Online shopping algorithms are crazy smart these days. Who among us hasn’t suspected their Alexa or Google Home is listening when we’re later fed an ad for something we only talked about—or creepier—only thought about? But sometimes, I’m grateful for the retargeting ads following me around my web browsing. Thank you, Internet, I did mean to buy that Hearth & Hand throw pillow and matching dog bed. But this holiday season, I learned a little online shopping lesson I’d like to share so you don’t fall for it too.
In early October, there I was, scrolling through Instagram for inspiration, laughs, learning, or maybe it was just a little zoning out. When what to my wondering eyes should appear in my feed, but the cutest, most timely, holiday ornament—a glass-blown Santa wearing a mask.
There I was, scrolling through Instagram … when what to my wondering eyes should appear in my feed, but the cutest, most timely, holiday ornament—a glass-blown Santa wearing a mask.
A blogger I follow had already liked and commented on the picture, which I sadly took as enough validation for my purchase (plus the tens of thousands of likes). I quickly clicked through to buy using Paypal, thinking they had buyer protection if the site was shady. I received an email confirmation that seemed a little threadbare to be from a small shop in Portland, Oregon (as the site claimed), so I decided to check out the company on my laptop versus my phone.
That’s when my stomach dropped—did I just get scammed? The website I saw had a header photo of a woman in a bikini with the headline “Halloween Promotion”—like someone set up a website with the default image and placeholder headline. The other merchandise available ranged from faux jewelry to kitchen items to clothing. Their Instagram profile was also disjointed and suspect. I made a note to check the tracking of my purchase and be on the lookout for any weird transactions.
Screenshots of the ornament as pictured on their website:
And this is what arrived from an overseas shipping address three weeks later:
Yes, I laughed and did a face-palm. I’m trying to get my money back through Paypal, but it can be a 30-day process once you try to contact the seller—I haven’t heard back from them. But it’s less about the money and more about the lesson.
No one needs any additional hassle this holiday season, so next time you’re fed a cute ad on social media from a retailer you’ve never heard of, make sure to at least take the following steps:
- Visit their social media handles
- Visit their website
- See if they have reviews (this company didn’t have any)
- See if they have a valid postal and email address in their “Contact Us” section
- Do a Google reverse image search with the item (this one was stolen from Old World Christmas)
- Do a general online search for the item; it’s a red flag if it is significantly cheaper on one website
- Google the item’s search term with the word “scam”
Scammers can pay for Instagram advertising too, so if you see something that’s clearly an issue, report it. If the company is based in the United States or Canada, you can file a complaint at the Better Business Bureau. If it’s outside the US and Canada, you can complete a form at econsumer.gov.
Yes, I didn’t lose a ton of money, but if I had just paused before my purchase and taken any of these steps, I would’ve saved a lot of time and embarrassment.