What is it?
The increase in online shopping has provided criminals with an new opportunity to trick people into paying for goods and services that don’t exist, often advertised via auction sites or social media with images taken from genuine sellers’ to convince you they’re the real deal. Criminals also use cloned websites with slight changes to the URL to trick you into thinking you’re purchasing from a genuine website. They may also ask for payment prior to delivery and send you fake receipts and invoices that appear to be from the payment provider.
Scams include buyers paying deposits for pets that don’t exist, DIY purchases and electronic devices such as games consoles to name a few.
How to spot a potential purchase scam
- You’re offered a heavily discounted or considerably cheaper service or product compared to the original genuine worth. The deal sounds too good to be true.
- You’re asked to pay by bank transfer instead of using the online platform’s secure payment options
- You receive a fake email receipt/invoice that appears to be from the website you’ve purchased from or the payment service used to make your purchase – the email address domain doesn’t match that of the genuine senders.
- The website that you’re purchasing from was only launched days/weeks ago
Examples of purchase scams
Callum* bought a laptop advertised at a heavily discounted price compared to the once he’d seen on the official seller’s website. Upon contacting the seller, he was told that the offer was for a limited time only therefore if Callum wanted the laptop, he needed to pay quickly by bank transfer. Proof of payment was sent to the seller but when Callum asked for a tracking number he received no response. After numerous attempts to contact the seller, Callum searched their name and came across numerous bad reviews from other people. He never received the laptop.
Mary* saw an advert for a blender that was selling at a third of the price that she’d seen it on other sites. The website looked to be very professional and included lots of pictures and details, so Mary proceeded with her purchase, believing she was getting a fantastic deal. Once her purchase was complete, she received a email from the ‘payment provider’ informing her there’d been an issue with her payment and that a refund had been processed. Mary tried the purchase again, but little did she know she was paying a criminal – for the second time.
Desperate to secure tickets to a sold-out concert, Nigel* posted a message on a forum asking if anyone had tickets. Shortly after he was contacted by someone who had a couple of spare tickets. Nigel was elated. After a number of back and forth conversations Nigel was convinced the tickets were genuine and existed, so he proceeded to make payment by bank transfer. The tickets never materialised and there was no further contact from the seller nor could he be reached.
After several agonising days of searching, Paula* spotted a listing for a puppy on an online auction site. She contacted the seller and not wanting to miss out, she paid a deposit into the account details that the seller provided to secure the purchase. Later that day, Paula received a message from the seller requesting additional payment to cover costs for vaccinations and insurance. Desperate for some companionship, she proceeded to pay the associated fees. After a few days, Paula got back in touch with the seller but didn’t get a response. She tried again on a number of occasions but never heard from the seller again. Subsequently the link that she used to view the puppy disappeared.
*These case studies are based on insights from partners