Permanent change of station (PCS) moves cause a lot of stress for you and your family—forcing you to uproot their entire lives and relocate. Every year, nearly 400,000 military families will make a PCS move (Military OneSource). A PCS move can be overwhelming, leaving you and your family with a lengthy to-do list and the anxiety that comes with a new home, neighborhood and school. You’ll find yourself frantically trying to get your ducks in a row, searching the internet for housing, furniture, transportation, and contractors before you even arrive at your new residence. This is where scammers take advantage.
How Online Shopping Scams Work
Online shopping scammers love to take advantage of military families who are in the midst of a PCS move. Here’s a couple ways they do it:
In this type of shopping scam, the scammer poses as an online seller in an attempt to steal money from military families. Oftentimes, they’ll impersonate military personnel or spouses and target buyers searching near military bases. They might try to sell you an item that doesn’t exist, ask you to pay a deposit on a nonexistent car or apartment—sight unseen—so they can hold it for you, or they might try to convince you to pay with unconventional payment methods like gift cards or payment apps.
Similar to the scenario above, scammers will target areas around military bases. However, in this type of scam they will pose as a buyer. Perhaps you’re moving out of the area and there are items you don’t want to take with you. You list the item on Facebook Marketplace and receive a response immediately. In some cases, the fraudulent buyer tries to overpay for the item and requests that you pay back the difference before you find out that their payment failed. The bad buyer might also try to steal your sensitive data by asking you to scan a QR code and enter your credentials to make sure they are sending payment to the correct account.
In an effort to establish trust these fraudsters might imitate local veteran-owned businesses in an attempt to target military families moving to the area. During a PCS move, you may need to update the furnace in your new house, or you may just want to make cosmetic changes so it feels more like a home. Either way, these fraudulent contractors will target you online with too-good-to-be-true deals. They might push you to make a large deposit to save your spot on their schedule, or convince you that a contract isn’t necessary.
How to Steer Clear of Online Shopping Scams During PCS Moves
When faced with a questionable situation online, take these three steps to protect yourself:
Slow it down. PCS moves are overwhelming and stressful, but it’s important to manage that stress so it doesn’t cloud your judgment. Always give yourself time to think through decisions and weigh out the good and bad. If something is too good to be true, it probably is.
Spot check. If you’re buying or selling items on an ecommerce app, always review the buyer or seller’s profile before completing the transaction. Be leary of new accounts that don’t have a lot of reviews or friends. If you’re trying to contract someone to do work on your new house, search for the contractor on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and make sure they are licensed and insured before making a deposit.
Stop! Don’t send. Before paying for an item or service, watch out for scammers who try to rush you into sending money, shipping the item or sending a deposit. Be even more cautious if they ask you to pay using unconventional payment methods like gift cards, cryptocurrency or wire transfers. If they rush you to pay using these methods, it’s a scam.
Where to Report Online Shopping Scams
If you come across a seller or buyer scam, report it directly to the e-commerce app or website. If you come across a contractor scam, report it to a consumer protection organization like the BBB. Report all scams to the FTC at ReportFraud.FTC.gov.