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Making a purchase from an Instagram or Facebook ad? Check these signs to make sure it's not fake

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Posted at 3:13 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 15:13:16-05

The 2020 holiday season is long over, but some families are still waiting on gifts that failed to arrive for Christmas — and still have yet to be delivered.

Many of those items were ordered from slick-looking Facebook and Instagram ads, often with young models showing off cute outfits.

Amanda Kontopos is among those disappointed buyers. She wanted her family to all have matching pajamas this winter.

"I thought it would be fun to have matching pajamas, something different," she said.

With stores sold out of many popular sizes, she found an ad on Instagram for the cutest pajamas.

"They had all different types of styles and sizes," Kontopos said.

She ordered four sets for $200. But weeks later, nothing showed up as Christmas came and went.

"I hadn't received any kind of email or notification of when they would be shipped," Kontopos said.

She looked up the company's address on its website and made another discovery.

"It turns out it is an empty house that is on the market in Georgia right now," she said.

Unhappy online shopper.JPG
Amanda Kontopos

Products that don't look like the photo in an ad

Mary Ann Schomaker was also left disappointed after the holidays.

"I saw an ad on Facebook, and it was for an air fryer cookbook," she said.

She knew her son loved his air fryer, but her $39 gift for her son's family turned out to be a digital e-cookbook.

"Nowhere did it say that," Schomaker said.

It looked like a hardcover book in the ad but turned out not to be a hardcover book or even a paperback.

"You have to download something every single time to look up a recipe, and that's just ridiculous," she said.

The Sun also reports that hundreds of furious parents ordered what they thought was a ride-on unicorn for their young children this past Christmas. Instead, those parents only received a tiny plastic toy.

Unhappy shoppers flood BBB with complaints

The Better Business Bureau says it is flooded with complaints every January and February about online orders that never arrived.

In almost every case, the complaints concern either a retailer based outside the U.S. or an outright scam.

Sara Kemerer of the BBB said she feels for all the disappointed families who reach out to her office.

"We absolutely get a lot of complaints about online retailers after the holidays, when people realize their packages aren't coming," Kemerer said.

So, how can you protect yourself?

Kemerer said before ordering from a social media ad or from a company that is not housed on Amazon, do some homework.

  • Look up the retailer at the BBB's website to make sure it is legitimate, and see what letter grade it receives (from A to F).
  • Google the company name to check for complaints.
  • Look for a Google or PayPal trust seal on the site.
  • Check to see that the company has a real street address.
  • Realize that if the product is shipping from China, it could take several months to arrive — even if it is a legitimate Chinese retailer.

The BBB also urges customers to be careful of fraudulent online retailers.

One such fraudulent retailer — a women's fashion web retailer called All Now Trendy — listed a fancy office address on Lexington Avenue in New York City. In reality, it was just an $85-per-month phone line. That site is now gone — hundreds of women complained to the Better Business Bureau after they paid for orders that never arrived.

Last year, Cavelle Rogers ordered doggie socks from an Instagram ad that he says never arrived.

"I placed an order, uploaded picture, and waited," Rogers said.

When he Googled the company's name, he was stunned.

"I found 120 complaints," he said.

How to protect your wallet

Even if a web retailer seems legitimate based on a preliminary search, the BBB says customers should protect themselves by always shopping online with a credit card — not a debit card, Venmo or Cash App.

"Use a credit card, instead of payment apps like Venmo or Zelle, and we don't recommend using prepaid gift cards for online purchases," Kemerer said.

Customers can dispute a bad deal through credit card companies, something that can't be done through payment apps or debit cards.

Finally, if it's something that is sold out everywhere else — like a PlayStation 5 — be very suspicious. If you can find it only at one web retailer you've never heard of, it may be a scam. That way, you don't waste your money.
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