BBB: How to tell fake shopping websites from real websites

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(Photo supplied/Indiana News Service)

What is bad for businesses can sometimes mean sales for shoppers, but the latest coronavirus scam is causing the Better Business Bureau Serving Central Indiana to remind you to make sure you aren’t falling for a con before you jump on a deal.

You are scrolling through your Facebook feed or doing a web search when you come across an advertisement for a going-out-of-business sale. The company is closing because of COVID-19 and selling off its inventory at what appears to be a great discount.

If you click on the ad or type in the promoted URL, it will lead you to a website selling anything from designer goods to electronics to novelty items. From looking at the photos, you may think the products seem like a great deal only to buy it and find out it’s nothing like it seems.

“One of two things is going to happen. Either the quality of the item you get is not going to be what you expect or you’re going to give your money and you’re not going to get anything in return,” says Tim Maniscalo, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau Serving Central Indiana. “Scammers have put up these fake websites saying they’re going out of business and they have fantastic prices on these great goods. These people will try and copy a well-known brand, a well-known store, that type of thing.”

Maniscalo says that recently happened to a person who ordered $250 worth of “designer” clothes from a New York-based store. Instead, they received low-quality items shipped from overseas.

“What was supposed to be cotton and/or linen was the worst quality polyester,” they told BBB. “The clothes, in general, were nowhere close to the advertised quality on the website images. Definitely NOT the quality I paid for.”

The key is knowing how to spot the difference between a legitimate and a phony website.

“Up in the URL bar, you should look for the letters ‘https.’ ‘S’ is the important letter there. That gives you additional security,” says Maniscalo.

If it begins with “https” instead of “http” it means the site is secured using an SSL certificate (the s stands for secure).

“Also a lot of times, those URL bars will have the little icon of the lock. That’s also some added security,” says Maniscalo.

Maniscalo says it’s so important to follow these tips because if you fall victim to this scam or any scam, it poses two challenges.

“If the scammers know the police are on to them, they’re just going to shut that website down and ten minutes later, they’re going to have another website come up. They’re probably going to be in a country where that government is not particularly interested in cooperating with international law enforcement,” says Maniscalo. “It’s almost impossible to catch them and when you do give them your money, that money is almost immediately sent outside the country and you may never get it back.”

Maniscalo urges you to go to https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/ to find scams near you and report a scam if you think one is happening.

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