As an ‘elder millennial’ and a professional who uses the internet every day, I like to see myself as a savvy digital citizen. I’ve never succumbed to the Nigerian Prince scheme, I never open emails from people I don’t know (sometimes – even people I do know . . . oops), and I never go around clicking random links or entering my social security number in places that it shouldn’t be.
I am a professional who is on the internet most of my day, I guide and strategize with businesses on the daily, all around honing and using their digital voice as clearly and honestly as possible. I don’t condone shady SEO practices or spammy tactics for marketing – but I know that stuff like that exists. So with all my training, practice, and awareness, you’d think that I’d never be hoodwinked on the internet, right?
Well, I’m here to tell you NOPE! I am not immune to being tricked, especially when I’m on the run, tired and doing too many things at once. Those are the times that we all break down our standards a little, when we are trying to book a hotel or squeeze in one last sentence, is the time that you Tweet out three typos at once.
Picture this: my husband and I are finishing dinner on a Friday, and instead of preparing to relax, we are discussing what we have to do for the wedding we are attending the next day. We need to prepare the car we’re driving, take care of the dog, do food prep, decide on our outfits, iron said outfits, etc. etc, etc. In the middle of it all, my husband says, ‘Oh! Did you buy tickets to Dave Matthews at the Gorge like you said you were going to? We promised so-and-so we’d carpool.’ Again – NOPE!
So, on top of everything else I was doing, I started to look up tickets. I do one Google search, find a website that has tickets, and bada-bing, bada-boom I buy tickets.
Then I wait for a confirmation email. When it doesn’t come within the hour, I start to wonder – did I actually buy those tickets? Did I put in the wrong email address?
I go back to my history and find the website. Then my stomach falls. I do some more googling: Better Business Bureau, look at their social media pages, reviews, and more. What I find out is that all is not lost – I didn’t get totally scammed. However, I bought tickets from a semi-shady reseller at 40% markup. I could have bought the tickets somewhere else for less.
I am kicking myself for not following the advice I lecture my parents about. I am grumpy because I know I fell into a sneaky SEO trap that many also fall into, and me, of all people, should know better! So, what do I need to remember next time I try to buy something on the internet? I’ll write these tips down here, so that if no one even reads this, at least I will have it for myself.
A Guide to Safety On the Internet
- First tip is something I did NOT forget, so that’s good, but always ALWAYS deal with websites that have a security certificate on it (SSL). This shows up as https:// as opposed to http:// . Sites must have a security certificate on them before you start giving away sensitive information. And, even if they don’t collect sensitive information, Google is downgrading sites that don’t have SSL certificates on them. So, business owners, make sure your site has one!
- If you’re buying something online, do your research. If you aren’t on a trusted site (like Amazon, REI, thinkspry.com) then do some follow-up. See if you can find an address or a Google Business Listing. You can do a search on the Better Business Bureau as well to see if anything fishy is reported. You can even google questions like, “Is XYZ company a scam” and see what comes back.
- This is a big one that I’m so sad I missed: social media! See if they have active social media accounts. If a business is a scam, they likely won’t have an active social media presence. Be wary of social media accounts that have been opened in the same month, or even week of your search. See if and how the company responds to reviews. Of course, there are perfectly legit businesses that have to start social media accounts from scratch – this is just one element of your verification process.
- Go to the source: I should have gone to the official event page and found the advertised ticket sales links. This also goes for products that you’re buying from a 3rd party site – if it feels weird, go to the manufacturer and see which websites they recommend you purchase from.
- Is their business and website legit: poke around their website, see if they have a robust customer service options. Find the CEO in their About section and look them up on LinkedIn. One thing that I noticed is that they only had an 800 phone number, but no published email address for me to write to. Emails create a paper trail, and paper trails are NOT things that scammers want. If they are going to scam you, smart scammers will have a form field and not an email address. This comes into play for the next tip:
- NEVER USE YOUR DEBIT CARD. Okay, this is a tough one because I am trying to slash out my credit cards so I have them hidden away. However, when I called my bank because I suspected trickery, they couldn’t cancel the charges like they could a credit card. They said, if I wanted my money back, I needed to record that the vendor was not giving me what I paid for, and use that record as proof that I’d been swindled. To have a record, you need to have a paper trail, which is where email comes in. Since I couldn’t email anyone, I couldn’t create a paper trail.
All in all, I fell victim to a stealthy SEO practice. The company used words that they knew people would be using to look up (‘tickets’ ‘gorge’ ‘purchase’) and made sure they were the top result on Google using ads. Since they seemed like they were from the venue, I clicked right in!
Again, all is not lost – I am still, unfortunately, going to Dave Matthews but the tickets I bought were slightly more expensive than they needed to be. Hopefully, through my frustration, I have shared some good tips on verifying a business on the internet. When it all comes down to it – don’t multitask and focus on one thing at a time! Good luck out there!
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