One tip: "Look closely to make sure the tracking information comes from a legitimate shipping company. If the information seems fishy, avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the shipper's website and type in the code to see if it is real."
Blankenship said if a retailer doesn't have any reviews, or very little online presence, you may want to find the item elsewhere. Also, avoid clicking on the ad itself, instead go directly to the website in a separate browser.
Search online for complaints before you buy
As much as you're tempted to rush, it's essential to do more research. Check reviews and ratings at spots like BBB.org. Go online and type in the name of the company and the words "complaints."
When I typed in Starfish — where Stephenson ordered that Mama Bear shirt — and complaints on Google, I found that other consumers are complaining that it's been three months since placing an order and not receiving an item from The Starfish Store. Some complaints were posted in July through November.
Again, I found consumer complaints online about Lulunina, where Stephenson ordered the camping chair. Consumers reported ordering chairs in June and never receiving them by October or November. And they saw $39.98 vanish for each of the chairs ordered.
Stephenson said she is extremely diligent now about doing more research about anything she sees online.
She still plans to shop online this holiday, even if reluctantly, because she wants to practice social distancing given the spiking COVID-19 cases.
"I've been very leery about going shopping online but you're very leery about going into the store these days."(c)2020 Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC