Better Business Bureau® advises consumers to use caution when purchasing goods online after an 8.3 percent increase in criminal Internet activity costing consumers across the nation over $525 million in losses. The 2012 report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a project between multiple federal agencies including the FBI, published in May 2013 shows Maryland went from 15 to 13 in the country for the most Internet crime.
"With Internet crime growing, scammers are raising the stakes for Marylanders," said Angie Barnett, President and CEO of BBB serving Greater Maryland. "While law enforcement and our own investigators are identifying and shutting down fraudulent sites, consumers must be able to spot red flags, beef up spam and virus protection, and stay informed."
While local consumers are finding themselves more likely to be victimized than many parts of the country, BBB is noticing an increasing frequency of phony online businesses claiming Md. addresses. These fakes have attracted complaints from victims throughout the country.
Advertising a Salisbury, Md. address, Overstockcloseoutstoc
"It won't let me sign in online to check what's going on," said a Fruitland, Idaho woman who paid the company $400. "Ordered a swing set beginning of February, have not received it. I emailed them twice and no response."
Out of 20 complaints received by the FBI with help from a BBB | Greater Maryland investigator and others, the agency estimated $9,000 has been lost to the fictitious Salisbury business.
"The website insisted that payment be made with Green Dot MoneyPak, which is essentially cash," said a New York consumer. "I tried to go to the website to print a receipt but the server indicates the website is closed for construction... I have just lost $650.00."
BBB, in efforts to decrease Internet crime, advises that you start with the following tips when making online purchases:
Be Vigilant. Scammers constantly change tactics. Watch for their techniques of triggering emotion, demonstrating credibility, or establishing a connection with you.
Ask Questions & Do Homework. Look for accurate company information via phone and web-based technology - don't rely on links and addresses provided by the seller. Asking direct questions is sometimes enough to scare scammers away.
By researching businesses before succumbing to advertising hype, BBB insists consumers will also make better decisions about transactions with real businesses and be able to choose trustworthy companies over those that may simply have reported issues with customer service.
For example, a Windsor Mill, Md. woman paid Rising Sun Engines, an online company based in California, $1,700 for an engine that she never received. "I paid insurance on a car with no engine for 2 months," she said. According to BBB's Business Review, the company has an F rating and has failed to respond to 117 of 141 complaints.
Act with Caution. Do not wire money or give money card information to sellers. Wiring money is like sending cash and reversing the transaction is nearly impossible. Pay by credit card whenever possible. Paying via other methods (cash, check, money order or debit card) offers little protection.