Trust Your Gut – And the Warning Signs – When You Feel an E-Commerce Might Be Fraudulent

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Online shopping fraud has increased since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, this period of our modern history has ushered in a "significant [rise] in broad-based and targeted phishing campaigns," according to a July 30 alert from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. Since January 2020, thousands of new website domains have been registered with terms related to COVID-19, such as "quarantine," "vaccine" and "CDC," FinCEN claims.

Although the Justice Department has shut down hundreds of these suspect sites, which promise vaccines and other aid, the problem is still out there. If you contact one of those malicious domains, you could start getting phishing emails from fraudsters in an attempt to get personal information from you directly or to plant malware that digs into personal files on your computer, looking for passwords and other private data for purposes of identity theft.

To avoid fraudulent attempts such as these, here are other red flags to look for when dealing with an e-Commerce website that appears to be deceitful.

There is a foreign IP address.

We’re not saying that websites with foreign IP addresses are always fraudulent websites, but transactions originating from a foreign Internet Protocol (IP) address are about seven times riskier than average. Websites, based in China and Venezuela, especially, tend to be riskiest to shop from, so think twice before purchasing items from them.

There is an incomplete URL.

Before making a purchase on an e-commerce site, make sure that the URL starts with “HTTPS,” not just “HTTP.” While it might not seem significant, the all-important “S” stands for “secure.” This means, all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted, as they should be to protect your information. If the “S” is missing, think twice about the information you’re doling out.

There are questionable pop-ups.

If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you’re browsing, don’t reply or follow the link! This warning comes straight from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, or the FTC. If it does happen, close out the window immediately. Remember, legitimate companies never ask for information this way, as they typically wait until the end of your purchase for the necessary financial information.

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