When retail therapy causes anxiety: Beware of the out-of-stock item scam

Last Updated: May 29, 2024By Tags: , , , , , ,

Once again, the adage of “if it’s too good to be true, it’s likely too good to be true” signals a Red Alert when encountering this particular scam. Imagine scrolling through your favorite social media app and you see an ad for an item that looks like a real bargain. You take the bait, order the item, then patiently wait for it to arrive. But the only thing you receive is an email from the “company” informing you that your item is “out of stock” and that a refund will be forthcoming. Only you’ll never see the refund arrive. You try contacting the sellers only to discover that the shiftless scammers have closed shop and have absconded with your money. You’ve just fallen prey to a fake social media ad, only to discover that there never was an actual company and the item never existed in inventory.

What you can do to protect yourself

When you spot an enticing online ad anywhere (and especially in social media), be sure to thoroughly research the particular company online, even research the item itself, to see if anything negative pops up. Also, only shop on secure websites with SSL (that’s the padlock symbol in your browser followed by “https//”) — and even then, research that company as well. The FTC recommends that you pay with a credit card — this way, you can dispute charges and hold payment pending an investigation.

BBB Scam Alert: How to spot an out-of-stock scam before losing money

How the scam works

You see a product online that you want to purchase (shoppers report encountering this scam through social media ads.) You click on the link to the company’s website, find the product, and check out. Shortly after your card is charged, you receive an email saying the product is out of stock and they will refund your money. You wait several days for the refund to post to your account, but it never does. Then, when you try to contact the online shop, no one responds.

One shopper told BBB Scam Tracker in November 2023, “The order went through and money was taken out of my account. After more than a week of long wait for my order to ship, the order got canceled (saying the size ordered was out of stock) and the money was never returned to my account.”

The truth is, the product likely never existed in the first place, and scammers hope you’ll never notice you didn’t get your refund. However, if you used a credit card, you should be able to contest the charge and get your money back.

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