Online Bargain Shopping Pitfalls: Top 5 Signs You’re Being Conned

by Guest Blogger on 2009-01-2613

Don’t get conned when you’re hunting for sales and bargain shopping online. Here’s how to find out if the deal sites you’re dealing with are on the up and up.

SVB: I got to know Joe Wallace, the editor of Cheap Today, a shopping site, who’s impressed me with a lot of his online bargain shopping experiences, tips and tricks. Joe is in love with finding bargains, but has a particular love for deals on gadgets, electronics, and DVDs. Some call this an obsession; he prefers to think of it as a way of life. I’d like to thank him for his contribution to our site today.

In our current economy, holding out for the hot bargain is a way of life. Every retailer in America is selling their wares at between 40% and 75% off the regular price. Not all at once, to be sure — the way retail works includes putting some really tasty product — a home stereo, expensive jeans or your favorite TV show on DVD — on sale at a deep discount in hopes that customers will also pick up a few items at the regular price. That’s standard operating procedure, but now electronics sellers, fashionista shops and home improvement centers have upped the ante, with bigger sales, more enticements.

As the editor of a deals site, it’s my job to find all these huge sales and deep discounts. I mention this for two reasons. I see this stuff all the time, so I run into a lot of deals that turn out to be non-starters because of high shipping fees, discounts that are just too low compared to good sales, and stuff that nobody wants. I also come across the occasional dodgy site that doesn’t look quite right.

online bargain shopping, signs you're being conned

These sites LOOK like ordinary retailers, but they’re not. They are credit card harvesting schemes designed to do one thing: part you from your money. Here’s how some of them work. You find a site that promises cheap deals on big ticket items and everything under the sun. They take your credit card number and pretend to fulfill your order, or fulfill it badly. When you try to contact them to get a refund or make a return, they just never get back in touch.

In the same way that has a set of built-in risks for those who don’t know how scammers try to game the system, shopping for bargains online also has a few pitfalls to avoid. But how do you spot the warning signs that you’re leaving Bargain Country and driving into the heart of Scam City?

Online Bargain Shopping Pitfalls: Signs You’re Getting Conned!

Warning Sign #1: EVERYTHING Is On Sale.

When you find a deal site you’ve never heard of before, take a look at the volume of deep discounts they offer. Remember how the retail game works: retailers put some tempting items on sale while keeping some products at the usual price. Look in any grocery store, big box retailer or online vendor and you’ll find this principle at work. So question any site that offers ALL its wares for impossibly cheap prices. It’s not necessarily the kiss of death, but it’s definitely something to keep your eye on. This becomes more of an issue when combined with any one or more of our other warning signs.

Warning Sign #2: Shoddy Design, Badly Written Copy, Amateurish Presentation

Let’s face it, many scammers aren’t that bright. If they were, they’d be busy doing something better than trying to cheat you out of your hard-earned cash, right? One scammer profiled on a prime time network investigative news report couldn’t even spell Barack Obama’s name properly.

Was it any shock that “vendor” was hawking fake Obama autographs? Beware the site that just doesn’t look like the professionally designed retail sites you’re used to. And though many vendors do sell legitimate goods and services with a “Web 1.0” presentation, even some of these retailers may have a bit of spit-n-polish on their sites.

Warning Sign #3: Restrictive or Complicated Return Policies

Check the fine print on any new online retailer or bargain clearinghouse. What is their return policy? Some scam sites don’t even have one listed. Never purchase from a site that doesn’t have a clearly stated return policy including what to do if your order is dead on arrival, broken in transit, defective, or otherwise unsatisfactory.

Warning Sign #4: No Contact Information

This is a HUGE red flag. In my own work, I refuse to use any online vendor that doesn’t list a contact phone number. They may do everything else correctly — listing a contact address, e-mail, hours of operation or even a “live chat” function, but if they don’t have a contact telephone number, our deals site simply doesn’t use them. If you can’t speak to a live human, don’t bother ordering from that company. The risk is too great.

Warning Sign #5: Bad Results on Google

Before I commit money, I like to do a bit of homework on new vendors, online retailers, landlords, publishing houses, you name it. What happens when you Google the name of that groovy new deal clearinghouse you just found? What about when you Google “Joe Blow’s Electronics Emporium and Puppy Mill” along with the phrase “scam” or “ripoff”? I discovered a notorious internet scam running on one online company using this tactic. Use this with caution — because chances are, you’ll find search results claiming rip-offs and scams even with established, big box retailers (big corporations can attract many a disgruntled customer). But when dealing with a no-name company, this search tactic can be pretty effective. Customer reviews can tell you a lot about how trustworthy a particular site may be.

As always, let the buyer beware. Keep your eyes peeled, do your homework, and always know the terms and conditions before you purchase from ANYBODY.

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew January 26, 2009 at 4:09 pm

I never buy anything online from a retailer I haven’t done business with before without checking Reseller Ratings first. If I’m looking for a kind of unique product and a store doesn’t have much of a web presence, I’ll call them to see how legit they are.

Sapra January 26, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Retailing margins between 40-75% are quite not good. I always prefer to visit deep discount sites and update my self with printed rates. January 27, 2009 at 1:16 am

It is sometimes also helpful to check the domain registration information of a site on If the site was registered recently by somebody who lives in a far away country, but are selling things in the US, it has a good chance of being a scam.


tom January 27, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Thanks for the tips. it is very important to do business with reputable and credible websites

Personal Finance Ology January 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Those are very good tips. I actually have my own website where I sell things. Lets just say that you would not purchase from me! I know it needs some work and you gave me very good ideas to work on. It seems to have a lot of potential, I may spring to have it professionally done. Right now it looks like it was made by a 12 year old. Surprisingly enough I still get a decent amount of sales, but I bet they would be a lot higher if it were a little more professional.

Start-Up January 27, 2009 at 3:06 pm

I generally do my deal shopping at Finding deals through forums allow you to wait until others have bought the product and commented on their own experiences. Also, it never hurts to do a quick search on any web retailer prior to making big ticket purchases. You can even find horror stories about Amazon’s return policy regarding big ticket electronics. As long as you do an appropriate amount of research there is nothing to worry about.

Civilizedweb January 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Nice and useful guide for online shoppers like me.

Jeff - Stretchydollar January 27, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Great tips – I do the majority of my shopping online, and it’s good to keep things like this is mind, especially when you’re looking for products a bit more ‘off the beaten path.’

Contractor NJ August 1, 2009 at 4:39 am

Great tips. As someone who does most of my shopping online, it’s always good to know what to look for!

Blastoff Network October 30, 2009 at 9:52 pm

There are lots of good deals to be had out there if you know where to look. My biggest issues have always been with ebay more so than with most other online retailers.

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