The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning yesterday (Aug. 3) about a growing number of people falling victim to e-commerce scams.
The bureau claims that there are “an increasing number of victims being directed to fraudulent websites via social media platforms and popular online search engines”.
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In an online public service announcement (opens in new tab) based on recent crime reports, the FBI said people have purchased a range of different products at bargain prices from online websites but have yet to receive them.
The targets were persuaded into buying items like “gym equipment, small appliances, tools and furniture” after seeing attractively priced advertisements on social media sites and after browsing the shopping categories of major search engines.
The FBI says that “victims purchased items from these websites because prices were consistently lower than those offered by other online retail stores”.
Looking at these complaints, the FBI observed the following:
- Disposable face masks shipped from China were received regardless of what was ordered.
- Payment was made using an online money transfer service.
- The retail websites provided valid but unassociated U.S. addresses and telephone numbers under a “Contact Us” link, misleading victims to believe the retailer was located within the U.S.
- Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate sites; in addition, the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers.
Unhappy with their purchases, many customers submitted complaints to the dubious retailers in question. In response, the companies provided partial refunds and said customers didn’t need to send the masks back as they were “compensation”.
However, some customers had to send their items back to the Chinese retailers if they wanted to receive a refund. The FBI said this would “result in the victim paying high postage fees.”
The agency warned: “All attempts made by the victims to be fully reimbursed, or receive the actual items ordered, were unsuccessful.”
What to do
To help citizens detect fake websites, the FBI explained that the sites' web addresses tend to have top-level-domain suffixes such as ".club" and ".top" instead of ".com," and are often using newly registered web addresses.
The sites also often advertise items at “significantly discounted prices”, but look identical to “legitimate sites” and use social media advertising as a means to attract customers.
The bureau said the fraudulent websites also “utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the WhoIs Public Internet Directory,” a common practice but nonetheless one that should raise suspicions.
To avoid being conned by a fake online shopping site, you should read reviews of online retailers, find out if the contact information is real and question whether cheap products are legitimate.
“If you believe you are the victim of an internet scam or cyber crime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov (opens in new tab),” added the FBI.
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