FBI Warns of Rise in Online Shopping Scams

The FBI’s latest Public Service Announcement warns Internet users about a surge in online shopping scams.

According to complaints received by the bureau, more and more online shoppers are being directed to fraudulent websites via social media and online search engines. These bogus vendors are actually making the most of the health crisis, social distancing and remote workforce.

For example, online shoppers seeking facemasks, gym equipment, small appliances, tools and furniture reported never receiving their purchases. While it may seem unlikely to find this variety of merchandise on a single e-commerce website, victims were lured with ads flaunting below-market prices.

The most common denominator of complaints filed include:

• Disposable face masks shipped from China were received regardless of what was ordered
• Payment for goods was made using an online money transfer
• Online retailers provided unrelated US addresses and telephone numbers, misleading shoppers to believe the shop was located in the US
• The content used by these fraudulent websites is copied from legitimate ones

Additionally, shoppers who complained about shipments were only offered a partial reimbursement, and urged to keep the free facemasks as compensation. However, none of the victims who asked for their money back were successful. “Others were told to return the items to China in order to be reimbursed, which would result in the victim paying high postage fees, or agree to a partial reimbursement of the product ordered without returning the items received,” the report said.

The FBI also provided a list of indicators that could help online shoppers avoid being scammed:

• Most fraudulent websites use domains such as “.club” or “.top” instead of “.com”
• Retailers provide high discounts and too-good-to-be-true offers
• Web addresses for these online shops were registered within the last six months
• Scammers use content copied from legitimate sites and share the same contact information on their online shops
• Websites are mainly advertised on social media
• Scammers use a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Whois Public Internet Directory

How can you avoid becoming the next online shopping scam victim? It might be hard to ignore a big discount. However, before filling up your shopping cart, check the retailer’s domain registration, reviews and complaints. You can also do some detective work by checking the details listed under the vendor’s “Contact Us” page, to see if the information is legitimate or just scraped off another website.

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