Feds say online shopping scams reached all time high
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an alert today concerning the surge in the number of online shopping scams. The FBI warns that the agency is receiving an increasing amount of consumer complaints about online stores. The victims state that they are not receiving the items that they purchased from discount websites or the sellers are not based where they claim to be. In some cases, shoppers are receiving items they did not actually order including disposable face masks shipped from China.
Online stores selling popular items like workout equipment, small appliances as well as household goods like tools and furniture are in demand. As such, they are being used to defraud consumers.
Social media channels and search engine shopping pages are being used to redirect buyers to these scam websites.
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“Victims purchased items from these websites because prices were consistently lower than those offered by other online retail stores”, says the FBI alert.
This past spring, during the months of April in May 2020, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more complaints about online shopping scams than the agency had in its history. Half of these shoppers say they never received their order at all.
Many of the sites attempt to fool shoppers with claiming they were based in the United States by listing a domestic address on their contact us page.
According to reports collected from victims, the scam websites had a few things in common. Complainants indicated that the sites frequently:
- Shipped disposable face masks from China even though they were not ordered
- Used online money transfer services for payments
- Used a US address and telephone number as contact information on discount shopping sites even though they were not located within the United States
- Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate websites
- Used the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers.
The FBI alert says that “All attempts made by the victims to be fully reimbursed, or receive the actual items ordered, were unsuccessful.
Reported indicators of the fake websites included the following:
- Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet top-level domains (TLD) “.club” and “.top.”
- Websites offered merchandise at significantly discounted prices.
- Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or web addresses were registered recently (within the last six months).
- Websites used content copied from legitimate sites and often shared the same contact information.
- The websites were advertised on social media.
- Criminal actors utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Whois Public Internet Directory.
Just because a website runs advertisement social media, doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a scam website . It can be difficult to determine if the website is legitimate or not. The payment information and the age of the domain name are often the best indicators.
Using a reliable malware app or antivirus software can help detect and alert you to shady websites as you shop online. These apps use information from public registries and up to date scam reports to keep track of internet schemes. Downloading and using these apps can keep you safe while you shop online.
How to Avoid Scam Websites
- Read reviews about a website to make sure it’s legitimate
- Look at the details on the contact us page. Use this to look up the business on Google Maps or to read reviews
- be suspicious of websites that offer deeply discounted prices that seemed too good to be true
- A visually pleasing website or a even shady looking website don’t mean anything as far as trust and legitimacy goes
- If you know how to look up the domain names registry on Whois listing to see when and where it was registered
What Do I do If I Get Scammed Online?
The FBI advises shoppers who are scammed toreport the fraudulent eCommerce sites to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov or their local FBI field office. You can find your local FBI field office at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices.
- Shoppers should always pay online with a form of payment that offers a layer of protection for their money. For example, use a credit card that offers consumer protections like American Express. When given the option, shoppers can also log into a PayPal account and pay online.
- If you paid online with a bank transfer and are scammed, contact your bank immediately and ask them to reverse the charges