CHICAGO - The Better Business Bureau is warning parents to be on the lookout for back-to-school scams as students prepare to return to the classroom.
Due to potential shortages on certain items, including shoes, backpacks and technology equipment, the BBB is telling consumers to be wary of online deals that may sound too good to be true.
"Parents are certainly going to turn to online shopping to get the things their children will need for school," said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "And as we know, scammers follow the headlines, so it’s a safe bet they’ll see that as an opportunity to line their pockets."
Bernas said scammers may target unsuspecting parents who are desperate to find needed supplies for their students using pop-up ads on social networking sites and fake websites.
"With 38 percent of consumers currently worried about their financial security, savvy online shopping is a must," Bernas said.
The National Retail Federation reports shoppers are expected to spend on average $850 per family.
BBB offers these tips for buying tech products ahead of the new school year:
- Shop with familiar retailers. Laptops, tablets, or other tech accessories can be a major investment. Shop with businesses you know and trust to ensure you’re getting a quality product and good customer service.
- Don’t buy from impostors. Fraudsters may use the name, logo, and other characteristics of brands you trust. Closely examine the website to verify that they are who they say they are.
- Approach low prices with caution. Low prices and short-term sales could be a sign you’ve encountered a scam. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Some companies rarely offer sales. Do more research if a company that rarely discounts products is offering a huge sale. The products may be used or refurbished, or it could be a fake website.
- Know what you’re shopping for. Set a budget, identify what capabilities will benefit your student, and compare your options. Then, shop around for a reliable seller. Researching the best product for your needs will help you avoid scams and buyer’s remorse.
- Ensure you know who the seller is. Some big-box retailers allow third-party sellers to list items on their site, which can be hard to distinguish from the rest. Read all the fine print to ensure you’re comfortable with the seller.
- Finish your shopping early. Supply shortages are possible, especially as large numbers of consumers begin shopping for the same products. Do your shopping now to avoid paying higher prices or falling victim to a scam.
Additional advice for doing your back-to-school shopping includes:
- Get the teacher-approved list. Many teachers have lists of items they want their students to have.
- Take an inventory of clothing and supplies you already have. Then, set a budget and buy only what you need.
- Use price comparison apps to help you check for the best available price in real-time. Many of these apps use your phone’s camera to scan a product code. Then they search online databases to show you prices and information about similar products sold online or in stores.
- Consider buying used or refurbished, whether it’s clothing, sporting equipment, electronics, or musical instruments. Consignment and resale shops are great places to find quality merchandise at deep discounts.
- Ask about refund and return policies, including sale items. Merchants often have different refund and return policies for sale items, especially clearance merchandise.
- Save those receipts! When you’re shopping online, keep copies of your order number, the refund and return policies, shipping costs, and warranties.