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BBB Scam Alert: When shopping online, watch for phony ‘discreet shipping’ fees

Peak shipping season is here, and con artists are capitalizing on it. In a new scam reported to Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker, phony e-commerce websites hit shoppers with a bill for “discreet shipping.”

This extra fee allegedly pays for special packaging or stamps, but it’s a trick to get online shopping scam victims to hand over more money. Here’s how to recognize the signs of this scam.

How the scam works

You order something online and pay for the product and shipping. However, before the item can be delivered, the vendor contacts you. They claim you must pay an extra fee for “discreet shipping.”

What even is discreet shipping? Well, it depends on the scam. BBB Scam Tracker has gotten multiple reports from consumers who purchased diet pills, vaping products, ammunition, CBD edibles, or other similar products. Other times, scammers charge a “discreet shipping” fee when a shopper marks their online purchase as a gift. In another twist, scammers tell shoppers they must pay for “discreet package stamps” to prevent their packages from passing through customs.

One consumer explained the scam: “I purchased some cigars, and the company… gave me a website and tracking number. But then, I received messages from the shipping company wanting money (supposedly refundable) for insurance on the delivery. After that, they requested more money for a type of delivery the sender described as discreet. They won’t cancel the order, refund the money I paid, or deliver the package without getting more money from me.” Unfortunately for this shopper, the package and the cigars probably never existed in the first place.

Scammers usually ask for payment through a digital payment app such as Zelle or CashApp. If you use an app to pay, you probably won’t be able to recover your funds when you realize the business is a sham.

How to avoid shipping scams

  • Buy from reputable shops. If you purchase something online, research before giving the vendor your full trust. Ensuring a working phone number and address on a professional-looking website is a good place to start.
  • Understand how different payment methods work. Different payment types come with different rights and responsibilities. For example, you may be able to contest fraudulent charges on your credit card, but money sent through digital payment apps works more like cash. Once you’ve sent the funds, they are gone for good. Only use safe payment methods that come with protections when shopping online.
  • Check the seller’s reviews and ratings. These exist on various platforms, but authentic, verified reviews can also be accessed from a company’s BBB Profile. When reading reviews, look for positive or negative trends and note how the company responds.
  • Check for a secure website. Look for the “https://” URL structure in the company’s web address and the padlock symbol in the address bar. These verify you’ve got a secure connection and encryption of your data. More information on website security.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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