According to recent report published by the consumer credit reporting agency Experian, the online shopping fraud is skyrocketed after the COVID19 pandemic. Online purchasing is the most common scam type reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), accounting for 37 percent of complaints to the BBB's Scam Tracker in 2021 and 2022, and the riskiest, with 3 in 4 victims reporting a monetary loss.
It's getting harder to distinguish a fraudulent online store from a legitimate one thanks to the latest easy website builder platforms (like Shopify, WIX, etc.) a scammer can build a professional looking online store in just a few hours. Scammers use the latest technologies to set up fake retailer websites that look like genuine online retail stores. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts, possibly stolen logos, SSL connections and even real trusted payment methods like PayPal or Authorize.net. You might think that if you use PayPal, you are protected, even the store turns out to be bad one. From the financial standpoint it's usually true at least for a US based consumer. However reversing your payment back is the easiest part, the real danger is now your most updated private information, including your phyiscal address, legal name and phone number is in the wrong people's hands and there is no way to take it back. Now let's combine this information with your "possibly exposed" social security number (thanks to data breach scandals like Equifax Data Breach in 2017) the picture gets suddenly much darker.
Hot to spot a fake or scam online store?
- The first sign to spot a fake website is the price they offer. Many of these websites offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, furniture, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Remember If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Incredibly convenient return policy is another sign. These websites usually offer free returns for an extended period of time even for some expensive and larger items. I know you may think Amazon does the same but in fact if you look closer to Amazon's return policy, the free return items are usually the smaller and cheaper products. If you buy an expensive electronic item or an oversize appliance from Amazon, get ready to pay a hefty restocking fee when you decide to return it.
- Non existent or bad reviews about the store name. A simple Google search may reveal the true identity of an online store easily. Sometimes not finding any meaningful search result is enough to raise a red flag.
- One of the most effective way to spot a scam website is to check the domain name thorugh a trusted online security platforms like ScamAdviser. These online platforms will give you a trust score for the website you search with some critical information. The most important detail is the domain name registration age and its expiration date. Scammers usually register their domain name just before building their website and since they know their scam website will be exposed in a short period of time, they usually register the domain name for only 1 year. Remember it's highly unlikely for a legitimate business to start selling expensive and branded items right after registerig a domain name and creating a new website.
Scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to trick sometimes even the most conscious consumer. If you’ve been victimized by an online retail scam, file a report with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FTC website also has advice on safe online shopping. Report fishy e-shopping operations to the BBB Scam Tracker, which also lets your search for scams in your region. File a complaint with your state’s attorney general and consumer protection agency.