The risks of shopping online are widely known. However, if I order something from a well established website like Amazon, nothing can happen, right..? Unfortunately, wrong.
Amazon is not only acting as a trader itself, but also as a platform for others: Amazon Marketplace. Traders can present and sell their products there. Customers can process the payment via their Amazon account. No direct contact between the external trader and the consumer is needed. This concept is starting to cause huge problems as more and more dubious traders use the wide reach of Amazon for their activities.
The operators of fake shops offer branded goods for very cheap prices. Interested customers are asked to contact them directly via mail. If they do so, the trader tells them not to process their payment through Amazon, but to use other services like PayPal, Western Union, PaySafe or direct transfer. Allegedly, this enables them to deliver immediately or to offer special warranties. As soon as the payment was done, the traders cancelled their order at Amazon and were unavailable. It was therefore impossible for the consumers to demand a refund. They could not turn to Amazon either, as their payment was processed otherwise.
Consumers reported to the ECC about experiences where they were also asked to contact the trader directly. They refused to do so and ordered the product via their Amazon account. Soon after, they received a notification that their order was cancelled and another request for direct contact. Those consumers had no financial damage, but never received the products. The ECC believes that those dubious traders try to entice the consumers away from Amazon and persuade them to use other means of payment or collect some personal data.
The profile pages and offers of such traders appear very professionell. It is therefore hard to detect the fake before falling into the trap. To gain trust, there are faked reviews and evaluations of "customers".
According to media reports, some of those fraudsters are capable of hacking real sites and misuse them for their cause. This does not only harm consumers, but also trustworthy traders. Amazon is struggling to fight the huge number of fake shops.
Amazon explicitely warns against making direct money transfers to marketplace sellers: "Please never transfer any money directly to a seller. Should a seller ask you to transfer any money to them directly, please do not follow up on their request, but report the incident to our customer service."
Find more information from Amazon about ordering from third-party sellers here.
Tips by the ECC
- Very cheap offers should raise suspicion. Nothing is for free, not even online.
- If you are uncertain whether a trader is trustworthy, you can search for reviews in internet forums (besides Amazon).
- Don't trust traders who requests payment through other services than Amazon. Report such cases to the Amazon customer service (as described here).
- Don't pay in advance. If possible, pay after the delivery.
- In case of fraud, contact the next police station.
- You can report fake shops to the respective department of the interior ministry (BMI - email@example.com)