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How to avoid fake online discounts

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Posted at 1:45 PM, Jun 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-22 14:12:15-04

It's one of the oldest store tricks in the book ... jack up the "regular" price and then throw a "sale" tag on it in which the discounted price is still more than the actual suggested retail price. It's a tried and true sales strategy that continues at shops around the world to this day.

The same thing happens online and it's up to you not to fall for the trap. We're not talking about the variety of perfectly legitimate methods ecommerce sites use to attract potential customers such as offering promo codes, daily deal vouchers and flash sales. Those are all mutually beneficial and provide buyers the potential for excellent savings. We're talking about outright fraudulent "discounts" that don't actually exist.

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An example of this recently went viral in India where Flipkart (a marketplace that connects independent sellers with consumers) was allegedly exposed by a Facebook user of advertising a MRP (maximum retail price) of 799 and a discounted price of 399, when the MRP was actually 399.

Below we've listed four steps you should take before hitting that "buy" button to make sure you aren't falling for a fake online discount.

Price-check against Amazon
If an item is being sold online, odds are it is available on Amazon.com. The site tends to have reasonable prices on almost everything and while certainly not a full-proof solution to avoid being duped by a fake online discount, it can definitely provide a first line of defense.

If you see a particular product on Amazon for significantly less than the "discounted" price listed on another site then that's a definite red flag, especially if the product is being sold by Amazon itself and not one of its marketplace sellers.

Visit the brand site
Another good measure to gauge the authenticity of an online discount is to compare it against the price offered on the official brand's site. The vast majority of brands these days have their own online stores. Though their selections are sometimes more limited, if they do have the product listed, they provide a solid baseline from which to price check.

If you find out that the "discounted" price that caught your eye is actually the same or more than the brand is selling it for themselves, you can be confident that it's not a real discount. As an added bonus, even if the discount you found was solid, there's always the chance that the brand site is having a huge clearance sale and has it available for an even bigger discount.

Perform a quick online search
Google's shopping search tool is far from perfect, but it is useful for helping detect fake online discounts. For those not familiar with Google's shopping search tool, it returns a list of prices for whatever product you are searching. To get to it, you have to click the "shopping" tab at the top of Google's search page. The more detail you provide (such as a model name or number), the more accurate the results.

If you see several prices for less than the supposed "discount" you found, then that's a good sign it might not really be much of a discount after all. One important caveat is that Google includes eBay sellers and other second-hand retailers in its results pages, so make sure the prices you compare are from legitimate stores that are selling unused new products (if that's what you are buying, of course).

Seek advice on social media
It's always wise to reach out to knowledgeable friends or family members when making a purchase you aren't sure about. Unlike in the past, however, you now have a wealth of trusted sources you can turn to on social media if you don't happen to know any experts. Gone are the days when you had to sludge through ugly looking anonymous online forums and chat rooms to ask pricing questions and could only hope the response was reliable.

First, you should check out the brand's social media accounts and try to contact them directly about what the MRP is for the product you are considering buying. If they don't get back to you or refuse to provide a direct answer, then scout out a few consumer experts that specialize in the type of item you are buying and attempt to ask them if the discount you found seems genuine.

If that doesn't work, either, then you can still just perform a hashtag search for the product you are buying and there's a good chance someone will have tweeted or posted the price they spent on the same item.

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