More online shoppers expected during the holiday season

An estimated 186 million shoppers spent a total of $24 billion during the five-day Thanksgiving shopping period, a 20 percent increase from last year.

According to a Tuesday report from Newsweek, nearly 96 million of those shoppers were online only and $10.8 billion of those sales occurred during Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year.

The coronavirus pandemic paved the way for record breaking online-only sales and in a survey done by the National Retail Federation, 57 percent of holiday shoppers said they planned to purchase more items online due to the pandemic.

Dolores Salinas, president of the Weslaco-based Better Business Bureau of South Texas, said the increase in online shoppers is expected.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen online shopping be the safest way to shop,” Salinas said. “However, we recommend that consumers ensure they are shopping safely online.”

According to the BBB website, people reported losing $117 million in online scams during the first six months of the year. These scams included people sending money to online sellers that either didn’t deliver their products or delivered a defective product.

To ensure buyers purchase items online without falling for a scam, Salinas says the BBB offers many tips to the public.

“We recommend consumers take the time to ensure that whatever devices they shop with are updated with the most recent protection software to protect from hacking and identity theft,” Salinas said. “Ultimately it’s up to the shoppers if they want to go through with the sale but our job is to ensure they do so safely.”

Among the many ways online shoppers can protect themselves is to verify if the website they are shopping at isn’t fake. Shoppers can know this by either going to the BBB website to look up the business’ profile, which will verify the site’s reliability and list if there’s any complaints against it.

When moving forward with a purchase, customers should make sure that the webpage to enter their payment information has the “https” prefix at the start of the address bar or a lock icon.

“This ensures that the page is secure and the information you’re putting in isn’t being shared,” Salinas explained. “It tells you you’re in a secure webpage and you can fill in your financial information with confidence that it will be properly handled and protected. If you don’t see the lock or abbreviation, you shouldn’t be putting your financial information on that page.”

The best way to shop online is to use a major credit card instead of your personal debit card, Salinas added.

“It gives you more recourse should you fall for a scam,” Salinas said. “With a debit card you’re using your own money but with a major credit card you are not using your own money and have up to three months to dispute any purchases made and it will be the credit card company who will handle any fraud issues with the retailer.”

Salinas also warns against purchasing items from people you connect with on social media or on sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Craigslist.

“A lot of people have been scammed through those channels and when they try to find that post or user, it’s been deleted,” Salinas said. “Unless you’re picking up that item and paying for it in person we generally recommend not shopping at those places.”

Due to the busy holiday season, Salinas recommended online shoppers make sure that the website has the capabilities to track their packages once it’s been shipped and that they have an agreeable return and refund policy in case the item needs to be returned.

Those who have been a victim or have encountered fraudulent business practices can report it to the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/reportscam. Fraud victims are also encouraged to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and their new consumer reporting website at reportfraud.ftc.gov.

For more information on what you can do to help combat fraud, call the Better Business Bureau at 956-969-1804.  

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