Today you can do more and more shopping and returns online. But when you start the refund process, be sure you're logging on to the correct website. One Escondido man learned the hard way when he was tricked into sending a scammer hundreds of dollars.
"It started by downloading a free app onto my phone," said Marine veteran Paul Dougharty. "It was to help me relax and go to sleep. With PTSD my mind has a tough time shutting down."
Then Dougharty realized the app was charging him to use the service. He looked at his bill and saw a phone number where he could challenge the charge.
"So I called the 800 number on my bank statement and it's a recording from Apple directing you to a website," said Dougharty.
Instead of typing in the web address, Dougharty went to a search engine. He clicked on the first result and called to request a refund.
"You assume that Apple, being a huge tech corporation, that their result is going to be on the top of the list," said Dougharty.
He was connected to an operator who started to walk him through the process of a refund, but the person on the phone did not work for Apple.
"I follow the steps to try and get my money back," said Dougharty. "Then she told me to punch in a three-digit code."
The woman guided him in setting up Apple Pay and told him to enter a PIN of 6-4-9. He was told his refund would be processed in a few minutes, but two hours later he still didn't have his money. That's when he called Apple Customer Service.
"They told me I might have been scammed," said Dougharty. "She said there are fake websites that you go to and they're not Apple websites. They look exactly like them, but they are not it."
Dougharty saw that $649 had been taken from his bank account. That wasn't a PIN the person gave him, but instead a dollar amount. Then a second charge for $649 was taken from his bank account the next day.
His bank was able to stop the second transfer, but unfortunately, Dougharty could not get his money from the first transfer.
"I asked why they hadn't taken the website down," said Dougharty. "Apple said for every five they take down, five more pop up."
Dougharty's case should serve as a reminder to double or triple check all websites when doing any kind of e-commerce. There are more and more scammers out there looking for ways to take your money.