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Online shopping provides a fast, convenient platform for purchasing goods. There are several ways to shop online. You can buy from the online store of your favorite company, for instance Gap or Best Buy, or from an online warehouse like Amazon or Overstock. You can also bid on items available on sites such as EBay or buy directly from another person, for example through Craigslist.

However, while online shopping might make it easy for you to shop, it also makes it easy for thieves to scam you. Be wary when shopping online, and follow these tips to ensure that you are protecting yourself.

Do your homework

Check for reviews before purchasing. Read a store’s return policy or research the seller whose item you are bidding on. Did the item arrive when promised? Was the material of good quality? Did the item fit true to size? Read our blog on a common clothing scam that sends consumers cheap knock-offs of the items they purchased. If several customers have the same complaint, be wary.

If the website is offering discounted name-brand clothing, call the company directly and ask if the website you are thinking of buying through is an authorized dealer.

If you’re buying from a private citizen, try to verify the price. Research the price of buying the item new and learn for what used versions typically sell. Watch out for “shilling,” a scam which involves the use of phantom buyers who help increase the price of a product in an online auction by placing phony bids. Sometimes, these competitive buyers are actually false identities created by the seller in order to place bids at their own auctions. Ask for pictures of the item if there are not any. Ask for multiple angles. Be suspicious if the seller says they can’t provide a photo. Someone selling their own belongings should have no issue taking a picture of them.

How to pay:

If you’re shopping on a store’s website, make sure it’s secure. Check for “https” in the website’s browser. The “s” indicates the site is secure and the merchant is using encryption technology to keep your information safe.

If you are participating in an online auction or buying from a stranger, pay with a credit card. If the seller misrepresents the product or fails to send it to you, you may dispute the charges through your credit card company. You may not be able to do this with a debit card. You can also consider sites like PayPal which can hold payments if there is a transaction dispute, or use a reputable escrow service if the seller cannot accept credit cards. For a fee, these companies will hold your payment and release it to the seller only after you have confirmed your receipt of the product.

Never send or give cash or a check directly to someone. If you are meeting the seller, choose a well-lit, public place to exchange goods for cash. Several police departments allow residents to use their parking lots or lobbies for this purpose. If a seller is unwilling to meet you at a police department, that’s a red flag.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.


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