CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Many shoppers turn to online platforms to find unique, handmade gifts for their friends and family during the holiday season.

Schemers have been targeting shoppers with a not-so-unique scheme, according to a news release sent to 22News from the Better Business Bureau. Recent reports say that the scheme is taking place on well-known and reputable websites, such as Etsy.

You’re shopping online when you find a gift or decoration that you’d like to buy. In the item description, you see a message from the seller telling you not to make the purchase through the online sales platform where you have found the item. The seller encourages you instead to purchase the item directly from their own website, promising you’ll get a big discount if you do.

If you follow the link to a website outside the original sales platform and make a purchase, you might be disappointed when your card is charged, and the product never arrives. That’s because the product probably never existed, and if you have fallen for this type of scheme, your payment information will now be in the hands of someone.

The Better Business Bureau offers tips on how to avoid these schemes in the future.

How to avoid online shopping schemes:

  • Do business with reputable websites. In general, avoid going off-platform to buy from sellers that you discover online; it’s much safer to purchase through reputable websites that help specialty sellers connect with buyers. Legitimate websites like Etsy have specific policies in place to protect sellers and buyers. For example, at Etsy, if an order isn’t delivered, you can open a case with Etsy, and you may get your money back. If a seller asks you directly to shop outside of a website where they listed products, think twice. Etsy states: “To avoid scams and fraud, all transactions must take place on the Etsy platform, through the Etsy checkout system.”
     
  • Research the seller. Read customer reviews keeping an eye out for any reports of scams or dishonest behavior. If the seller doesn’t have any reviews yet, do a general online search of the seller’s name, the item, and the word “scam,” just to be safe.
     
  • Protect your personal information. When making purchases online, be careful with sensitive personal details, such as your name, address, and payment information. Read a website’s privacy and security policies to find out how they use and protect your information (e.g., are they sharing it with third parties or using encryption?). Also, check the website’s terms and conditions of sale, including specifics about issues such as delivery, refunds, and restocking fees (which may be substantial). Decide whether you feel comfortable with these policies. If the website does not post easily accessible privacy and security policies and accept terms and conditions, consider it a red flag.
     
  • Shop with a credit card. Whenever possible, use your credit card to make online purchases. It is easier to dispute fraudulent charges, and you have a better chance of getting your money back if something goes wrong. Demands to wire funds or use gift cards for payment are a major sign that you should just walk away.