Kelvin Collins: Back-to-school shopping? Save money and avoid scammers – The Augusta Chronicle

Students and parents are gearing up for back-to-school season as the summer break comes to a close. With the emphasis on in-person instruction resuming, shopping for back-to-school supplies is expected to be vastly different this year than it was during the 2020-21 school year. 

According to the National Retail Federation, almost half (49%) of parents with school-aged children said their kids are most excited about shopping for back-to-school clothing this year. Additionally, 61% of consumers plan to purchase their back-to-school supplies around major sale events. With the majority of consumers turning to online marketplaces for their shopping needs this year, it is important to exercise caution before making an online purchase. 

Kelvin Collins, president and CEO, Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor.

Between May and July 2020, consumers lost an average of $50,000 per month to online purchasing scams, according to BBB Scam Tracker data. Many of those who lost money to online clothing stores found the business through an advertisement on social media, a common tactic that scammers use across the nation. 

One consumer reported more than $500 lost to an online seller who “takes your money when you order his merchandise but never sends anything that was purchased. When I tried to message him about the missing order, he blocked me and told me I couldn’t make him do anything.” 

It is important to exercise extreme caution when dealing with online sellers, even if the advertisement appears to be for a well-known company. Scammers know how to make websites and advertisements look legitimate. They know the shopping trends of American consumers and, right now, the trend is for back-to-school supplies and clothing. If you encounter an advertisement on social media, be sure to check with the official website of the company to verify it is a valid offer.

To assist back-to-school shoppers this season, the Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to save money and avoid scams:

Check around your home

Start back-to-school shopping right at home by making a list of everything that you need and then taking stock of everything that you may have stored in desks, drawers, closets or storage areas. Some supplies may still be stored from last year, saving you from purchasing the same item twice. 

Research expensive purchases

Before purchasing expensive items such as computers, laptops, or a refrigerator for a dorm, be sure to spend some time to research the brand, reviews of the product, warranty and prices at multiple locations. Universities often have rules regarding the size and placement of appliances in dorms. Check with the housing office at the college or university on whether an energy-efficient appliance is required. 

Ask for student discounts

Stores and software companies often offer discounts to students that have either a student ID or a valid .edu email address. Even if a discount is not advertised, it never hurts to ask. 

Shop in bulk

If purchasing standard items that are needed at the beginning of each school year, such as binders, notebooks or writing utensils, purchasing items in bulk is a great way to save money. 

Shop safely online

If purchasing school supplies online, verify that the URL starts with “https” and includes a lock symbol. The “s” in “https” stands for secure and includes additional encryption and security measures than a “http” website. 

If purchasing from a lesser-known website, make sure to take the time to read reviews and feedback from previous customers. The lowest price may not always be the best route. If the company’s contact information is not clearly listed, or they only have an email as the point of contact, that is a red flag. You may want to shop elsewhere. 

The BBB strongly recommends against using unprotected payment options when interacting with online marketplaces. If the seller asks for payment via wire transfer or a gift card, that is a sign it may not be a legitimate business. Using a credit card is almost always the best option when purchasing online due to the additional protections they have to dispute and resolve charges when purchased products are not received. 

For more tips for back-to-school shopping, visit BBB.org.    

If you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided may prevent another person from falling victim.

Kelvin Collins is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, which includes the Augusta-Aiken metro area. Direct questions or complaints about a specific company or charity to (800) 763-4222 or info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org.

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