Discounts. Don’t you just love them? They’re spread all over the Internet for all manner of purchase and you start to feel disappointed if you don’t get one. But when it comes to online discounts, all is not what it seems. You could still end up paying more than you need to for that supposed bargain. With a discount, you’re supposed to get a reduction on a regular price for an item or service. Or you may see them linked to supposed money savings for medications or household bills. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common discount tricks.
Shopping Discount Tricks
It’s common to see an original price crossed out and replaced with a significantly lower sum. You’ll see them on big-name store sites and in one-off adds that frequently appear on Facebook and other social media sites. In many cases, the cut price has an expiration deadline. The wording may say something like “limited time” or “today only.” Or you may see a countdown clock showing how much time is left before it expires. In other words, the seller wants you to buy without delay. The message is: It’s urgent and if you don’t buy now, you’ll miss this great bargain. Many price cuts are genuine, especially around seasonal sales times like Black Friday. Or, in online supermarkets (as in brick-and-mortar stores) it’s common practice to genuinely discount products for a short time – though that still doesn’t guarantee you’re getting the lowest price. That’s not a scam. But it’s also easy for any seller to invent a supposed regular price and then “discount” it. You see that in department stores all the time.
Action: Search online for more details and check price comparison sites. Ignore the discounted price and that ticking clock and buy only when you’re ready and if you know or think the new price is good. As always though, beware of prices that look too good to be true. They usually are.
Bill Discount Scams
This scam comes via a phone call. The crooks say they can save you as much as 40 percent on utility bills. They ask you send them an unpaid bill via email or a messaging service. They pay in full using a stolen credit card and ask you to send a lower amount to them. If you check with the utility company, you discover the bill has indeed been paid, so you send your lower payment to the scammer. You’re impressed. Later though, the utility discovers the crime and cancels receipt of the payment and bills you again. So, you’re out of pocket for the money you sent.
Action: Simply don’t respond to these cold calls. We haven’t found any organization able to negotiate this type of discount with utility or other household service companies. If you do think it might be genuine, check with the service provider first. Also, if you’re on the Do Not Call Registry, these people shouldn’t be contacting you in the first place, so that’s a clear indication of a scam.
Discount Credit Card Scams
In another cold-calling trick, scammers claim to offer a credit card that charges a much lower interest rate than competitors. Furthermore, they say, you can transfer your existing credit card debt to them and pay the lower rates. As part of the con, they ask for the victim’s existing card number – and promptly use it for ID theft. Alternatively, the crooks may claim they can negotiate a lower interest rate with your existing card provider. They will either charge you for this supposed service or again they may be just after your credit card number for identity theft.
- Some genuine card companies do offer promotional rates for transferring your debt to them but if they don’t have an existing relationship with you, they won’t cold call you. You’re more likely to receive a promotion in the mail and you can check this directly with them.
- If a cold caller offers to sign you up for a lower rate card, don’t agree, and don’t give them any of your confidential financial information. They’ll try to pressure you to act now but just don’t.
- If you want to try to lower your interest rate with your existing card company, phone their customer service department and ask. No company has an interest-lowering arrangement with the card firms, no matter what they say. And never pay upfront to anyone who says they can get you a special rate. At best, they’ll do exactly what you can do yourself.
Discount Medical Card Scams
With health care and medication costs being so high in the United States, it's always tempting to sign up for a discount card that offers you savings. And some of them genuinely do. But scammers have wormed their way into this market, pretending to offer insurance, phishing for confidential personal information like your Social Security number, or charging a monthly sum. These cards, genuine or not, are not health insurance cards and could even void any genuine insurance you already have. Free prescription discount cards can save you a lot if the provider has negotiated special deals with pharmacies.
Most Rx cards are free, but you should still compare the savings each one offers -- and read the small print. Be wary if there's an annual or monthly charge -- check if the savings you'll make outweigh the costs.
It's always best to contact your pharmacy or health care provider to check costs, if a card is accepted, and how much it will save you. If you have existing health or Rx coverage, make sure your insurer is okay with your using a discount card. And never provide confidential information until you're satisfied you're dealing with a legitimate company.
These aren't the only discount scams you'll encounter. Always be wary of anyone saying they can save you money, especially if they try to pressure you by saying you have to act immediately. Take the time to check out their claims.