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26 Nov 2021

Shopping scam alert: how to shop safely

Shoppers should be wary of fake retailers and dodgy deals during the sales

During the January sales, shoppers are being urged to beware of online scams after Action Fraud revealed that £15.4m was stolen from almost 30,000 unsuspecting shoppers last Christmas.

Almost £2.5 million was stolen during the 2020 Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales last year alone - an average loss of almost £550 per victim - and fraud experts expect reports of shopping scams to surge again.

Here, we run down common scams to avoid and provide tips to keep you safe while you shop.

Goods that never turn up

Based on reports to Action Fraud during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, 23 November and 6 December 2020, the goods most associated with scams were:

  • mobile phones (26%)
  • electronics (17%), particularly consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation 5
  • vehicles (10%)
  • clothing and footwear (8%)

Victims paid for items on sites such as Facebook (18%), eBay (14%) and Gumtree (7%), only to have the items never arrive.

Copycat websites

Scammers can set up fake websites with ease. Some even buy do-it-yourself 'phishing kits' from criminal marketplaces to steal content and images directly from genuine sites.

Once the site is live, they send out mass spam emails or advertise online to target victims, sometimes planting fake reviews to appear legitimate.

Which? reported a fake 'Little Tikes' website in November 2020, after it had advertised on Facebook and charged one victim £102 for a climbing frame that never arrived. The website soon disappeared, taking his money with them. Popular brands such as Clarks and Russell and Bromley are targeted repeatedly.

As soon as one fake website is shut down by the authorities, another pops up to replace it.

If you purchase goods from these scam sites, they may send cheap knock-offs instead of the goods you paid for, such as fake designer sunglasses. Or they won't even bother shipping inferior fakes - they'll just take the money and run.

Find out more:how to spot a fake website or watch the video below.

Fake celebrity endorsement

Take celebrity endorsements of goods with a pinch of salt. Which? has previously reported dodgy sites using famous faces such as Deborah Meaden from Dragons' Den and Anne Hegerty from The Chase to make shoppers feel at ease, even on websites they've never used before.

This CBD supplement scam website also appeared to have positive reviews on Facebook, and the company was initially responsive, sending confirmation emails that included a link to track the 'order'. But this shipping 'tracking' website was a fake.

Gift card email scams

A common tactic used by scammers is to send emails using the names of legitimate businesses to trick you into visiting a phishing website.

Most scammers hope that you don't look too closely at the actual email address - which will typically have nothing to do with the real company. But the slickest scammers can spoof domains too, as was the case with this 'Just Eat gift card' scam, which appeared to be from contact@just-eat.co.uk.

These emails promised free £50 Just Eat gift cards in the hope that victims would click the links to a phishing website set up to harvest valuable personal or banking information.

Fake delivery texts

Fake delivery text messages claiming to be from Royal Mail and other delivery companies such as DHL and Hermes are rife. These texts warn that a parcel can't be delivered until a small fee is paid, linking to convincing copycat websites requesting payment details.

Three in five people have received a scam delivery text in the past year, and some victims are even hit by a second scam - where fraudsters impersonate their bank in an attempt to steal yet more money, as we reported here.

If you receive a suspicious text, forward it to 7726 - which spells out the word 'SPAM' on a keypad - so that your mobile phone operators can investigate it.

No such thing as a free Amazon package

If an unexpected Amazon package arrives in the post, don't assume it's from Santa - you could be a victim of a 'brushing scam'. This is a marketing scam carried out by dodgy Amazon Marketplace sellers to artificially boost their sales volumes and product reviews.

They send mystery parcels containing goods that are cheap to ship in large volumes such as magnetic eyelashes, toys, Bluetooth accessories, iPhone cases, frisbees etc. They then falsely log these as genuine orders to artificially inflate sales figures volumes.

A recent Which? survey suggests that as many as 1.1 million households may have been targeted.

How to shop online safely

Action Fraud offers these tips to protect yourself online:

Choosing where you shop: If you are making a purchase from a website or person you don't know and trust, carry out some research first. Look online for reviews of the website or person you are buying from. If you are purchasing an item from an online marketplace, you can view the seller's feedback history before going ahead with the purchase.

Payment method: Use a payment method that offers buyer protection, such as a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers will help you get your money back if the item is faulty or damaged, or if it never arrives.

Staying secure online: Use a strong, separate password for your email account. Criminals can use your email to access other online accounts, such as those you use for online shopping. You should also enable two-factor authentication (2FA), where possible, which gives your online account additional protection by double checking that you really are the person you claim to be when logging in. For further information about how to stay secure online, visit www.cyberaware.gov.uk.

If you think you've paid money to a scammer, you should report this to your bank and Action Fraud. You may be able to claim back your money through the chargeback scheme if you used a debit card or use a section 75 claim if you paid by credit card and the value was more than £100.

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