Online shopping scams involve scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers, either with a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine retailer site.
How this scam works
While many online sellers are legitimate, unfortunately scammers can use the anonymous nature of the internet to rip off unsuspecting shoppers.
Scammers use the latest technology to set up fake retailer websites that look like genuine online retail stores. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts and even possibly stolen logos.
Many of these websites offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Sometimes you will receive the items you paid for but they will be fake, other times you will receive nothing at all.
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, pre-loaded money card, direct person to person cash app, or wire transfer, but if you send your money this way, it’s unlikely you will see it again or receive your purchased item.
A newer version of online shopping scams involves the use of social media platforms to set up fake online stores. They open the store for a short time, often selling fake branded clothing or jewellery. After making a number of sales, the stores disappear. They also use social media to advertise their fake website, so do not trust a site just because you have seen it advertised or shared on social media. The best way to detect an fake trader or social media online shopping scam is to search for reviews before purchasing.
• 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 other party insists on immediate payment, or payment by electronic funds transfer or a wire service. They may insist that you pay up-front for vouchers before you can access a cheap deal or a give-away.
• The social media based store is very new and selling products at very low prices. The store may have limited information about delivery and other 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 a credit card transaction.
• Check if the website or social media page has a refund or returns policy, and that their policies sound fair. The better online shopping and auction sites have detailed complaint or dispute handling processes in case something goes wrong.
• When using retail websites, find out exactly who you are dealing with. If it is an American company, you are in a much better position to sort out the problem if something goes wrong.
• 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. Think twice before using virtual currencies such as bitcoin—they do not have the same protections as other transaction methods so you can’t get your money back once you send it.
• Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way. Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust.
Have you been scammed?
If you have bought something online and there is a problem, you should first try to contact the retailer or auction service. There may be a legitimate reason for the problem.
If you are not satisfied with the response and suspect that it may be a scam, you may be able to arrange a charge-back through your bank or credit union if you have paid by credit card. You may wish to contact your local consumer protection agency to seek assistance.
Anyone encountering a scam should report the incident to the Florida Attorney General’s Office by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint online by clicking this link. Be sure to include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.