Due to social distancing and shortages of various essential items, many people have shifted to shopping online for the first time or have increased their online shopping habits.

As a result, BBB is seeing an increase in inquiries for online retailers. From January through June of 2020, BBB received more than three million inquiries on online retailers. BBB also received over 27,000 complaints and over nearly 8,000 scam reports related to online shopping.

BBB reminds consumers to take time to evaluate products, services and the businesses that provide them, especially if you’ve never engaged with the company before.

“We’ve seen a 100% increase in inquiries on online retailers,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas said. “That’s a good thing, because it means people are doing their homework before spending money online.”

BBB offers the following tips to consider when shopping online:

 Never rush to make a purchasing decision. When shopping online, be sure to take your time. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites.

 Read the fine print. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may offer free or very low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge.

 Review the return policy. While many online orders can be returned for a full refund, others have restocking fees. Some items cannot be returned; know before you buy.

 Examine the website. Check a site’s security settings — its URL (web address) should start with https:// — and should include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page. Also make sure the website is spelled correctly and be on the lookout for scammer grammar on the page.

 Read reviews. Keep in mind that sites like Amazon, Shopify, Etsy, and others are platforms often used by individual sellers to market their own goods and services. Make sure you read the reviews for each seller on these types of platforms before providing payment and make sure you are dealing with a trustworthy seller.

 Protect personal information. Read a site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy, that’s a big red flag that it may be a scam.

 Shop with a credit card. By using a credit card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If the product arrives defective or doesn’t arrive at all, you can dispute the charge on your credit card and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor performs an investigation.

 Keep documentation. Save a copy of the confirmation page or email confirmation until you receive the item and are satisfied. Be sure to know and understand the return policy and maintain this document with your purchase records.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker. BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge.