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3 Easy Steps to Avoid Getting Scammed Online this Christmas

Updated on November 25, 2014

The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time of year with amazing food, spending time with loved ones, and the giving of gifts. Many times they are really expensive gifts. If you are like me, I love to be able to give people things that they would not buy for themselves: that expensive jacket, the amazing boots at the mall or that stunning piece of jewelry. And, if you are like me, you will make sure not to pay full price! This is where millions of people run into problems each year. They go online to the “outlet store” or “authorized dealer” and place their order only to never have the item show up, have fraudulent charges appear on their credit or debit cards, or, when the item does show up, it is obviously counterfeit. How can you protect yourself from the fake sites? Here are 3 easy steps to make sure your very merry does not become bah humbug.

Start at the Original Manufacturers Website

If you take a moment to Google something like The North Face Jacket Outlet or Ugg Boots Outlet, thousands of websites will pop up claiming to have the best and lowest prices out there, but which ones are real and which ones are fake? The best method to determining the duds is to start on the original manufactures website. Make sure you note the official name of the product, the price, this year’s colors and available sizes. If the original boots do not come in half sizes, the outlet version should not have half sizes. This little detail can save you a big headache and some tears later on so it is important to either print out the original item or take good notes.

Also, many times, the original manufacturer’s website will list authorized retailers both online and brick and mortar stores so if you are getting a fishy feeling, check out their site to see if the retailer is listed or call their customer service line. They are more than happy to help debunk the scam sites before you hand over your credit card digits.

Notice the sites that have URL that have nothing to do with cheap The North Face jackets.
Notice the sites that have URL that have nothing to do with cheap The North Face jackets. | Source
No Phone Number?
No Phone Number?

Choose your Site

Now that you have the insight you need to be an educated consumer, you can start Googling away. Once you find your site, there are a few things you are going to want to watch for that are tell-tale signs that the site might not be legit.

The Website Link

Check out the website name verses the website link. Does it make sense? Do they match? Is the website you clicked on the same as the one you ended up on? If you answered no to any of these questions, pick another site!

The Contact Page

The first section you should go to is the contact page. Does it have an address? A phone number? Or does it just have an online inquiry form to fill out? If there is only an online inquiry form and no customer service phone number: RUN! This is the point where I say, “Nope! Not ordering from you!” Any legitimate online retailer will have an easy to find posted phone number for their customer service department.

The Product Page

Here is where your gathered information comes in handy. So once you have verified that the website seems normal and they have a phone number for questions. Check out the merchandise. Are they only selling items like Black North Face Down Jacket or Purple North Face Fleece? After looking at your information, most fancy jackets and boots have a fancy name. They are not called Brown Ugg Boots or Black Patagonia Jacket. If you have the retailer’s phone number, call them and inquire what these items actually are. Sometimes they will say that they are “like items” that are not made by that same brand. This means they are fake. Go to Target or Walmart, you can get those similar items there as well and not run into a boat load of problems later when you have to return the item!

The FAQ Page

If you are still a little leery about the site, make sure to check out the FAQ page and see if there is a lot of grammar or spelling errors. For example:

Q: Are all your items in stock?

A: Generally speaking, all of our items listed on the website are available. But occasionally some items may be out of order due to strong demand. If you pickup an item and pay for it, but for any reason it is not available, we will contact you as quickly as possible, and either suggest you to choose the other similar item or process a promptly refund to your account.

Notice the little grammatical errors in the answer that a native English speaker would not make. Answers like this would make me question the site as well. Another thing in the FAQ section you need to look at is the return/exchange policies:

Q: How do I return a product purchased at this site?

A: We design our products to bring quality and performance to our customers' active life. We feel the same way about customer service. If you need to return or exchange an item, we will gladly make it happen.

Items can be returned for a refund or exchange within 7 days of the date of receipt. But the reason for returns caused by yourself (eg,size,color you choose), cannot be accepted.

Reserving the Right:

This site reserves the right to make adjustments to the Return & Exchange Policy. Special circumstances may require partnership with corporate business partners. For more information, please contact our customer service.

So if you read the policy, any normal reason you would return an item like you hate the color, the size is wrong, or you just do not like it, you can not return it. That seems weird and should cause you concern!

Don’t Be Afraid to Report these Sites

After doing your work to stay safe, keep others safe as well! Make sure you report fraudulent or questionable sites to the original manufacturers. They will thank you and so will your fellow consumers. During the holidays, the number of fraudulent sites greatly increases and their teams can not keep up so if you can help at all, please do so!

The holidays can be stressful, overwhelming and a pain but do not make them worse than they have to be! Plan accordingly, do your research and trust your gut! If you are still not sure, call the original manufacturer of the item and ask them. The time you spend on the phone with them will more than make up for the time you spend cancelling your credit card, running out to get another present or trying to explain to your crying kid why they are not getting that one perfect gift you saved up for all year!

Where Do you Do Most Of Your Holiday Shopping?

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