FBI warns of surge in online shopping scams

In one scheme, shoppers ordering gadgets or gym equipment are in for a rude surprise – they receive disposable face masks instead

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has recorded a surge in complaints from victims who have been duped by fraudulent online marketplaces that never deliver the purchased items.

According to the FBI, victims are reporting that they came across these fraudulent websites either through ads posted on social media platforms or while looking for specific items using popular web search engines’ shopping pages. The wares offered by the scammy online stores range from gym equipment to small appliances and furniture.

Oddly, regardless of what the victims ordered they received disposable face masks – a sort of twist on COVID-19 related schemes that have been doing the rounds for months now. Once the vendors receive complaints about the ordered items not being delivered, they offered partial reimbursement and the face masks as compensation.

Alternatively, the sellers requested the items to be returned to China; this spells outsize expenses for the victims, leading them to settle for the partial reimbursement and not having to return the items. However, none of the victims were able to get a full refund out of the miscreants.

In an attempt to make their deceptions more plausible, the faux retailers provide valid United States-based addresses and telephone numbers in their “Contact us” sections. “Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate sites; in addition, the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers,” the Bureau said.

The FBI shared several telltale signs of the websites being fake:

  • the prices were too good to be true,
  • the cybercriminals registered the web addresses within the last six months using private domain registration domain services to prevent their private information from being published,
  • instead of using top-level domains like “.com”, the fraudulent websites instead used “.club” and “.top”,
  • the site was promoted on social media.

To avoid falling for similar ruses, always do your due diligence on the retailer you’re considering purchasing from. Look into the reviews of the vendor, especially on third-party reviewing services. Use the contacts listed on their page to see if the information checks out and does belong to them. And always be vigilant, if an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is. For further advise on protecting yourself from various flavors of online scams you can refer to advice on fraud prevention shared recently by ESET Chief Security Evangelist Tony Anscombe.

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