Holiday purchase scams are on the rise, warns the Better Business Bureau.

3 minute read

The 2021 labor shortage and supply chain issues are already causing many toys, electronics and other products to be in short supply this holiday season. If you’re trying to purchase holiday gifts that arrive on time, you could become an unwitting victim of an online purchase scam, warns the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

“Product shortages and increased online shopping are likely to result in even more online purchase scams this year,” according to the BBB. “Shortages are likely to make purchase scams even more common as desperate shoppers turn to shady websites in hopes of finding this year’s must-have gift.”

There’s nothing like desperation to drive holiday shoppers to take a few online purchase risks in hopes of getting their hands on out-of-stock products. But don’t be too quick to jump at just any seemingly great deal.

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1. Research the company and product

Before you pull out your credit card to buy that hard-to-find item, perform an online search for the company selling the product. Type in the company name, along with “scam” and “reviews” in the search box to see what comes up in search results. You may learn that the company frequently fails to deliver the product on time or all or has terrible customer service — or even worse, no customer service options at all.

Find out: Americans Are Shopping Earlier and Spending Less on the Holidays This Year

2. Be wary of unusually low prices

If the toy you can’t find at any retail store usually sells for $60, but you find it online for $20, that deal is likely too good to be true. Don’t be in such a hurry to scratch the item off your list that you discard common sense. If the price is significantly lower than what other retailers are charging, hold off on buying the item until you’ve researched the company selling the product to make sure the business is legitimate.

Find out: How to Make a Holiday Budget

3. Don’t be fooled by fake websites

Imposter websites abound, especially during the holidays, when online shoppers are ready to spend lots of money. Online shopping is easy and convenient, as long as you get what you pay for. If you hurriedly order from a fake website, however, you could be in for a holiday headache that no amount of eggnog will ease.

A fake website could simply be after your personal information to use for identity theft purposes, for example. Or you could provide your credit card information, only to learn later that the account was used to make fraudulent purchases. Fortunately, fake websites have a few tip-offs that are easy to spot, once you know the red flags.

For starters, closely examine the domain name of the website that’s selling the product. Fake websites often use a domain name that is extremely close to the real business’s domain name. The domain name may be a couple of letters off or slightly misspelled, for example. Also keep any eye out for other red flags such as typos, bad grammar and a date showing that the site was only recently created.

Find out: 8 Ways to Prep Now for Your Holiday Budget

4. Only pay on secure websites

Before you make a purchase on any website, make sure the URL begins with “https,” which means the site is secure. You’ll also see a small “lock” icon on the address bar if the site and payment process is secure. If you don’t see “https” and a lock icon in the site address, the site is not secure. Move on to other, secure websites to make your holiday purchases.

Find out: Don’t Get Wrapped Up in These Virtual Holiday Fair Scams

5. Avoid impulse buys on social media

It’s easy for scammers to track your buying behaviors and place ads that will catch your eye on Facebook or Instagram. You might think you’re multitasking by catching up with friends and family on social media while snagging a good deal via an ad that pops up on your page. Be careful, though.

Those enticing prices could be just a ploy to trick you into providing your credit card number or other personal information that scammers can use to steal your identity.

Find out: 7 Hacks to Help Stop Impulse Spending

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you made a purchase that was unsatisfactory, file a complaint with the BBB. “If you never got what you paid for, consider reporting it to the BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed,” says the BBB.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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