Rachel Bashford
Rachel Bashford
Consumer Expert

Shopping online opens up a new world for consumers with access to fresh goods and services. However, amidst this endless horizon of opportunities, the risk of coming across various consumer issues, including scams and fraudulent activities also increases greatly. 

In such cases, review platforms are treasure troves of consumer information. For example, the PissedConsumer platform lists over 4000 reviews in the e-commerce category. One of the frequent complaints in customer reviews is about online shopping scams. 

Key Insights

  1. According to research, 43% of e-commerce consumers have fallen victim to payment fraud, and over 70% of online shopping scams have resulted in financial losses. 
  2. To avoid being scammed online, check shopping site URLs. Look for a padlock sign and verify the site matches the brand. 
  3. Use protected payment methods, such as credit cards or digital wallets, to prevent fraud. 

Most Common Online Shopping Scams

Learning about the most common types of online shopping scams is crucial for recognizing the telltale signs when you encounter them.

Fake websites and apps

Scammers set up fake websites and apps to steal your money without you receiving any goods or a refund. They may offer products at very low prices to lure in unsuspecting shoppers. 

Some of the most prominent fake website shopping scams exploiting customers today are using sophisticated technologies to dupe unsuspecting shoppers. The sites look glossy and they have a social media presence. But if you look closely, you’ll notice a relatively new site with low TrustPilot ratings and possible customer service complaints. 

A key example of this is PiloSaleLtd.com or PiloLtd.com, who say they sell small items, such as children’s toys. Several red flags commonly associated with scam sites are clear, such as poor design and grammatical errors with a non-existent site history.

Fake websites - RedditSource: reddit.com

In order to make sure you are using a real site, check site domain names closely – do these match the brand? If the domain name is slightly different, it is a sign to double check the site’s authenticity and be twice as cautious in sharing information. 

Another important consideration is to check for HTTPS, with a padlock in the URL. HTTPS indicates that the site has SSL encryption, which is more secure than HTTP. If there is HTTPS evident, nobody between the website and the user can read the data.

A padlock sign next to the URL in the address bar should mean there is a security certificate. Always make sure you have the correct page before sharing personal information.

You may use safe browsing tools that check unsafe sites, such as the Google Transparency Report for extra security and safe online shopping.

Phishing emails

A phishing email typically has a link to ‘reset your password’ or ‘claim a refund’ and share your personal details. It looks genuine, asking you to update information or buy a deal. In review #4859481, a customer described how they were contacted to send money if they verified their personal information:

Text from Amazon with unknown order number offering me refund if $198.17 if I verify info to confirm my info. Does Amazon ever do this by text?!

Phishing emails often exhibit the following key features:

  1. A sense of urgency or a threat to encourage the user to act right away.
  2. An unfamiliar greeting that does not sound normal.
  3. Spelling or grammar errors.
  4. Suspicious attachments.
  5. Unusual requests, such as money sent in a specific way or by a certain time. 

The following phishing email example made the user think their account had been disabled. There was a request to share personal information, which could lead to the risk of money loss.Phishing emails - AvastSource: avast.com

Social media scams

Consumers should watch for scams on social media, usually promoting products at unrealistic prices. Scammers reel consumers in with attractive goods at enticing prices, then encourage them to pay within a short timeframe as they push the idea the goods will be sold to another customer. 

Some scammers set up fake e-commerce websites and advertise these on social media sites. Recent data confirms that 44% of social media scams in the first 6 months of 2023 were related to online shopping. 

Some of these incidents are attributed to triangulation fraud. Triangulation fraud is when a scammer acts as a hidden middleman in online shopping transactions. 

Scammers set up a fake storefront and accept online orders. In order to complete these, they use stolen credit card information and take the money provided by the person who placed the order.

Some reviewers are reporting Facebook Marketplace scams with fake accounts. For example, in review #5834885 a consumer ordered a mobile device but lost their payment:

I want a new device or a refund. I never got my order, was sent to the wrong address, wrong name but my card was charged for it.

Here is another example of a Facebook Marketplace scam where an item was paid for by a user but the recipient says they have not received the payment. It’s important to check payment methods to ensure these are the proper payment channels and to pay by credit instead of debit card to make sure you have a degree of protection if a scam takes place.

social media scams - RedditSource: reddit.com

Payment scams

A consumer payment scam is where someone is deceived by a scammer to send money from their account. These fraudsters may impersonate real businesses and offer fake goods. One such victim shares their experience in review #5850079. They made 9 different payment attempts to pay for a bed rail but lost money:

Finally summited visa gift cards they removed the money and stated improper payment.

Counterfeit goods

Consumers may be tricked into buying fake goods at low prices. Scammers now create fake websites selling these fakes and taking honest customers’ money. Highlighting this situation, a consumer in review #5869687 ended up disappointed:

They sold me fake baseball cards for over $300 and are not willing to give me a full refund. The description posted led me to believe they were authentic without question.

How to Avoid Being Scammed Online

Smart consumers know they need to protect themselves when they shop online. Try these safety tips on how to avoid online shopping scams.

  • Choose secure payment methods

Using digital wallets can help with layers of encryption technology. When you use these platforms, your chosen retailer doesn’t even see your payment details. Credit cards also provide fraud protection. For instance, contactless payments use tokenization, which is a unique one-time use code to prevent fraud. 

  • Monitor financial accounts

Review your accounts frequently to pick up any suspicious payments. If you notice a payment you don’t recognize, you can get in touch with your bank immediately to alert them to a suspected fraudulent attempt on your account. Setting up email or text alerts for unusual payment activity flags unauthorized activity. 

  • Read reviews and ratings

Using an online review platform helps you know how to avoid online shopping fraud. Product reviews and seller ratings provide information on product quality and brand reliability. 

If you don’t see any reviews or a history of reviews that goes back at least 6 months to a year, then the business may not be authentic and you should be cautious about giving them any of your money. 

  • Check fake websites and apps

Scam websites or apps appear in various guises, from a one page website to a popup. These sites exploit unaware users by drawing them in with attractive offers, compromising them by stealing personal details and using these for illicit purposes. 

To avoid fake website or app scams, check the domain name is authentic and matches the real company, pay by credit card rather than bank transfer as this offers you a level of protection if the site or app is fake. Type the web address manually, rather than following links as this may highlight a fake site. 

  • Join consumer communities 

Being part of a consumer community delivers huge benefits to help dodge fraudsters. Search online for a proactive consumer community, such as the PissedConsumer Club, to get all the latest advice. When you’re supported by other community members, you can check brands with them to see if the business has a positive online brand reputation or whether they are suspect and should be avoided.

Smart Consumers Steer Clear of Scams

An educated consumer aware of common online shopping scams is in a strong purchasing position. Plus, being part of a supportive consumer community will help you to shop more safely online. 

If you have a positive or negative online shopping experience, you may write a review to support others with your consumer insights. 

Legal disclaimers:

  1. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide any legal, medical, accounting, investment or any other professional advice as individual cases may vary and should be discussed with a corresponding expert and/or an attorney.
  2. All or some image copyright belongs to the original owner(s). No copyright infringement intended.

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