At a summit today hosted by Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine, consumer experts outlined scams that target today’s shoppers. Tracey Thomas of the Federal Trade Commission, New York Times columnist Ron Lieber, and Meg Marco, executive editor of our sister site The Consumerist, detailed the practices that most irritate them, plus some tips on how best to protect yourself from scams and deceptive marketing tactics.
According to Lieber, identity theft is the biggest threat to consumers shopping in today’s digital age. And consumers could better protect themselves against identity theft by defending personal information before it has a chance to be stolen.
Thomas said the FTC is concerned with fake news reports that endorse products like diet pills or acai berries. The companies behind the ads get paid when visitors click through to e-commerce sites selling the products promoted in the "news."
Marco and her team of reporters at Consumerist have delved into deceptive advertising and marketing by big businesses. Marco highlighted two examples concerning Best Buy, where a needless “pre-optimization” process -- now discontinued -- ratcheted up the price of a computer by $40. Best Buy’s “Buy Back” program -- which the company touts as an easy way to return used products when you're ready for an upgrade -- can actually leave consumers in the red after sign-up fees and low buy-back prices are factored in.
Some proactive tips for protecting yourself:
- Credit freeze: If you put a freeze on your credit report, you can block thieves from trying to use your information to open an account or line of credit. The companies you currently do business with will still have access, and you can “thaw” a credit freeze if you need access to new credit. Just note that it does cost you to both freeze and thaw your credit. You'll need to freeze your report with each of the three main credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- Don't use debit cards online: Don’t use your debit card for online transactions. Ever. If someone were to get a hold of that information, it’s not clear how long it could take the bank to reimburse you. Your debit card is a direct line to your cash, using a credit card instead ads additional steps to the payment process, meaning you can see transactions before they go through fully, and make immediate disputes.
- Dispute charges with credit card companies: Go straight to your credit card company when disputing a charge. Lieber calls this an under-utilized tool. Skip hassling with the retailer where the disputed charge occurred, and instead deal directly with the credit card company. Just make sure you know what the time limit is for filing a dispute with your credit company.
To report scams that you have experienced while shopping online, you can visit FTC.gov/complaint to log a complaint about a scam or deceptive business practices.