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Tips for Avoiding Online Scammers


Brick and morter businesses have adapted their business models to include more online shopping availability. Let’s not lose sight of the scammers out there that want the opportunity to take advantage of you for their benefit. In The Moment producer Chris Laughery talked with Jessie Schmidt, state director of the Better Business Bureau. He begins by asking Jessie to remind us of what to be cautious of when online shopping.

Jessie: Well, there's several things, Chris. You want to really make sure that you're on the store that you intend to be on. So many businesses have had to pivot this year, and if they didn't have a website presence, they needed to get one rather quickly.

Jessie: So oftentimes, this year, we see a lot of fake websites pop up. And they can be either for a really random store that we know and love, or it can be for luxury brands, like luxury purses, for instance, or luxury jewelry, or athletic apparel. That is one of the biggest fake goods out there is fake athletic apparel.

Jessie: So there's a few things that your listeners can do to ensure that they are on the right site. And one of them is to check the age of the website's domain. And you can do that at And it will tell you when was that website established. And if it was just established within the last 30 to 60 days, I would say that is a real big red flag.

Chris: That's interesting. What about tips on fake websites at first glance? I mean, are you looking for things to stick out? What would stick out to you as being a fake website?

Jessie: Well, I would say if the vernacular, the language used, isn't how we would speak today... Oftentimes these are set up overseas, so they don't speak English in the way that we speak English. You may want to see, is there poor grammar or bad spelling on them? Those things are sure sign that it's a fake website and something that you don't want to spend any time on there.

Chris: In this day and age when it comes to payment, Jessie, am I better off using my credit card?

Jessie: Well, there's a couple of things we're going to tell you when you're shopping online. You want to make sure when you're on the checkout page, that it says H-T-T-P-S. That S stands for secure, or you see that little padlock in the upper left-hand corner of the URL. If it doesn't, you're not on a secure checkout page. And then we would tell you, absolutely use your credit card. You have more protections with your credit card than you do with a debit card or let's say maybe a Venmo or a PayPal or something like that. A credit card is the quickest way that you can dispute a charge.

Chris: If a website has an About page or a Contact Us section, does that change the game? Is that a valid website or are scammers taking advantage of that as well?

Jessie: Well, I would say, if when you scroll down to the bottom of the page and there's no real address or phone number, or you click on that address and you can't really find the building, or it's just really vague, that's a sure sign that you are not on a legitimate website. Just keep searching around on the internet, because you'll be able to find a legitimate website.

Jessie: Sometimes we get lured in, Chris, by seeing a great deal on something. Maybe there's a pop-up ad. We would tell you stay away from those because scammers pay for that paid placement. So don't end up on a fake site because something is luring you in with a really great price. If somebody is selling something, at below 50% than everybody else online, that's probably a sure site that they're looking for a victim like you.

Chris: If I find myself at a website with a business that I'm really unsure of that I don't know much about, are there ways for me to research that particular business outside of going to the website that I'm currently on?

Jessie: Well, again, I would see when was that domain established. You can go to BBB and see if we have any information on that website or on that business. Or oftentimes you can just click that site or click that business and see if somebody has had reviews out there on that particular business. You know, people are pretty vocal today if they had a bad experience with a business, and certainly one that they think is a scammer. They're not afraid to put that out there on social media.

Jessie: So again, do your research. Now more than ever, this is the time of year to, again, just step back, take a few minutes, do a little bit of research. You can save yourself a lot of grief and aggravation.

Chris: A lot of us are spending more time on the internet that we ever have before. And it seems to me that there's just been a barrage of pop-up ads. And to me, it's not a good idea to click on those.

Jessie: You know, I just think stay away from them. Again, I feel like they're fishing in a different pool. They're hoping to lure you in by something having a really great deal. And then ultimately, it's not going to turn out to be a good deal if they've got your money and you've got no product.

Jessie: So go to the websites you know and trust, search them out, look for misspellings in those URLs at the top, maybe there's an extra A or a dash. You want to make sure you're on the actual website for Amazon or whoever it is you're looking for. Some of these scammers are very good at cloning websites that they would look nearly identical. But that's why you got to take the extra time and go and see if there's a true Contact Us. Is it shipping out of the US or is it coming from China or somewhere beyond that? Those are things that, if you just take five minutes, you'll really protect yourself.

Chris: Our guest today has been Jessie Schmidt. She's the South Dakota state director for the Better Business Bureau.

Chris: Jessie, one final question before I let you go. If one encounters a scam, what should they do?

Jessie: Well, we would ask that you would please report that to BBB Scam Tracker. That really allows us to gather data that we can use to come back and do more and more interviews. It allows us to determine what scammers are saying, what got people to click on their website. So, just that simple. BBB Scam Tracker, and it takes five minutes to report that to us. We'd sure appreciate it.

Chris: That website, to be clear, is it

Jessie: Yes.

Chris: Even if you haven't fallen victim to the scam, that information is going to help immensely, correct?

Jessie: Absolutely. Right. You don't have to be a victim to report it to Scam Tracker. Even a potential victim is helpful to us.

Chris is a producer for In the Moment.