COVID opened the door for scammers to double down on their worst practices, while preying on consumers during an unprecedented global pandemic. That includes some bad actors who have been taking advantage of online shoppers in search of hard-to-find items like face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
Today, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against one of those bad actors. The Commission alleged that Frank Romero (doing business as Trend Deploy) failed to deliver advertised PPE on time — if at all. What’s more, Romero didn’t tell customers about shipping delays, offer order cancellations, or give refunds. And even worse, although consumers thought Romero was selling them N95 masks, in reality Romero sent them cloth masks that did not have the protective qualities he promised. This case is part of the FTC’s continuing effort to address “online shopping” fraud that seeks to exploit high demand for PPE and other COVID-related products.
When you shop online, sellers are supposed to ship your order within the time stated in their ads, or within 30 days if the ads don’t give a time. If a seller can’t ship within the promised time, it has to give you a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.
So before you shop online, especially from an unfamiliar retailer, remember these three things:
1. Check out the company or product. Search online for the name plus terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” See what other people say about it. Read the seller's description of the product carefully. If the seller has name-brand goods at steeply discounted prices, they might be fakes.
2. Look at the terms of the sale. Make note of the total price, including taxes, shipping, and handling; the expected delivery date; and policies for refunds, including who pays for return shipping and if there is a restocking fee.
3. Pay by credit card. You’ll get protections under federal law, so you don’t have to pay for things you ordered but didn’t get.
Remember, if you see a scam, or want to report a problem about online shopping, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.