Officials warn of misleading online advertising on Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer retail season

By Kelley Kosuda - Producer

DETROIT - Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer retail "holiday" season when consumers see ads everywhere detailing great prices on new and used cars, outdoor appliances, swimwear, even vacation airfare and rentals. But how do you know that the deal is for real?

Here some information from the Better Business Bureau:

It is important to be able to discern between legitimate ads and those that may be confusing or misleading. During Memorial Day many retailers claim to have limited time offers that are only available once per year, but how much ad jargon is really true?

While some sales may be misleading in terms of what the person gets for their purchase, other ads may be promising something with the intent to “sell” the “item” which the consumer never receives.

Anytime there are holiday sales, scammers are lurking. During the Christmas season, one Detroit consumer reported purchasing a bedding set after seeing an enticing advertisement on one of her social media sites. After purchasing the item, she saw reviews that claimed the online retailer was a scam. She immediately asked for a refund, which the retailer denied. She said she never received tracking information or ultimately her item.

“You should never trust everything you see online, especially with social media,” said Melanie Duquesnel, BBB President & CEO. “Anyone can create an ad on social media. Always research the company prior to purchasing your item.”

Better Business Bureau has a few tips to help consumers sift through holiday sale flyers to see which retailers are truthful in their adverting.

  • Read the fine print. Is the retailer offering you a discounted price on the latest model or are they trying to sell off the older version? This could be especially helpful for consumers looking to purchase tablets or other popular electronics.
  • Percentage off of what? A retailer may be advertising 50% off but are they applying the discount to the regular price of the item or a marked-up price that matches what the regular price normally is once the discount is applied?
  • Lowest price! Is the price advertised available to everyone or only those with good credit? This could be especially helpful for consumers looking to purchase new or used cars. Even though you saw a low price advertised, you may not qualify for that offer.
  • Limited time offer. Is this truly the only time of year this retailer will run this sale or will you be able to get the same price in the future?
  • Guarantee vs. Warranty. Do you know the difference? Guarantees and warranties cover different things for a different amount of time. Does a "lifetime warranty" mean your lifetime or the lifetime of the product? Does "satisfaction guaranteed" mean you can return it used for a full refund? Make sure the retailer offers you full details on any deal they are offering you.
  • Be a savvy shopper. When shopping online, be sure to take your time, make sure you’re using a secure website (look for https in the URL) and read the fine print before submitting your order. Look for the return policy; although many online orders can be returned for a full refund, others have restocking fees. Some items cannot be returned; know before you buy.
  • Protect personal information. Read a site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy, that’s a big red flag that it may be a scam.
  • Think before your click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites. Many sketchy retailers advertise great deals or trendy clothing that don’t measure up to the promotional hype.
  • Shop with a credit card. In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card provides additional protections; it’s easier to dispute charges that you didn’t approve. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards don’t have the same protections as a credit card.

BBB AdTruthSM is an educational program that teaches consumers about potential advertising abuses and empowers them to report advertisements that could cause financial or personal harm due to problematic tactics or faulty products.

In 2018, BBB AdTruthSM launched a new online reporting tool that allows consumers to report questionable or confusing advertisements. Data provided through the BBB AdTruthSM Reporting Tool will provide insights for future research into questionable advertising techniques.

Search the business at before you buy. There you will find free information about the business and their marketplace experience with their customers. You can also call us at 866-788-5706 for additional assistance.

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