Buying gifts online? BBB warns of new 'discreet shipping' fees scam

The season of buying online and having packages shipped to your home is in full swing. But scammers are capitalizing on it, according to the Better Business Bureau – which shared a new warning about fake shipping fees with the holidays approaching.

The BBB warned on Friday in a scam alert that phony e-commerce sites have been hitting shoppers with a bill for "discreet shipping." 

The extra fee allegedly pays for special packaging or stamps, but according to the nonprofit, it’s a trick to get consumers to hand over more money. 

RELATED: Amazon reveals 5 of the hottest gifts so far from Black Friday, Cyber Monday

How the ‘discreet shipping’ scam works

The BBB said consumers order something online and pay for the product and shipping. But before the item can be delivered, the vendor contacts the consumer and claim they need to pay an extra fee for "discreet shipping."

What "discreet shipping" actually looks like depends on the scam, according to the BBB, which runs an online BBB Scam Tracker.

The bureau said it’s gotten "multiple reports" of the scam from consumers who purchased diet pills, vaping products, ammunition, CBD edibles, or other similar products. 

Scammers have also charged a "discreet shipping" fee when a shopper marks their online purchase as a gift, the BBB said.

Some consumers have also been told by scammers that they must pay for "discreet package stamps" to prevent their packages from passing through customs.

"I purchased some cigars, and the company… gave me a website and tracking number. But then, I received messages from the shipping company wanting money (supposedly refundable) for insurance on the delivery," one victim told the BBB. "After that, they requested more money for a type of delivery the sender described as discreet. They won’t cancel the order, refund the money I paid, or deliver the package without getting more money from me." 

The BBB said scammers usually ask for payment through a digital payment app such as Zelle or CashApp. 

"If you use an app to pay, you probably won’t be able to recover your funds when you realize the business is a sham," the BBB said in its alert. 

How to avoid shipping scams this holiday season

Buying from reputable shops is a good place to start when shopping online, the BBB said. Consumers should research before giving any business their money and contact information. 

Secondly, understanding how different payment methods work is important, according to the bureau. Different payment types come with different rights and responsibilities. 

"For example, you may be able to contest fraudulent charges on your credit card, but money sent through digital payment apps works more like cash," the BBB noted. "Once you’ve sent the funds, they are gone for good. Only use safe payment methods that come with protections when shopping online."


FILE - A credit card is held next to the keyboard of a laptop. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

Third, consumers should check the seller’s reviews and ratings, and look for positive or negative trends while noting how the company responds. 

Lastly, the BBB suggests that consumers should check for a secure website when buying anything online. Look for the "https://" URL structure in the company’s web address and the padlock symbol in the address bar. 

"These verify you’ve got a secure connection and encryption of your data," the BBB said.

RELATED: Working mom's tearful confession on family living paycheck to paycheck goes viral: 'I don't know what to do'

This story was reported from Cincinnati.