Omaha Westside defeated Millard North 54-53 at Omaha Westside in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Saenz of Bellevue works out at FIT IN THE CITY in Papillion, Nebraska.