Before 2020 even happened, e-commerce was already widespread, and online shopping was quickly replacing numerous institutions that had lasted for decades before the Internet really arrived and became useful for consumers. When some of the biggest retail stores like Toys-R-Us collapsed due to the competition of the Internet and buying online, the shift had begun en masse. So, when COVID arrived and forced everybody to separate and avoid contact, e-commerce was already professionalized and ready for the wave that occurred. However, despite all that technology and advancement, online shopping also made things a lot riskier for consumers.
Internet crime is categorized by the use of the Internet to communicate fraudulent representations to consumers. The advantage of the Internet for scammers is two-fold; first, it provides protection with distance, and secondly, it anonymizes parties. Think about how a purchase today happens on a platform like Amazon or eBay today. Do you really know whom you are buying from? This makes it a lot easier to create a sale online that is too good to be true and catch people desperate to buy. Many sites tried early on to use ratings and reputations to block such sellers, but they were weak challenges to persistent scammers who could find ways to balloon up reputation scores quickly.
The most common method of scam by fake sellers with anonymous online names tends to be offering a product that would go for much higher cost normally and is sold at very attractive prices. Because it looks like such a good deal, buyers jump on it, and send their payment through, trusting the online platform to protect them. And that’s when the scammer takes off with the money and never delivers.
Fake Shopping Websites
A second, very effective tool has been fake websites designed entirely to get consumers to share their financial information in what they think are purchases. These are most frequently used by international scammers. Once they have the identity and credit card information in a victim’s life, the scammers start charging away like crazy, sapping tons of money before the credit card processors block any further activity. They get away with the fraud internationally because the customer actively agreed to an initial sale, which makes it harder to stop. By the time the victim has figured out what’s going on, the scammer has stolen a couple thousand dollars of fake charges.
A twist on this scam uses social media to pump up popularity and interest in a fake website. The formula works the same way, but the social media route makes generating awareness and online traffic easier and more effective. With a viral reaction, people start following each other like lemmings, and the fraud goes wide scale as a result.
Fake Shipping and Contact Texts
Shoppers these days are constantly waiting for texts to tell them where their package is located. So, no surprise, scammers are using fake texts to get people to connect and provide their information. Some of the most sophisticated traps get a person to click a text, which opens up their computer or mobile device with a trojan program or phishing approach when they input responses to the texts. It sounds crazy, but people are actually falling for these traps with a package order status being extremely common. So why would a UPS message asking for more info be unreasonable? It’s a normal life occurrence these days.
Good Fiction Seems Like the Truth
In all these examples and more, they follow one simple principle: the best fiction is that closest to the truth. Scammers know people let their guard down for familiar things, and e-commerce has become so familiar it provides an easy opportunity for online crime. You can protect yourself, however. First, stick with well-established platforms. Second, don’t jump on sales that are too good to be true. Third, use platforms that give you your money back right away if dissatisfied. And finally, only use a credit card versus your bank card because the former provides you fraud protection; your credit card company will take the hit after $50 or so if the sale is indeed a proven scam. But if you give your bank card away, it’s an open barn door to your money.