With shortages of sanitizers, masks and paper products seen throughout the country since COVID-19 first surfaced, the Better Business Bureau serving Minnesota and North Dakota warns that fake websites selling these and other related products have also surfaced.

BBB has been busy investigating several sites and complaints received since mid-March.

One such site was popumart.com. Ten complaints have been received from consumers in seven states. According to complainants, they responded to ads on social media sites for face masks and hand sanitizers, but the products they ordered never arrived.

Popumart does not list an address or phone number on its website. The website was created on March 23 but no longer exists.

Another website, mizinshop.com, was created on April 1 and lists an address in Franco, Wis. This is a fake address, as there is no such city in Wisconsin. One complainant said they purchased two carbon face masks from the site for $53, but the masks never arrived.

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These fake websites can appear convincing, and scammers are trying to capitalize on people's fears. But there are a few things that you can be on the lookout for when shopping online:

  • Know who you are dealing with. Check spelling and domain names. Google the website to see if others have been complaining. Look for other tell-tale signs such as poor grammar, lack of information, and capital letters in the middle of sentences.

  • Ensure the website address begins with https://. Also, check the address bar for a “not secure” message. A trustworthy online seller will have a secure domain, keeping your information safe from hackers.

  • Check the age of a website’s domain. Use a website like whois.domaintools.com to check whether a website was established recently. Because crises like the coronavirus provide new avenues for scammers to take advantage of the public, they will often establish new websites that match current events.

  • Check for an “About” page and a “Contact Us” section. Scammers are creative, but they don’t often take the time to fabricate a full brand history like you would find on a company’s about us page.

  • Check a business at BBB.org. Whether the website offers face masks or toilet paper, verify its legitimacy before you make a purchase or provide your personal information.

  • Always pay by credit card. When purchasing any product or service through a website, always use a credit card as your payment method. If you pay by credit card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If the product arrives defective or doesn’t arrive at all, you can dispute the charge on your credit card and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them.

If you encounter a scam, please report it to our BBB Scam Tracker. Even if you don’t fall victim to the scam, the information allows you to share your experience with others and helps to protect the public from scammers.

BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota is a not-for-profit organization promoting high standards of business ethics and conduct, to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs that inform, protect and assist the public. Contact the BBB at bbb.org/minnesota or 800-646-6222.