According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2014 totaled $71.2 billion, which is more than triple what it was less than a decade ago.
A large part of this increase is due to the convenience of online shopping, since consumers can browse products from all over the world, locate the best deals, and read what other customers have to say about different products, all from the comfort of their own homes.
However, the ever-increasing prevalence of online shopping doesn’t come without its pitfalls. Websites and online shopping carts can be set up in less than a day, companies can operate under a shroud of anonymity, and can wipe out most traces of their existence almost immediately, ultimately leaving customers with poor-quality products and unwanted credit card charges in some instances
Because of this, it’s almost impossible to browse the web today without encountering a wide variety of scam claims.
Whatever situation you’ve encountered, if you feel that an online company has used dishonest tactics of one form or another in order to grab a hold of your hard-earned money, what can you do? Are there methods you can employ in order to recoup your money? And are they ultimately worthwhile? Keep reading to find out.
Common Company Practices Labeled as “Scams”
Before we dive in, let’s talk about the context in which we’re using the word “scam” here. On one hand, there are thousands of online scams that are intended to take your money or personal information based on the promise of a product or service that’s ultimately never provided.
On the other hand, and the focus of this article, there are otherwise legitimate companies who use deceptive sales practices to sell their products and/or to make as much money of their customers as possible.
With this in mind, here are some of the most common tactics that HighYa reviewers experience when claiming that a company has scammed them:
1. Confusing checkout process – This can entail any number of formats, including not displaying an order total on the checkout page, offering customers numerous “upgrade” options and making it difficult to discern which ones they should choose, artificially adding the number of items you purchase and hoping that you won’t notice, or even all of the above.
2. Unwarranted charges – Closely related to the above, this most often occurs when customers contact customer service, who will try to sneak in additional charges that customers didn’t expressly agree to. This is often accompanied by hard-selling techniques such as not taking “no” for an answer, constantly talking over you, making you feel ashamed for not accepting the offer(s), and more.
3. Ordering without permission – To gain a better understanding of this type of scam, imagine that you enter your credit card information on a product’s website, but never actually press the “order” button. However, the company processes the charge anyway and ships you their product.
4. Free trials – These trials often last a very short period of time (e.g. 14 days), which begin from the date your order is placed. Then, after only having the product for a couple days, your credit card is charged the full price of the product, and you may even be signed up for a recurring autoship program.
5. Autoship programs – While autoship programs are often promoted as a way to make sure you never run out of a product (most often associated with nutritional supplements), the reality is that they usually end up giving you more product than you need, while applying recurring charges to your credit card each month.
Is it Possible to Avoid Being Scammed by an Online Company in the First Place?
Now that you know more about some of the most common tactics that less-than-reputable companies use to separate you from your hard-earned money, you can also use this same information to help you avoid many of these types of scams in the first place.
If you find any of the following when shopping for a product online, it may be a warning sign that the company should be avoided:
- A website that is difficult to use, appears to have been built quickly, and/or contains a lot of spelling or grammatical errors.
- A lot of marketing hype on the product’s website, but very little useable information about how it actually works.
- A lack of tangible evidence to support their claims. This is something that’s very common among nutritional supplements.
- Reports of generally poor customer service (e.g. constant upsells during calls, difficulty processing returns, personnel are rude/not knowledgeable about products, etc.). This is something you may find with “As Seen on TV” products.
- Free trials and autoship programs.
- Excessive shipping and handling fees.
- A high number of overly positive customer reviews, which could be fake.
- Difficulty locating contact information for a company, or if you do, this only involves an email address.
Keep in mind that it’s fairly rare for a single company to tick all of these boxes, and that the presence of just one of these doesn’t mean that the company is out to scam you. However, if you find that more than one of these points are applicable, it may be a sign that you should stay away.
If you find that a product you’re thinking about purchasing ticks more than one of these boxes, your next step should be to perform some research.
In this case, customer review websites like HighYa are invaluable resources that can provide you with direct insight into companies, their products, and the experiences of customers who have used them.
However, keep in mind that a common practice that many less-than-reputable companies use is to create fake review websites, which are aimed at tricking you into thinking you’re making an informed decision when the exact opposite is true.
Finally, learning to recognize some of the most common selling tactics used by infomercial-based products can go a long way toward resisting the temptation to buy a dubious product in the first place.
While knowing what to look for can go a long way toward helping you to avoid being scammed, what if it’s too late? In other words, what steps can you take if you’ve already been scammed? Let’s take a look.
You Just Realized You Got Scammed: What Do You Do Now?
Ultimately, if you’re dissatisfied with a company and their products, remember that although it may not always seem like it, the vast majority are trustworthy and committed to making sure you’re satisfied.
Because of this, if you feel like a company has scammed you, the first thing you should do is to contact them directly to find out if they’re willing to resolve the problem. By doing this first, you can often have the problem solved quickly with a minimal amount of a headache.
1. Share Your Experience
However, if you do contact the company and find that they’re unwilling to help, don’t be complacent, chalk it up to a lesson learned, and just brush it off. Why? Because, although experiences like these might make you feel like a small fish in an enormously big pond, it’s important that you take action immediately to let others know what’s happened to you. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by writing about your experience here on HighYa, as well as other popular consumer online review websites.
After all, if a company has scammed you, it’s likely that they’ll do the same thing to thousands of other consumers just like you. And wouldn’t you like to help prevent it from happening to someone else?
2. Document Everything
With this said, whether you’re looking to just recoup your money or to also inform other consumers, taking action against a company can entail a relatively long process, so it’s important that you keep careful notes and gather as much documentation as you can. Because of this, make sure that you log the date and time of any phone calls you make to the company, as well as the representative’s names who you speak with. If at all possible, you may want to even record the conversations.
Also, paperwork can pile up quickly, so be sure to keep an organized folder of any correspondence you receive from the company, including sales receipts, invoices, contracts, notices, etc, and move all email correspondence to its own dedicated folder in your email program. For double safety, you can also print these emails so you have hard copies on hand as well.
3. Other Actionable Steps
Finally, make sure that you file complaints with as many popular consumer organizations and websites as you can, including the FTC, Better Business Bureau, as well as with your state’s Attorney General. However, for this last option, keep in mind that your Attorney General can only help you mediate your dispute, but cannot provide you with legal advice or represent you in a personal legal action.
Refusing Shipments: Pros and Cons
Whether you were charged for a product before it was shipped by the manufacturer or are having difficulty obtaining a refund for a product you didn’t want in the first place, one of the most common methods of getting your money back is by refusing the shipment. In other words, you don’t accept delivery of the package, which will then be sent back to the manufacturer as “refused.”
However, keep in mind that many online companies include a disclaimer in their Terms & Conditions or their ordering policy that specifically states you cannot refuse a shipment and expect a refund. In other words, you’ll first need to accept delivery of the product, contact the company to begin the return/refund process, and then ship it back. With this said, most companies don’t include shipping and handling as part of their refund policy, and you’ll likely be responsible for return shipping as well.
If you are given the option of refusing delivery, keep in mind that different carriers will have different guidelines for doing so. For instance, UPS requires that you wait until after the first delivery attempt in order to refuse delivery, while FedEx and USPS orders can generally be refused in advance as long as you have a tracking number.
Once you refuse delivery, be sure to hang on to the tracking number so that you can make sure the company received the package (some of the sneakier ones might attempt to claim that the package was never received). From there, you can contact them directly and begin the refund process.
Should You Dispute the Credit Card Charge?
If you’ve refused delivery of your package and the company claims they haven’t received it (or they give you some other excuse as to why they can’t provide a refund), the next logical step is to dispute the charge with your credit card company. This is because the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) provides consumer protection against “billing errors,” while nearly all major credit card companies offer some sort of purchasing protection for their customers, both of which can help you recoup your money.
With this said, it’s important to note that your credit card company acts as a mediator during the dispute process, which means that you could ultimately lose your dispute and be required to pay for the product or service in question. Also, credit card disputes can take several months to complete, and the more documentation you have to support your case (as mentioned above) the better your chances are of winning.
For detailed information about filing a credit card dispute, be sure to read through HighYa’s Complete Guide on Disputing Credit Card Charges.
If All Else Fails, Should You Consider a Class Action Lawsuit?
If you’ve been unsuccessful getting your money back using either of the above methods, and you find out that numerous other consumers (at least 50) have experienced the same problems with a company, you may be able to file a class action lawsuit.
However, while class action lawsuits have proven to be effective in thousands of cases of consumer fraud, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. First, as mentioned above, you’ll need to have at least 50 other plaintiffs who’ve encountered some sort of “harm” as a result of the company’s practices.
Next, you’ll need to hire a law firm that is proficient in handling class action lawsuits, while one of the participants will also need to be identified as a lead plaintiff. After some proceedings have taken place and the class action lawsuit is certified, the case will then be heard by the court, which in some instances could take months or years to settle.
For an in-depth look at all the pros and cons associated with class action lawsuits, and whether or not they’re right for you, be sure to find out if they’re the solution to your problems or just one big headache.
Tell Us About Your Experience with Company Scams
Do you feel that you were scammed by a disreputable company? Were you able to get your money back? If so, which tactics did you find most useful? Tell the world about your experience and share your knowledge by leaving a comment below!