This is an era of record-setting numbers of data breaches and hundreds of millions of complete identities being compromised in a single event, leading to increased reports of identity theft and fraud. But with all of that information floating around for thieves and scammers to use, you might be surprised to find out the most commonly reported fraud complaint for 2017.
Merchandise scams topped the list of complaints reported to Fraud.org in 2017, beating out check fraud, phishing emails, phone scams, or other similar crimes. This specific category of scam can happen to anyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever had their information stolen.
In this type of scam, a victim makes a purchase online. Usually, the issue is that an item never arrives after the payment was made, but it can also happen when a cheap knockoff of the item arrives instead of the high-dollar item that was advertised with stolen images of the real thing. Typical items that scammers sell to lure in victims include cars or boats, dogs/puppies, airfare and accommodations, sought-after tickets to concerts or sporting events, and high-priced electronics.
There are a few ways to avoid merchandise scams, but they involve being particularly discerning:
- Never pay for an item sight-unseen unless you can guarantee your payment method will be secure. Using a company like PayPal, Amazon Payment or using a credit card can help protect you, so if the seller refuses to accept any of those payment methods, something isn’t right.
- Never pay for an item with an untraceable payment method. There’s a reason scammers demand iTunes gift cards, wire transfers, or prepaid debit cards: once you supply them with the payment or the card information, your money is gone. Insisting on one of those methods should make you stop immediately.
- “Too good to be true pricing” is usually just that. Why would consumers pay nearly $1,000 for a brand-new iPhone if they can legally and safely buy it for $200? If you’re getting the deal of the century—no matter what plausible excuse the seller gives—think twice before you make the transaction.
- There are a few common stories in merchandise scams. The seller might claim to be a deployed soldier who can’t talk on the phone or meet you in person or the dog breeder might string you along with one unexpected fee after another. Wouldn’t an experienced breeder know all the required fees? Why would someone sell a car from halfway around the world without someone trustworthy to ensure that they weren’t the ones getting ripped off?
The internet is a great resource for retail shopping and finding obscure items, but it’s also a great way to swim in the shark-infested waters of scams and fraud. Be on the lookout, trust your judgment, and walk away if something isn’t right.
Posted by Eva Velasquez, CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center, proudly sponsored by CyberScout.