This fall, as high school students prepare for the fun of a Homecoming dance, one thing they shouldn’t be worrying about is whether their dress or attire will arrive.
But the Better Business Bureau Akron is reporting several local families and others nationwide who are getting scammed by online retailers who don’t deliver on their goods.
In an alert on Friday, the BBB cautioned consumers to be aware of scams when ordering attire for Homecoming or other events. Many fake sites are attracting customers with a discounted price, but the orders are never received after the items have been purchased and personal data may have been compromised.
The scam "is disappointing and saddens me to hear people losing out,” said Shannon Siegferth, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Akron, which serves Ashland, Medina, Portage, Richland, Summit and Wayne Counties. “The online scams we hear about all year round continue to advance their technology and approach.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is,” said Siegferth. “Looking through a company's website, checking reviews and verifying if they are an Accredited Business with BBB all are best practices when purchasing online. We advise consumers to ensure the company they are looking to purchase from clearly and prominently provides a direct and effect means to contact the company. This includes a phone number, physical address and email address.”
Local customers scammed by fake Homecoming sites
The BBB said an area parent lost over $150 when trying to buy her daughter a pair of shoes she could wear to Homecoming. She ordered from Bowmanra.com, a new website just created on Aug. 5. The only contact method for the business is by email, the BBB said.
Another consumer ordered a dress from PickInLove.com. The business sent a confirmation code, fake tracking information and status updates. Her daughter’s Homecoming came and went, but the dress never arrived. This website was less than a year old and has been taken down, the BBB said. The business’ Facebook page has been active only since last July and does not have proper contact information.
BBB did not hear back from the businesses when requesting a physical address and phone number to provide consumers. I also attempted to reach both businesses and did not hear from either. (9-27-2022 update: I did receive an email response from a Gmail address listed on the Bowmanra.com website on 9-24-2022, a day after deadline for this story, asking for relevant evidence, saying all orders are received by customers in a timely manner and there is no fraudulent behavior. I have put the BBB Akron in touch with the company to share information about the complaint received and the BBB is continuing its investigation.)
Here’s some advice
The BBB suggests taking time to research a new website. Look closely at the URL to see if it is mimicking well-known brand names. Research the age of the domain, using caution with new websites. You can do that by going to https://www.godaddy.com/whois and search the domain registry to locate the date, Siegferth said. “This database also supplies information on who owns the domain and the last update to the site, she said.
Look for the “https” in the URL (the extra s is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Read the website content carefully looking for typos or anything else indicating the website was put together quickly. Also, search for multiple ways (phone, email, physical address, online chat) to contact the business, not just an email address or online form.
Siegferth also recommends using a form of payment that can be reversed (i.e. credit card) when purchasing online. Using a credit card enables a level of protection to the consumer by encrypting the information sent over the web, she said.
Paying online with a debit card leaves the possibility of fraud at a greater risk. Additionally, putting a hold on your account that is believed to have experienced fraud using a debit card could leave you without funds for a length of time and disable payment to recurring bills such as utility, mortgage and insurance, she said.
Finally, if you are aware of a scam, or have been a victim of a scam, Siegferth asks readers please report it to BBB scam tracker (https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker) and the Federal Trade Commission (online https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/ or by phone at 877-382-4357)
More on widow’s penalty
Last week, I shared an update about a column topic I wrote about in the summer about what’s called the widow’s or widower’s penalty. I had written about a Suffield widower who was upset that his rate went up after his wife’s death.
The practice occurs when some insurers hike the auto insurance rates of a person after a spouse dies. The state of Delaware bans the practice.
The Consumer Federation of America, a national consumer’s advocacy group, reached out to me and did a mini follow-up to a 2015 nationwide study that found at the time that several auto insurers increased rates for widows by an average of 20%.
The group did a mini study of major Ohio insurers last month and called on the Ohio Department of Insurance and insurers to stop utilizing the widow’s penalty.
Using the same driver profile and address of a 35 year old man or woman living in Akron with a perfect driving record, the group found that Progressive was charging the widow’s penalty.
In the first test, the group found the Progressive six-month premium for a 35 year old married woman was $187, but if she was widowed, her premium jumped to $204. And in the second test, the married woman's premium was $202, and the widowed woman's premium was $218.
I had reached out to Progressive on Monday of the week I was working on the column for comment. I did not hear from them by my Friday deadline.
However, I did hear back from Progressive spokesman Jeff Sibel a week later. He apologized for the delay and asked if he could provide some clarification:
“Our loss experience shows the single rating is actuarially more appropriate for Widow(er)s than would be a married rating,” Sibel wrote. “For Progressive customers who’s spouse has died while actively insured with us, we continue to rate the driver in the same married classification they had before their loss. This applies for the balance of that term and all subsequent policy terms. While we continue to rate the widowed driver as ‘married’ there may be factors (such as the number of drivers, vehicles, and complexion of the household) that impact rate when a policy is up for renewal.”
In a follow-up email, Sibel confirmed that a new customer who is a widow or widower would be rated as a single and not married.
Michael DeLong, research and advocacy associate for the Consumer Federation of America, said the group still considers the new customer who is a widow or widow being rated as a single to be the widow’s penalty.
“The insurance company treats widows differently than people whose spouse hasn’t yet died. The fact that they have an exception for existing customers doesn’t mean they are not mistreating widows, just that they are mistreating slightly fewer of them,” said DeLong, who called on the Ohio Department of Insurance in last week’s column to stop the practice also sent a letter to the commissioner after the column ran.
“The company is basically saying, we’ll keep you if you had been with us before, but otherwise widows need not apply. Even if it’s just a small penalty, there is no reason the Department should allow insurance companies to charge widowed drivers more than married drivers for coverage the Ohio requires under law,” said DeLong.
A few announcements
My column will take a hiatus for a few weeks while I am one of two reporters staffing the Beacon Journal's mobile newsroom in Firestone Park. Fellow reporter Anthony Thompson and I will be writing general news stories about the Firestone Park area. If you have story ideas, contact Thompson at AJThompson@gannett.com or me at email@example.com You can read more about the mobile newsroom at https://tinyurl.com/25buu7ms
For those of you getting ready to shop for Medicare Advantage plans, open enrollment begins on Oct. 15. I am also working on some stories with tips for shopping and area events to help you with your decision. It is scheduled to run in the Beacon Journal on Sunday, Oct. 16.
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Column: Don't get scammed while shopping for Homecoming attire