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fake seller scams
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Security & privacy

Finishing your holiday shopping? Don’t fall for this fake seller scam

In 2021, Americans handed more than $337 million over to scammers while shopping online. The holidays are some of the most dangerous weeks to be buying. What should you be on the lookout for this year? Tap or click here for three of the most viral holiday scams circulating.

Shockingly, one of the biggest scams on our radar concerns one of our favorite online marketplaces, Amazon.

In short, steep discounts on Amazon may be misleading consumers to pay for stuff they’ll never get in the mail. Shady third-party sellers are taking advantage of the system to rip people off. Keep reading for details on these ruthless scams.

How fake seller scams work

Not every Amazon storefront should be trusted. The same goes for sellers on Walmart.com and other popular shopping sites. What do these holiday shopping scams look like?

Fake sellers scope the scene for popular, name-brand product listings. In their storefronts, they then mimic these listings with similar pictures and keywords. The only difference? These listings feature staggeringly low prices, up to 90% lower than the original product pages they’re copying. 

Once the sales are live, the Amazon flywheel does its thing. Fake products soar above the real ones, primarily due to low prices. Then, unsuspecting holiday shoppers race to snag what appears to be the deal of the century.

But here’s the problem. Buyers of these crazy good deals will never receive the items. Once the transaction has been made, the fake seller disappears, and all their patrons have to show for their time is, in some cases, a phony delivery tracking number.

Bogus storefronts can be full of item listings, creating the appearance of an actual seller. Buyers may be gifted free shipping that takes at least a week, keeping them from asking too many questions before the heist is up.

How to spot fake sellers online

This giving season, we urge you to stick only to legitimate marketplaces and to shop for deals that feel like they’re real. Things are so bad that the FBI is warning consumers to stay alert.

In fact, fake sellers are just one of the FBI’s warnings. The agency also wants you to be on the lookout for non-payment scams. That’s where you sell an item on an online marketplace and ship it but never receive payment. Here are tips from the FBI on avoiding these scams.

First, know who you’re dealing with:

  • Check each website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have HTTPS in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your information on that site.  
  • If purchasing from a company for the first time, research and check reviews.
  • Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. Check their feedback rating if you’re using an online marketplace or auction website. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
  • Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
  • Avoid buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a particular method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.

You also need to be careful with payment methods:

  • Never wire money directly to a seller. 
  • Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards. A seller will ask you to send a gift card number and PIN in these scams. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds, and you’ll never receive your item. 
  • Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. Contact your credit card company to dispute the charge if you see a suspicious transaction.

Finally, keep a watchful eye on the shipping process:

  • Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can ensure they have been shipped and follow the delivery process.
  • Be suspicious of any credit card purchases where the cardholder’s address does not match the shipping address when you are selling. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.

There’s one more thing to keep in mind. If you find a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stick with sellers with plenty of good reviews and avoid those who appear shady from the beginning.

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