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CSA Exclusive: Top 10 e-commerce scams

Not every enticing online offer is genuine.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Alan Brill, a senior managing director in Kroll’s cyber risk practice, about the top 10 tactics scammers use to commit fraud against online shoppers. Following is a summary of each scam with brief advice on detecting them.

  1. Sure, that toy is unavailable in most stores – but not here!

One of the primary schemes is to offer something that people want but can’t get elsewhere, especially if they display the logos of consumer-protection organizations (which are linked to apparent consumer protection pages). And, for a bit more, you can get accelerated shipping! If they were legitimate, they would be known, publicized and sold out.

  1. Of course we’re the real store. Look at our page. It’s like it always looks.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for a scam artist to make a very realistic-looking page. They can even sometimes cause a computer to go to the real store’s website and bring in logos, images and other elements of a page, but the key elements—those that eventually lead to a sale and payment—they control. Be sure you’re on the real website by looking at the web address.

  1. You misspelled our name, but we’re here anyway!

Criminals understand the most frequent misspellings of names and they buy those internet names so that when a customer types a misspelled store name into the browser, it goes to what looks like a real page, but isn’t. Sometimes the real organization will buy alternative spelling names to prevent this.

  1. We’re a global company, so don’t worry if your credit card company tells you that your purchase is an international transaction.

Scammers are often based overseas and have local banking and credit card processing resources. But they also know that a lot of credit card companies warn customers when a charge they just made is being processed as an international transaction. So, scammers need to reassure their fraud victims that they should expect that their sale will show up as an international transaction with a name unrelated to the store. “This is how we are able to ship you merchandise that is not available to most stores. We buy and sell internationally–and our brick-and-mortar competitors can’t do that!”

  1. Of course it’s us. We sent you that email and you got here by clicking the link, didn’t you?

Scammers often send out massive numbers of unsolicited emails to entice people to contact them. If you get an email from an organization you don’t recognize (and you have to check the return email address, which they can make look like it came from a legitimate store) don’t expect a good result if you follow their links or make a purchase.

  1. Our prices are lower than anyone else because we figured out that this item would be popular and bought them early before the huge demand and we pass these savings on to you.

No. Their prices are lower because they don’t have the items and are cheating you! They may also charge more “because we have it, and getting it cost us more, so we have to pass that along to you—but at least we have the items in stock, ready to ship to you.”

  1. Wouldn’t you prefer to give us your debit card? It costs us less to process and we’ll give you a 2.5% discount for using it! Or, we take gift cards?

The protections available to consumers are different for debit and credit cards. Give a scammer a debit card, and they can drain an entire checking or savings account. For credit cards, there are federal laws which provide protection when consumers report a fraud.

  1. What we sent you is the same as what you ordered, even though there is no brand name on the product.

One of the favorite scams is to send a counterfeit, knock-off or other product, rather than what was ordered. If customers contact the seller, they may never get back, or they might apologize, tell them to keep the wrong product as a gift, and assure them that they will re-ship your order promptly. Of course, what they are doing is getting customers to not file a complaint with your bank. They may eventually send you a “shipping notice email” and follow-up emails purportedly tracking a product. This can go on for an extended period.

  1. Buy from us—we are socially responsible.

One of the more imaginative schemes puts the crook as a “middle man,” with a percentage of the purchase going to a charity. In most cases, there is no real merchandise involved. It is technically possible, however, for a crook to actually get between customers and a real retailer. In that case, customers might get what they ordered, but the criminal walks away with payment card information.

  1. Don’t have a credit card? No problem. Buy a pre-paid Visa card, and we can use that! Or a gift card!

A scam site can focus on customers without credit cards. By telling them to use cash to get a pre-paid card, they can then purchase by just sending the pre-paid card number. Incidentally, they also will accept pretty much every gift card. They can use them, and since they’re not going to send what was ordered, it’s pure profit for them.


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