The Internet is a great place to shop. But, at times, it can be difficult to tell if you’re looking at the Web site of a reputable business or a fraud. Criminals and the ethically challenged are increasingly taking advantage of this fact to separate you from your money.

The scams are numerous but you can greatly decrease your odds of becoming a victim.  First and foremost, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Nobody is going to pay you to move millions of dollars around for them and merchants are not in the business of loosing money. If you’re about to purchase something for less than you figure the merchant purchased it for, they may just be after your credit card number.

Some areas are more problematic than others. For example, the Internet is rife with questionable self improvement and Internet marketing products. Some appear inexpensive and bury recurring subscriptions in the terms that many people don’t read. Others provide a poor quality product with a money back guarantee and ignore complaints and refund requests. If you stumble upon one of these sites you’ll often see two tip-offs:

First, their sales pages follow the benefit-testimonial-product-bonus-repeat formula. They tell you how the product will help you, provide a testimonial, offer the product, offer another bonus, and repeat. When you see this formula keep in mind that the “testimonials” are often solicited, purchased or fake.  And, if the product was really any good, they wouldn’t have to give you “free” bonuses and claim to be offering you time-limited deeply discounted prices.

Second, many of these sites do not provide an address, telephone number, or email address.  If they do, the address is a PO box, the voicemail box is full, and email is unanswered.  The latter two are easy to check, but make sure you know the cost of where you are calling and use an email account that has good spam filtering options.

But what about those online merchants that offer reasonable prices and seem legitimate?  Check them out!

To begin, search for negative information using Google.  Since many unscrupulous merchants litter the Internet with fake or purchased testimonials, often as part of their Internet marketing approach, search for the domain name along with keywords like “fraud” and “scam”.  If you find a lot of people have had issues with the company, you’ll have your answer. However, watch out for Web sites that include the keywords but try to sell you the same or another product. They’re simply using the keywords to attract people checking the company out!

Next, check with the Better Business Bureau.  Most, if not all, now offer online access to records. While it’s not unusual for a large volume retailer to have the occasional complaint, it’s the resolution that counts. If the company fails to respond to the BBB that should be a major red flag.

Finally, reputable online merchants provide a variety of contact information on their web sites, answer their phone and respond to email.  In fact, reputable merchants encourage customers to contact them because they know that providing excellent customer service leads to repeat business and referrals. Contact them and ask a good question about their business, which product they recommend or for information on the product you’re considering.  Remember that if they don’t treat you well before they get your business, you can expect to be treated poorly or completely ignored after they get your money.

Even with these precautions, it is still possible to be caught up in a scam.  If this happens, immediately contact your credit card issuer and dispute the charge.  If you’re paying through PayPal, keep in mind that you only have 30 days to open a dispute — do not allow a merchant to string you along past the 30 day deadline or PayPal won’t help you.

Never pay for Internet purchases using a cash payment system like Western Union.  If you don’t get what you pay for, you have no recourse. Your money is gone.

Above all, use common sense, and remember:  If it looks too good to be true…

2 Responses to Avoiding Internet Fraud

  1. InternetFraud
    Apr 20, 2009

    This article provides us with precious information on different methods of scamming, and on how we should avoid it.


  1. Internet fraud | Eric Jacksch

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