How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

From Instagram & Facebook ads to ‘sale’ sites, here’s how to avoid getting scammed and ripped off.


A few days ago, I went to a Gilt event, where Zac Posen had designed a car (apparently, silver is the new cool color for cars). I was standing near him and the pro photographer asked if he could take a photo of us together. I said “No way”, of course — JK! Anyhow, Zac and I chatted for a few minutes (he seemed very down to earth and approachable) before the orchestrators at Gilt decided to open the proverbial barn doors and let everyone stampede into the sale area.

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

Zac Posen with Hilary Rowland

Now, you’d expect a Gilt sale to be super amazing, right? I’d imagined racks of designer clothing, in perfect shape, at rock-bottom prices. But no, actually. Most of the items looked like they’d been stuffed in someone’s closet for a year, and they were clearly returns or items that didn’t sell. There was pretty much one of each item, sooooo hope it fits! Beyond that, the items weren’t any cheaper (as far as I could tell, anyway) than their mildly discounted web sales.

The way most discount or flash sale websites work is this: they take an item, change the name so you can’t Google it, and sell it for around what you’d get it for elsewhere (if not more). They flat-out lie about the “original/retail price” then they tack on the extra bonuses of expensive and slow shipping and a final-sale no-return policy. Nice.

One Kings Lane

One Kings Lane hides the fact that they’re selling products for more than retail. They artificially inflate the “retail” price (like, way high) and charge more than retail, all the while pretending it’s on some sort of hugely discounted sale. Oh, and they deliberately rename all the products so it’s hard to find them (and realize that they’re cheaper) on Google.

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

Like the white lamp above? I first saw it for $169 plus expensive and slow shipping and tax on OneKingsLane, and loved it, but I ended up buying it for $79 all-in at Walmart (it was also $79 at Overstock.)

Here’s another example: Their “Houston End Table” was on “sale” at One Kings Lane for $329 +$32 shipping ($361.) Yet I managed to find the exact same table (sold on about ten different websites, at the time) and, at the time of the One Kings Lane sale, the normal retail price was $287 with free shipping, which is $74 cheaper than the supposedly discounted price at One Kings Lane.

Oh yeah, and unlike these daily deal sites (aside from Joss & Main, which actually has some good deals and allows returns), the majority of regular online stores give you the option to return the product if you don’t like it for some reason.

Wondering if the product you’re drooling over is available on other sites? The fastest way to find out is to right-click the image and select “Search Google for this image”. Happy shopping!

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

On the web: $89.95 and free 2nd day delivery — on One Kings Lane: $99 + $9.95 for shipping (=$20 more), and it’ll arrive in (get this) literally a MONTH!


I think the image below pretty much sums it up. Oh, and Amazon has free and fast shipping, while Gilt’s shipping is $$$ and super slow, which brings the price to more than a 50% markup. Same kind of ripoff as One Kings Lane.

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs



I got an email from GILT’s PR / media relations, who wanted us to change this article, since I outed them for their dishonest practices. This was the rationalization:

“The ‘retail/original’ price listed on GILT’s sales of all products on our site reflects the price reported by the manufacturer and may not always represent the prevailing price for retailers or department stores on every day or in every community. For international sales, the Full Retail Price is based on what such items would be sold at in the US market or in the worldwide online market, plus taxes, shipping and additional international surcharges, if applicable.”

So it sounds like they basically figure out how they can make it sound the highest, between what the manufacturer says, the highest price it’s selling for anywhere, and what other charges they can add to the “retail” price like tax, duty, and shipping that some customers may have had to pay depending on where they would have bought it and then shipped it. Not exact transparent…

I personally think that strategy is very misleading at best, and I replied and said that the only price that people care about is the item’s current price at other stores — not the absolute maximum price it has historically sold for anywhere, including duty and tax, etc!

As a side note, I tried to find retailers selling Gilt products for as high as the price they listed as the non-sale price, and I couldn’t. Soooo…

Share below: What experiences with online shopping have you had?

Read more: My best online shopping tips & hacks to get great deals

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Avatar of Hilary Rowland

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 296 Comments

  1. Avatar of Mark Alloway

    Mark Alloway

    I purchased a table and a sofa bed for £75 from mylifestyle.com — never received it. I was given faulty tracking number. FYI

  2. Avatar of Slemmons


    While shopping online for five Christmas quilts I found three from legit American companies and received exactly what I ordered. But two of the quilts I ordered turned out to come from Singapore, or China or Who Knows Where since they had a distribution warehouse in Los Angeles. The product I received was two cheap pieces of material sewn together with blurry images of the original quilt photo-printed on the fabric. No quilting, no handmade cute Christmas themed images. I emailed the company to request a refund and return label (like most American companies), but they replied (late at night since it was Asia Time Zone) and stalled, trying to negotiate. Fortunately I contacted my credit card company to reverse and contest the charge, while the emails kept coming asking that I agree to a 20% refund, then the next day a 30% refund, then the next day a 50% refund, then a 70% refund and then a refund of shipping cost. Each time, I refused and demanded a 100% refund, adding that I already paid for and arranged the return back to the distribution center address. Eventually, about three weeks later, the charge was completely resolved.

  3. Avatar of Cindy Hawkins Legorreta

    Cindy Hawkins Legorreta

    Few more points to keep in mind: If you check the reviews, you will note glowing ones, right alongside the terrible. And the raves (which can be purchased BTW by the scam company)… are in awkward English, with comical syntax, and phrasing. No native English speaker would ever write like that. How wonky does THAT sound? Worse still, once these ‘companies’ have your CC info, they can do God knows what with it. That should be a major concern here, in addition to crappy clothes, zero customer service and nonexistent ethics. Please, people – don’t take the bait.

  4. Avatar of Mikaela Svanborg

    Mikaela Svanborg

    I dont understand why you write that PayPal is any safety. I ordered clothes for 400 USD from China and got a cheap pocket mirror for 2 USD instead. I complained at PayPal but the didn’t believe me. So I lost 400 USD. PayPal is really not a guarantee for getting your money back.

  5. Avatar of Valerie Ling

    Valerie Ling

    For those who willingly buy fake brands, if it’s fake in the first place why would they bother to assemble it properly……IT’S A SCAM.

  6. Avatar of Stephanie Janet Carr

    Stephanie Janet Carr

    “it shipped from China” is by default a bad start when you’re shopping. The Chinese scams are the Ferengi of this world, except even more dishonest.

    • Avatar of Sara Hager

      Made in China goods are trash. But the way you speak is so rude and sounds kind of racist. Not cool.

  7. Avatar of Sandra Phillips

    Sandra Phillips

    LMAO I bought a drone from Comfyracks. My $15 drone flew off into the sunset, never to be seen again once it went beyond the signal of my phone ?????

  8. Avatar of Colleen Ebert

    I have been seeing a lot of ads on YouTube for the website Wish.com lately and it made me wonder: Is it still a scam?

  9. Avatar of Joseph Stoudt

    Okay so Amazon isn’t Asian but I saw something. There’s a gaming laptop being sold on it for 90 bucks and it cost 900 for Amazon!?!?!?!

  10. Avatar of Carmen Blair

    I got excited because I found something I was thinking about buying at half price. Then I saw the address of the outlet and then I immediately got suspicious about the company. I’ll take my money elsewhere and buy it at full price.

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