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More scammers targeting online shoppers since pandemic

Consumer protection experts say scammers know more people are online and are using that to their advantage
Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 10:26 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - There have been 220,000 complaints about COVID-19 related scams nationwide. The new numbers from the Federal Trade Commission show more than $157 million has been lost since the pandemic began.

Wisconsin itself has lost more than $1.7 million to scammers. Consumer protection agencies say complaints related to online shopping scams are on the top of the list.

Scammers are using social media to lure consumers to fake websites.

It happened to a Fond du Lac woman named Tesha. She says she was scrolling through social media when an ad for a coat caught her eye from a site called MagicOceanBox.com.

She said it looked legitimate and she even saw reviews on the site. However, having buyers remorse was an understatement.

“When I received this piece of merchandise, it was nothing like it was advertised,” she said. “The fabric itself was not knitted at all, it looked like it was maybe a five or ten dollar piece of material.”

She then emailed the seller to ask for her money back, but had no luck at getting things resolved. She had wasted $50 and reached out to the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau for help. The website that Tesha bought her coat from is also one of the websites the BBB is monitoring.

“The pandemic is a scammer’s paradise,” said BBB Southwest Wisconsin Regional Director Tiffany Bernhardt Schultz. “We’re seeing all types of different scams.”

Bernhardt Schultz says online shopping scams are happening much more often now and the BBB expects that number to rise to number one for 2020.

“You just Google an item that you’re looking for and a website pops up that you may or may not be familiar with, and so many websites were created during the pandemic,” she said.

The scam itself varies- some victims report buying something that they later find out is counterfeit, whereas others say they paid for an item that they never received.

Lara Sutherlin with the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection said that all people are vulnerable right now to this type of scam, because all of us are online in an unprecedented way. She says scammers know we’re all shopping online more these days.

With the holiday season on the horizon, consumers may be wondering what more they can be doing to protect themselves. The first thing is recognizing when there are red flags. The BBB recommended to avoid using websites you are not familiar with. If you do use a website you don’t recognize, do your research.

Shoppers should also look for things like spelling errors, seller contact information and when the site was created. The BBB noted if you find a site that was created since the pandemic has started, it’s a huge red flag. You can check a site by looking it up on here.

The BBB also said it is best to pay with a credit card when you shop online, because if something goes wrong it is easier to get your money back.

If you come across a website and believe it to be a scam, it’s best to report it to your local Better Business Bureau or DATCP.

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