How do I know if I got scammed by an online store?

Online shopping can be convenient and fun, but it also comes with risks. Scam websites and fake online stores are unfortunately common, and it’s easy to get tricked if you’re not careful. Here are some signs to watch out for so you can identify if an online purchase was a scam.

You never received your order

The most obvious red flag is if you placed an order and paid for it, but the items never arrived. Legitimate delays can happen, especially during busy shopping seasons. But if it’s been weeks or months since you ordered with no communication from the seller, it’s likely a scam.

Some things to check if you haven’t received your order:

  • Double check the expected delivery date and allow reasonable time for shipping.
  • Look for shipping confirmation emails with tracking numbers and verify the status.
  • Contact the seller through their official channels to inquire about your order status.
  • Check your spam folder to make sure delivery updates did not end up there.

If the seller is unresponsive or makes dubious claims about why your delivery is late without providing tracking details, it’s probably a scam. No legitimate reason exists for orders to have no traces or indefinite delays.

You received a product that doesn’t match the description

Another clue is if you received a product that looks nothing like what was advertised. Scam online stores often steal photos and descriptions of popular products, then ship something completely different.

Some things to inspect if the product seems off:

  • Carefully compare it to the photos and details on the website.
  • Check for differences in textures, colors, branding, materials, size measurements, functioning features, accessories, etc.
  • Read through the product description again and see if what you received matches it.
  • Research the authentic versions of the product to identify discrepancies.

Significant inconsistencies indicate an item is not genuine and probably came from a scam website. Never assume slight variations are normal without verifying first.

The seller has no online presence or reviews

Most legitimate online stores have their contact details, about pages, social media accounts, and reviews available somewhere. But scam websites often try to stay anonymous.

Here’s what to look into about the seller or website itself:

  • Search for the store name online and check if others recognize it as a real business.
  • Look up their customer service contacts and try reaching out with questions.
  • See if they have social media pages with user engagement and tagged posts.
  • Search the company name on sites like TrustPilot for reviews.
  • Check if there is an address you can verify through Google Maps.

If hardly any information about the seller exists online, it should raise suspicions. For high dollar purchases especially, buyers should research vendors thoroughly first.

The website looks unprofessional

Many scam websites have a sloppy design and layout. Whereas established brands invest in polished websites and interfaces.

Here are signs of an unprofessional site:

  • Generic templates without custom branding.
  • Amateur images rather than professional product shots.
  • Strange currencies or languages unrelated to the location.
  • Misspelled words, grammatical errors, and typos.
  • Broken links, missing pages, or other technical issues.
  • Pop-ups, ads, or excessive promotions on the site.

A well-designed site shows attention to detail, which scam websites often lack. But even professional looking sites can be untrustworthy, so use other verification steps too.

Prices are dramatically lower than alternatives

Deep discounts can be enticing. But unbelievably low prices are a common scam website tactic.

Steps to take if deals seem too good to be true:

  • Compare the price against the MSRP and listings on other major retailers.
  • Calculate the percent discount and consider if it’s realistic.
  • Factor in taxes, shipping fees, and other hidden costs that offset the low price.
  • Check if the site explains why prices are so low, like clearance sales.
  • Search the product name and read reviews that may reveal scam warnings.

Certain categories like luxury goods, electronics, and newly released items rarely get huge discounts legitimately. Proceed with caution if prices seem illogically cheap.

Checkout and payment seem suspicious

Secure online stores have encryption, clearly tracked steps, and processing through major payment gateways. Scams often forgo these protections.

Here are some shady payment signs:

  • No HTTPS protocol or padlock icon in the URL bar.
  • Requests for unusual payment methods like gift cards, bank transfers, etc.
  • No order confirmation steps after purchase.
  • Checkout pages with typos, broken links, or other errors.
  • Checkout interfaces that do not match the rest of the site.

Only enter payment information on websites that seem professionally run and secure. For very risky purchases, consider using disposable virtual credit cards.

Customer service is difficult to reach

All legitimate retailers provide ways to contact their customer service team with questions or issues. Scammers avoid interacting with buyers.

Try getting in touch before ordering to test responsiveness:

  • Call listed phone numbers during stated business hours.
  • Initiate live chats or emails through the official options.
  • Send inquiries via contact forms on the website.
  • Reach out through the company’s social media pages.
  • Search for complaints about poor communication.

Being unable to talk to a real person, delayed replies, and refusal to resolve order problems are giveaways something is amiss.

The website seems to have popped up overnight

Long standing companies have an online trail that can be tracked over time. But scam websites often appear fast.

Ways to check the website’s history:

  • Search for the site on archive sites like Wayback Machine.
  • Look up domain registration dates on Whois lookup tools.
  • Seek mentions of the business from before the current year.
  • Check if social media pages have old posts.
  • See if other review sites or directories previously listed the company.

New businesses can be legitimate, but it’s smarter to buy from seasoned stores you can verify have existed for a while.

You are pressured to act fast

Scarcity tactics are commonly used by online scammers to create false urgency.

Things that signal unreasonable pressure to buy:

  • Countdown timers until a sale ends.
  • Limited quantity warnings.
  • Claims that this deal is only for you.
  • Risk of missing out on the lowest price.
  • Threats of extra fees for not acting quickly.

Rushed purchasing leads to overlooking red flags. Take your time and don’t fall for artificial time constraints. If a deal seems that amazing, it will likely come back in the future.

Your gut says something seems off

If a website just generally seems sketchy or makes you uncomfortable, listen to your instincts. Humans are wired to pick up on subtle cues that things aren’t right.

Some example gut reactions:

  • The seller came on too strong with sales pitches.
  • Photos seem stolen or edited.
  • Policies around returns, privacy, etc. are fishy.
  • You couldn’t shake a feeling of distrust browsing the site.
  • Customer reviews seem fabricated or just too perfect.

Online scams try to override common sense, but your intuition likely notices inconsistencies. Go with your gut and simply avoid sellers that do not instill confidence.

What to do if you are scammed

If you conclude an online purchase was fraudulent, take the following steps to remedy the situation and avoid further harm:

  • Report the scam: Alert the FTC, IC3, BBB, and website host to get the fraudulent store shut down.
  • Dispute payments: Issue chargebacks through your bank or payment processor used.
  • Secure accounts: Change passwords and freeze credit if personal information was compromised.
  • Warn others: Leave reviews about the scam experience to prevent additional victims.
  • Gather evidence: Save website screenshots, order details, emails etc. in case needed later.

The sooner you act against an online shopping scam, the better chances you have of getting payments canceled or reversed. Make sure to protect other consumers by reporting misleading websites whenever encountered.

How to avoid online shopping scams

Here are some proactive ways to identify and steer clear of scam websites when online shopping:

  • Stick to well known, reputable retailers that are household names.
  • Look for secure website URLs starting with HTTPS.
  • Avoid sellers that seem too good to be true with prices or deals.
  • Research unfamiliar stores thoroughly before purchasing.
  • Compare product photos against authentic item listings.
  • Read reviews on impartial third party websites when available.
  • Pay with credit cards for purchase protection and ability to dispute.
  • Never make quick impulse buys and listen to your instincts.

Being vigilant about scams and verifying legitimacy first provides the best defense. The old adage applies online – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.


Online shopping scams can quickly turn bargain deals into headaches and financial loss. But there are tried and true ways to identify shady sellers through fact-checking sites, being wary of pressure tactics and unbelievable prices, looking for odd signs on websites themselves, and just trusting your gut.

Always take the time to thoroughly vet stores, especially new ones. The most important thing is listening to inner instincts – if your inner alarm bells go off, avoid that purchase and find alternatives. Using credit cards, looking for secured websites, and reading reviews gives added protection too.

Being an informed buyer online does take extra vigilance. But a few precautionary steps goes a long way in spotting scam websites before money is exchanged. Keep the telltale red flags in mind and stick to reputable sellers, and online shopping can remain enjoyable and safe.

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