(KAKE/FTC) - Even before the COVID pandemic, scammers abounded on social media sites, selling things to unsuspecting people that didn't exist, grabbing their payment and beating a hasty retreat. In the wake of the pandemic, the doors have been opened for scammers to double down on their worst practices while preying on unsuspecting consumers.

Perhaps you're looking for a new bike. You see one on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace that's perfect: it has functioning wheels, the brakes appear to work and it doesn't appear to be stolen merchandise. You contact the seller, who quotes you a price you consider to be fair, and agree to wire the money to the seller. 

That's when things can go south in a hurry.

The seller asks you to meet him at a local fast-food restaurant or gas station. You hop into your car and make your way to the location, eager to see your new wheels...

... only to see an empty parking lot. Not only is the bike not there, you can't make contact with the seller, anymore. Your money is gone, and you have no bike.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, when shopping online, sellers are supposed to ship your order within the time stated in their ads, or within 30 days if the ads don’t give a time. If a seller can’t ship within the promised time, it has to give you a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.

So before you shop online, especially from an unfamiliar retailer, remember these three things:

1. Check out the company or product. Search online for the name plus terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” See what other people say about it. Read the seller's description of the product carefully. If the seller has name-brand goods at steeply discounted prices, they might be fakes.

2. Look at the terms of the sale. Make note of the total price, including taxes, shipping, and handling; the expected delivery date; and policies for refunds, including who pays for return shipping and if there is a restocking fee.

3. Pay by credit card. You’ll get protections under federal law, so you don’t have to pay for things you ordered but didn’t get.

4. If you're meeting an individual in a public place to pick up an item, don't give them any money until you actually see the product in person. If the seller insists on money up front, it's a huge red flag.

Remember, if you see a scam, or want to report a problem about online shopping, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.