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Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams

by Sheryl Harris , Director, Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs
Close-up of woman using a smart phone to shop for winter coats onlineShopping looks so easy on social media: Spot a cute item, click and order.

But order from the wrong site and you can wind up getting substandard goods that are nothing like the photos—if you get the merchandise at all.

Ahead of the holidays, the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs is sharing a few tips to help harried shoppers avoid bad deals when ordering from sites they haven’t shopped before:

  • Avoid companies that treat customers badly. Two quick ways to check—and consumers should try both—are to look at the company’s Better Business Bureau rating and history ( and to conduct a web search of the company or product name with words like “complain” or “return.”
  • Read the return policy carefully before buying. Watch out for return policies that are vague or overly burdensome; policies that require consumers to get “permission” to return items; and policies that require returns be sent overseas at the customer’s expense.
  • Don’t mistake a Pinterest, Instagram or other social media “like” for a review of the company’s performance. Some companies pay individuals to hype their products, and some people who share or like product photos may not have made purchases.
  • Use credit cards—not debit cards—when shopping at sites new to them. Credit cards provide fraud protections that debit cards do not.
mouse and keyboard with red key that says Get Me Out of Here Remember that in Ohio, retail stores and sites can set their own return policies—including prohibiting returns—as long as they conspicuously disclose those policies to shoppers before they pay. Our website——has additional tips for shoppers.

County consumers who encounter difficulties with retail purchases are encouraged to file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 216-443-7035 or filing a complaint on our website.

The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs mediates consumer complaints against businesses, investigates scams and enforces the County’s Consumer Protection Ordinance.