How to Avoid the 7 Most Common Online Holiday Scams

Black Friday is rapidly approaching and Salesforce forecasts that this year’s Black Friday will be the busiest online shopping day ever. The company said consumers will have half of their shopping done by Dec 3rd and 80% done by Dec 15th. Orders placed on mobile devices will now approach 40% on big shopping days such as Black Friday. This is a dramatic shift from the time when people would be packed into shopping malls in the days leading up to Christmas. Online shopping has forever changed the landscape of how we approach the holiday season. However, just because buying your gifts online is easy doesn’t mean that it isn’t without problems. We have compiled a list of some of the top problems consumers face during the holidays so you can be informed on how to avoid them.

1. Gift Card Scams

Gift cards are a favorite target for scams this time of year. Retailers are estimating that gift card shopping will hit an all-time high with 80% of shoppers expected to buy at least one gift card during the holiday season.

One problem with ordering gift cards from unvetted websites is that they may never end up being delivered: “I never received the gift card that I ordered. They just wasted my time. But they still charged my credit card.” – Samantha M

Some sites will sell you a gift card with a zero or inaccurate balance: “I purchased one of their retail cards for $500. All of the money except just under $5 of it was gone before I even activated the card.” – Nick B

While gift cards can be an easy and useful present, we suggest researching any gift card site before making a purchase.

2. Counterfeit Goods

No one wants to give a fake present to someone close to them, so beware of an increase in counterfeit goods being sold online this time of year. Be on the lookout, not just for standard counterfeit goods, but for everything from phony brand name tennis shoes to knockoff designer jewelry:

“I bought a Pandora Charm and I got a simple bag with NO LOGO and a very fake charm I noticed at first sight. Then I went to the Pandora official store and they confirmed what I thought… that I had been cheated.” – Gabriela M

If you are buying from an online store and they have a lot of reviews on Sitejabber, rather than reading through all of them, you can do a search on the reviews for keywords such as “fake” or “counterfeit” to see if other people have had experiences with receiving inauthentic products from the company.

3. Missing or Delayed Deliveries

Everyone wants their gifts to arrive prior to the holiday so that they can be opened on Christmas day. However, there are websites that may promise a rare holiday toy, only to deliver it after Christmas or not at all. Sites are set up to display the most wanted Christmas presents and sometimes they just do not have them in stock to be sent out: “I ordered Christmas items, paid double shipping to get them here fast and then NOTHING. No confirmation, no shipping details and, most importantly, no notice that they had placed one item on backorder to ship in February!” – Bill B

We advise you to check the reviews on Sitejabber about a company’s shipping history before placing an order.

4. Coupon Scams

The holidays are a very popular time for coupon scams. Be careful entering your information into coupon sites. The best coupon websites do not require you to buy anything or register to use their coupons. If you have to enter in your personal information, it might be a phishing scam. Giving away your cell phone number just to get a coupon code may also be a bad idea: “I now get spam phone calls, so they are selling my phone number. This company needs to be investigated, but no one seems to be doing anything about this ripoff.” – Carole S

5. Holiday Daily Deals

Sites like Groupon and Living Social aim to cash in on holiday spending. For those of you new to these types of sites, the cheap price comes with a cost. It is worthwhile knowing how these sites work so you can avoid the potential pitfalls when shopping on them. See our Groupon Infographic.

6. International Shopping and Shipping Issues

It is a tech holiday season, but before you order your drones, self-balancing electric scooters, or tablets, beware of where it will be shipping from as many affordable gadgets are manufactured in overseas countries and you may have problems with your gifts.

In some cases, they may never arrive: “I bought the product on September 28, the expectation was for September, then October, then November, now December 26!!!.” – Felipe R

Companies may say a product is currently in stock but then you never receive it only to find out it was never in stock. Another user writes, “Do not believe their website or anything they say about stock. All the customer service response to tickets is offer apologies but do nothing to expedite fixing the problem. Once they have your money, all they do is stall.” – David C

Your toy or drone might not work on Christmas day due to poor quality control overseas: “The quadcopter I ordered was broken when I opened the box. I have pictures from opening my package and you can see my quadcopter was never removed from its protective cover.” – Shannon C

7. Handmade and Vintage Gifts

The popularity of vintage and handcrafted goods are on the rise, but there can be many problems when trying to buy that unique handmade gift from independent sellers.

One issue is that there is no quality control on the handmade goods. They may say they are selling precious metals but it could all be fake. One Sitejabber user writes, “I bought several charms and there is no way they are real. They look like horrible knockoffs and the color on them turns green. They say no plastic, LIE. They say sterling silver, LIE.” – Becca E

Another problem with custom goods is they can take weeks to create and may miss a holiday delivery date or never be delivered: “After waiting a month, I finally contacted the seller. She claimed she’d been on vacation, but was working on my order and would send it the next day. Six weeks later, I still hadn’t received anything… it’s now nearly three months after I placed my initial order!” – Kelly E

Sometimes there may be no refunds and no recourse if you lose your money on one of these craft sites: “They charged my card and never shipped item… All they could do was to tell me sorry and they cancelled the seller…. so I received nothing except a charge on my card.” – Denise G

Our suggestion, at Sitejabber, is that if you are considering a website that sells artisanal crafts is to research the company first and also make sure to vet the seller.

As always, be cautious when choosing where you do your holiday shopping this season. We also suggest always paying for your online purchases with a form of payment that provides buyer protection such as a credit card or PayPal. If you find yourself the victim of one of these scams, please read our article about how to get your money back, The Chargeback: How to Get a Credit Card Refund if You’ve Been Scammed.

Read more about our holiday scam advice featured on NBC News.