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.
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 eBay.com 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.
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