Amazon sells several hundred billion dollars — yes, that's a real number — of goods to consumers every year and there's a decent chance at least a few of those dollars came from your pocket.
Unfortunately, popular retail marketplaces like Amazon and eBay also attract scammers who are looking to take advantage of shoppers by cheating them out of money, personal information or both.
Fraud capitalizing on Amazon's reach has been on the rise. Amazon impersonators who have nothing to do with the actual company targeted 96,000 people from July 2020 to June 2021, and successfully scammed 6,000 of them out of more than $27 million. Older adults are disproportionately victimized, with a median reported loss of $1,500.
And that's just one type of Amazon-related scam. Criminals have found many creative ways to steal from Amazon consumers including using fake text messages.
Here are some of the red flags to watch for when shopping on Amazon, or when contacted by someone pretending to represent the company.
What are the most common Amazon scams?
One of the most common scams you can encounter is an Amazon-impersonator scam. According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in three people targeted by business impersonators reports that the fraudster claimed to be from Amazon.
This scheme might involve an "Amazon representative" offering to refund you for a purchase, then claiming they transferred more money to your bank account than you were owed and requesting that you return the “overpayment.”
In another situation, the scammer will claim that you need to protect your Amazon account from hackers by buying gift cards and providing the card numbers. In both cases, you're simply paying scammers who have no connection to Amazon with your own money.
The FTC also warns Amazon customers about fake call scams, in which the caller leaves a recorded message stating that there's a problem with your Amazon account. To resolve the issue, you're prompted to press a button to connect to customer service, or you’re given a number to call back.
In either case, the scammers are trying to get you to share your Amazon password or your payment information. These fraudsters are often able to spoof caller ID so that it looks like the call is coming from Amazon's customer-service team.
A similar type of Amazon scam is an email scam. You'll get an official-sounding email from "Amazon" claiming there's an issue with your account and prompting you to update your payment information. Or the email will appear to be a shipping confirmation for an order you didn't place. Or you'll be asked to verify your account.
Again, the scammers want you to click the link or call the provided number and disclose sensitive information that would grant them access to your account or credit card.
Amazon gift-card scams also go well beyond basic business impersonation. Amazon has compiled a whole list of connected scams, all of which involve you paying fees or making purchases by handing over Amazon gift card numbers:
- Social Security scams. Scammers claim you need to resolve an issue with your Social Security number by using an Amazon gift card.
- Job-offer scams. Unsolicited callers offer you a work-from-home Amazon job and then claim you must pay a start-up fee via gift card.
- Fake online listings. Sellers on any website ask you to pay for goods using an Amazon gift card.
- Boss scams. Scammers pose as your boss and ask you, via text or email, to buy Amazon gift cards as employee incentives or client gifts.
- Unpaid debt or tax scams. Like Social Security scams, you're asked to resolve bogus debts or fees using an Amazon gift card.
Of course, Amazon customers aren't immune from scammy third-party sellers on the site itself, who take advantage of Amazon Marketplace listings to steal from buyers. Scam artists have been known to direct buyers to make wire transfers or other payments outside of Amazon, eliminating any protection you have.
Similarly, Amazon Marketplace sellers may list counterfeit items at too-good-to-be-true prices; ship you the wrong product or send your package to the wrong name; or simply never send you your purchase at all. All these are not very different from the eBay scams customers need to watch out for.
How to avoid Amazon scams — 5 things to watch for
Many Amazon scams come in the form of phishing, in which criminals aim to trick you into providing personal or payment information they can use to steal your money or identity. The other major type involves retail scams on the platform's Marketplace.
Here are 5 things to watch for to avoid getting scammed.
- Do not pay for purchases, fees or refunds with a gift card. Legitimate transactions take place on legitimate platforms. According to the FTC, if someone requests the number on the back of a gift card, they're scamming you.
- Do not do business with anyone who requests to contact you or make a transaction outside Amazon's website.
- Do not call phone numbers or click links in emails related to your account — especially if the caller or the email message makes it seem urgent. If you need to reach Amazon, look up the appropriate customer service number on the company's website or use their online chat. Amazon also has specific directions for verifying the legitimacy of emails, texts and phone calls.
- Do not click links in text messages without looking closely at the sender. Amazon does send gift cards by text, but from only one number: 455-72. If it’s from a different number, it’s a scam.
- Do use caution when purchasing from third-party Amazon sellers. Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action, advises shoppers to do their due diligence before simply going after a good deal.
"I'd say don't buy from sellers who do not have lots of good reviews from 'verified buyers' as shown on the site," says Sherry. "Read descriptions and reviews and train your 'Spidey sense' to read between the lines, if necessary, about the value of a product."
Legitimate sellers will be upfront about their products, their products’ flaws and their prices, she adds.
Bottom line: Online shopping comes with risks, and scammers know that the sheer volume of Amazon customers provides ample opportunity. Use your common sense and skepticism to avoid falling into a trap.
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Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.