Beware of Online Shopping Scams – That May Rise further in 2021

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We’ve been witnessing a surge in online shopping scams since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a large chunk of the world population is working from home, hacks and cybercriminals are looking for ways to utilize cybersecurity loopholes. 

But since most enterprises and businesses have adopted robust security protocols, hackers have shifted to the area where security capabilities still need improvement – online retail. 

Online shopping fraud isn’t a new concept. For years, we’ve been watching scammers cheating naive online shoppers for hundreds and thousands of dollars. 

But as more people move to online shopping, it’s anticipated that online shopping scams could surge in 2021. Here’s how shopping scams take place, along with how you, as a shopper, can stay safe from them. 

FBI Warns for Security Scams

The latest Public Service Announcement by the FBI warned internet users about the rise of online shopping year in the upcoming years. The bureau has received several complaints about online shoppers being directed to fraudulent websites via online search engines and social media. 

Fraud online shopping statistics suggest that most common frauds were associated with high-demand products, like face masks, gym equipment, and home appliances. 

The key highlights of the complaints received were:

  • Disposable face masks shipped regardless of what was offered.
  • Payment for the items was made using online transfer.
  • The content on these fake sites was copied from legitimate ones.
  • The address and phone numbers used were fake and directed to an unreal location. 

Besides, when shoppers tried to return or reach back to the merchant, they failed to do so. Some received only partial reimbursement. 

The FBI also issued a list of indicators online shoppers should look for to spot online frauds. These include:

  • Most scam websites have a domain ending with “.store,” “.top,” or “.club,” instead of “.com.”
  • These sites have lucrative offers that are too good to be true. 
  • These sites and products are mainly advertised on social media platforms. 
  • Most of these sites have been registered in the last six months. 
  • These websites are registered using a private domain. 

Types of E-Commerce Frauds

Though the aforementioned guidelines give a quick idea into how most fraudulent sites operate, they don’t show the full picture. E-commerce has evolved, and so have online scammers. Here are different types of online shopping scams to watch out for. 

1. Credit Card Fraud

Scammers often use credit cards to make online purchases. They either get in physical possession of the card or get their hands on credit card information electronically. Credit card companies send an automated message whenever a transaction from your credit card is executed. 

If you receive such a message, report the online shopping fraud to your credit card company immediately. Many companies also allow 100% transaction reversal if you inform them about the fraud in time. 

2. Refund Fraud

In the case of refund fraud, the scammer makes an overpayment from a stolen card. Then, he contacts the credit card company and reports accidental overpayment to ask for a reimbursement. However, the fraudster will claim that his card is closed, and thus, the payment should be made from an alternative method. The refund amount is, therefore, not actually refunded, and the credit card company still owes the full amount. 

3. Merchant Fraud

Merchant frauds are really common these days, as discussed before. It includes fake websites that sell products and receive payments for either fake products or products that don’t exist. These sites lure you into making a purchase by offering massive discounts and offers. When you make a purchase, you either get a duplicate product or don’t get a product at all. Suppose you shop online for fashion products and you won’t get the delivery plus no response from the website as well. 

4. Card Testing Fraud

In this type of online shopping fraud, the scammer creates and tests the validity of a credit card number to use it to make a purchase on another website. In credit card testing fraud, the scammer uses websites that give a different response when a credit card transaction is declined. For instance, when a transaction is declined due to an incorrect expiration date, the fraudsters come to know that they need to find out the expiration date. 

5. Friendly Fraud

This type of fraud happens when a consumer makes a purchase, and after receiving the items, claims that his credit card has been stolen. He asks for a chargeback even after making the purchase. 

6. Phishing 

One of the most common types of online shopping scams out there, phishing scams occur when the scammer lures you into sharing your personal information. You might receive an email stating that your bank account requires urgent KYC, and hence you need to update your information. Then, you’ll be asked to share confidential information, like the debit card number, OTP, etc. 

7. Identity Theft

As the name suggests, identity theft occurs when a fraudster performs a fraud using someone else’s identity. Thus, the fraudster is able to make purchases using someone else’s identity. 

How to Stay Safe?

Online scams are increasing, and they are here to stay. To remain safe and not fall victim to these scams, online shoppers need to be smarter and more alert. Here is how to avoid online shopping scams

  • Verify the identity of the seller
  • Check the reviews 
  • Don’t provide too much information
  • Only shop for products with tagged photos
  • Make purchases using secure websites only
  • Keep an eye on your bank statements
  • Research the website to check if it’s legit
  • Read the website’s terms of use and privacy policy
  • Check your consumer rights, like refund and warranty
  • Don’t fall for too good to be true offers
  • Use credit cards and wallets over debit cards
  • Always opt for recorded delivery


As online frauds are increasing, online shoppers need to be more alert and smarter. Scammers can pull off online shopping scams using various techniques, ranging from credit card fraud to merchant fraud. To ensure a safe and secure online shopping experience, purchase from reliable sellers using secure payment methods.


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