Online Shopping Scams

Shopping online is a convenient alternative to brick and mortar stores, but the Covid-19 pandemic has transformed it to the preferred option for purchasing goods and services.

Not surprisingly, scammers are doing everything they can to keep up with this new trend by setting up online shopping scams, wherein they pretend to be legitimate online sellers with fake websites, pose as genuine retailers (such as on Amazon, eBay), or maintain a fake presence on social media.

How do online shopping scams happen?

Scammers use the latest technology by setting up fake retailer websites that appear like genuine online retail stores. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts, and even stolen logos. Many of these websites offer luxury items like popular brands of clothing, jewelry, and electronics, but are advertised with suspiciously low prices and/or terms. Oftentimes consumers will not receive the item they purchased.

The latest addition to online shopping scams involves the use of social media platforms to set up fake online stores. Scammers open a store for a short time, often selling fake or counterfeit branded clothing or jewelry. After making several sales, the stores disappear, and the profiles are gone. They use social media to advertise the fake website. So do not trust a site simply because you have seen it advertised or shared through social media.

The best way to detect a fake business is to read reviews before purchasing anything.

Red Flags

  • The biggest tip-off that a retail website is a scam is the method of payment. Scammers will often ask you to pay using a money order, wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Using these payment methods makes it impossible to recover funds in the event of fraud.

  • A product is advertised at an unbelievably low price or advertised to have amazing benefits or features that sound too good to be true.
  • The social media store is brand new and selling products at low prices. The store may have limited information about delivery methods and their company policies.

  • An online retailer does not provide adequate information about privacy, terms and conditions of use, dispute resolution, or contact details.

  • The seller may be based overseas, or the seller does not allow payment through a secure payment service such as PayPal or through major credit cards (VISA, MasterCard etc.).

  • If you receive an unexpected text message referencing ‘your delivery status’, think twice before clicking any link, it could have harmful malware that can infect your device.

Protect yourself

  • Check if the website or social media page has a refund or return policy.

  • When making online payments, only pay for items using a secure payment service—look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol, or a payment provider such as PayPal.

  • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger or unknown business that asks for payment up front such as money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded gift cards or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.

  • Perform an internet search on the business/entity name and read reviews prior to making a purchase. Avoid giving money to entities that are being reported as fake or scams.

  • Always check the status of your purchase through the retailer you purchased from. Retailers generally provide delivery updates by the email you used to purchase the item(s). If you need to call the retailer, only use the contact information found on their website.

Shipping and Delivery Scams

Especially during the holiday season, scammers are looking for ways to deceive consumers that involve fraudsters sending text/email messages posing as legitimate delivery providers (such as UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL, etc.). The text messages will try to create a sense of urgency regarding the delivery of a package along with a link. Do not click the link as this is often malware that can be installed to your device. This shipping scam is a form of smishing which is a combination of SMS (text message) and phishing wherein fraudsters are looking to trick consumers into clicking an unknown link and/or to provide personal information.

 Protect Yourself 

  1. Look at the phone number the text message originated from. If it is an unknown number, always exercise caution before proceeding with any action.

  2. Ask yourself if you have you recently purchased anything from the retailer in question. If you did not, STOP, it’s a scam.

  3. If you are unsure if the message is legitimate, log in to the retailers’ website directly to check your recent orders or purchases for information or status updates about your purchase.

  4. Oftentimes the scammers will operate under the guise that the package must be accepted urgently- STOP, this is a scam. Legitimate delivery services will never pressure you into acting quickly.