The lockdowns and quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced many people to get what they need by mail order.
Some of them ordered from Amazon (and are still ordering from Amazon, even after the retail giant started prioritizing “essentials” and delaying deliveries of non-household goods, groceries, and pet supplies by as much as a month).
Others went to outlets like eBay, Etsy, and even Facebook ads in order to buy everything from toilet paper and face masks to “antimicrobial” door-opening and button-pushing widgets.
The problem is, in a lot of cases, people got ripped off by sellers taking advantage of increased demand for online goods (especially goods related to the pandemic).
If you are going to get what you need while avoiding scams and “too-good-to-be-true” bargains, you need to keep a few basic guidelines in mind.
3 Tips For Avoiding Pandemic Sales Scams
First and foremost, beware of ANY sale for an item that is in high demand, and understand that if somebody is claiming to have goods that nobody else can keep in stock, you need to be extra-careful.
(Right now that includes things like hand sanitizer and certain face masks.)
Whatever is the “hot property” of the moment could become the target of people looking to cash in (by taking your money and not delivering anything).
However, beyond that general point, follow these three rules:
Always Check The Vendor's Ratings And Sales History (If Possible)
One of my employees bought a ton of stuff on eBay to get around the Amazon restrictions.
He realized too late that one of the sellers he'd bought from had hundreds of negative ratings, because the seller wasn't bothering to fill orders (and maybe even couldn't because of lockdowns).
(If he had checked the ratings, he would have known not to spend money with that particular seller.)
If you're using a site that makes use of ratings (like eBay, Amazon, or Etsy), always check them to make sure they don't have a high percentage of negative strikes against them.
Don't just trust a seller you've used before, either, because things can change (especially during a global pandemic).
Always look at the most recent information to see if the seller has a good reputation – and when ordering from websites online, do a simple search for their name to make sure you don't find all kinds of posts complaining about getting ripped off.
Beware Licensed Products And Photoshopped Product Images
Intellectual property is a touchy thing.
You can't just slap a licensed logo on a product and sell it to other people, because there are licenses involved.
If you see, say, a Facebook ad for a product with a popular television or movie logo/character on it, you should be suspicious of that ad.
Random no-name Facebook sellers can't usually get licensing rights for stuff like that.
(It would be different if, for example, a Star Wars branded product was being offered by Disney online.)
Also, most of the companies that pull this kind of scam don't bother to manufacture a physical product at all.
(They use Photoshop to add the image to the product photo, and you can usually tell.)
Don't buy from an ad using a very obviously photo-manipulated product image, then, unless you have good reason to trust the seller.
Be Very Careful Of Social-Media-Only Advertisers
Finally, be careful when it comes to advertisers who are ONLY selling on social media.
Most legitimate businesses also have a website — and, more importantly, a way to contact customer service.
If the ad you're looking at doesn't have any link to an outside website (and no other means of contact), it is very likely a scam.
Now, none of this is to say that ads meeting some of these descriptions are ALWAYS fake.
There are plenty of legitimate businesses out there.
You're not made of money, though… especially now, with all of us pushed to our limits by the pandemic and the economic strain of the shut-downs.
Don't risk your money on people you don't absolutely trust.
There are plenty of other people out there willing to sell you what you need AND give you good customer service.