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The Boston Globe


Consumer Alert

Before you buy online, check for telltale signs of fraud

A reader sent me a note about purchasing a jacket and shoes from a website that wouldn’t respond after it sent the wrong items.

At first glance, the site,, looks like a typical online outlet. But when you look under the hood, it’s clear that it’s not the sort of site with which you should do business.

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When you look at the “About Us” page, there’s nothing there. Digging in further, a “Whois” search, which reveals who registered the website, shows incomplete information and a phone number that doesn’t work in an area code that doesn’t exist.

There is no phone number to contact customer service. The contact page simply says “Hong Kong” as the location and above an e-mail form it says: “All the email will be response in 24 hours on weekdays.”

The reader didn’t get a response and neither did I. The site, which sells what it claims to be North Face clothing, is not an authorized seller of that line. A list of the many sites that can sell that brand can be found on the North Face website.

What about the “BBB Accredited” logo on the bottom of the page and other authentic looking symbols? Click on them and you will see they go nowhere. They ought to take you to the sites that lend their legitimacy. It’s easy to copy logos.

How did this reader land on the site? A link from a social networking site. All it takes is one person to post an image or blurb that you can get something for cheap and people share it. And eventually someone bites because, well, someone shared it.

In this season of nonstop shopping — an increasing amount taking place online — follow some simple rules to avoid dealing with a site that won’t give you what you want while leaving you with little-to-no recourse when there is a problem.

Be sure you are dealing with a reputable seller. If you are interested in a certain brand, start at the brand site and see where you can buy the product. There’s an industry of counterfeiters who build their businesses around brand names and the words “cheap,” “sale,” and “discount.” Don’t be their next victim.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Mitch can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.

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