So last day I also run into one of the many scams out there, this time on Amazon. Things felt off from the beginning but as I’m not an experienced user of Amazon’s webshop it took some time to verify it. Unfortunately what used to be riddled with typos and strange sings is now a new industry perfecting their product just like everyone else. And it’s good. I mean bad.
I thought ‘hey, since this bullshit took some time already maybe I can turn it into something useful’. So I started looking into it more deeply and anything I found just pissed me off even more. Just by looking at the sheer amount of unashamed scams I thought this is somewhat new and by bringing attention to it things can change for the better. Well, it turns out I was wrong. This has been out there for a long while and now it’s more dangerous than ever! With that in mind I did something Amazon have yet to do in this case. I adapted to the situation. Let me assure you now, this will not be one of those story telling posts. Instead I will categorically point out what Amazon fails to do or fails to do correctly to stop these scammers.
With this essay I hope to bring light to not only the problem but the (missing) solution.
#1 their game, their rules. bad ones.
First off, lets’s start with that this scam takes place (or at least starts) on the site. I understand that other scams over the phone or via mail are harder to keep in control, but that is not the case here. As explained in this post from early 2015 there are used items listed in the shop usually around half the normal price from brand new sellers asking to contact them via email before making a purchase on the site. What I came across was old accounts sometimes even with good rating selling fraudulently several thousand new items below price with the same condition (pictures #1 and #2).
Regardless whether these are new accounts, old ones or hacked ones, whether they slipped through the review, there’s a clear pattern of selling cheap stuff and giving instructions to email them in a very specific location in every case that I saw.
Remember, this is their house. They may impose any criteria or supervision. The rightful question arises: are they even trying hard enough? And let’s not forget that we’re talking about Amazon, the company famous and proud of their solutions to automate otherwise manual tasks.
#2 scammers are not followed through
Remember that I mentioned thousand of listed fraudulent items? I’ll add that since the one day I’ve been paying attention I’ve seen several of these companies come and go. This lets me conclude that it’s a systematic, automated process. It’s more than likely that the people operating these shops don’t even care if one goes down. It probably takes only a couple minutes to set up a new one.
There are however resources that are limited. One of those is a legit-looking email address. I’ve been blessed with outstanding ones like ‘email@example.com’ or ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ which align with the company and the email content perfectly. Seriously, even anticipating spam I thought that it’s legit for a second. Sure, email@example.com or something like that, looks OK.
And speaking of spam here’s the big issue: non of the 4 email addresses they used were flagged as spam (by google at least).
This gives me the feeling that finding and removing such a company is the end of the story. It’s obvious that in order to prevent future scams Amazon should follow-up on these issues, message the seller, find out as much as they can and shut down as much as they can. Instead these shops actually don’t disappear but only their products are removed. Afterwards I wasn’t notified (as someone who had one of their items in my basket therefore likely sent an email to them), even though it might be not too late to save me from giving my money away to criminals.
Keeping that in mind I’ll go one step further in guessing… If I were the seller being able to set up shop by a click of a button I wouldn’t even wait for Amazon to find me. I’d just go online, gather a few candidates who email me and then remove the shop before anyone could even report it and put it up under a different name the next day. This would allow to preserve my scheme and valuable resources (like email addresses) longer. From the looks of it I can very well imagine that this is the case.
#3 community efforts not supported
The above points may require Amazon to introduce changes and invest efforts. Here’s something on the other hand that would have minimal cost and would significantly improve the situation: give means to the community to take action.
But that is not the case, instead even if you successfully identified a scam you have to go through ridiculous efforts to even try to take action – no results guaranteed. Let me walk you trough it step-by-step:
- Go to the ‘Seller Profile’ / ‘Detailed Seller Information’ / ‘Seller Storefront’ pages and look for a possibility to report. None found. The story should really end here. Three clicks at most (report seller -> choose scammer option -> send).
- Google ‘amazon report scam‘ to find
- their support page about scams and phishing. Here you can find no mention of this common scamming practice, but information that is outdated (like weak email address example: ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’) or just simply useless (like a link at the bottom ‘reporting a phishing or spoofed email’ pointing to the home of the help page where there’s no mention about any of those).
- page about reporting emails or violation report page where again you can only report emails or a violation on existing order.
- that it seems Amazon doesn’t even acknowledge the problem. To be able to create a proper report you have to be directly involved with the scammers (via a purchase or email), which is exactly what we all want to avoid.
- Finally if you search and read relentlessly you will find articles and forum discussions (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and many more, lots of them on Amazon buyer & seller forums actually). There you will find a possible solution: make a phone call. Yeah, we all love customer service. This is most definitely not what you had in mind when you wanted to help (at this point likely a couple hours ago). And then we have testimonials where people are being sent off with lines like: “All of our Amazon marketplace sellers are genuine so you don’t have anything to worry about”.
so what can i do?
Well, if you have the time you can call them every time. That’s good but it’s no long-term solution. What you should do is raise attention to this issue so that Amazon might actually start to care.
Share this post, share others’ posts, comment on Amazon forums, create new ones, create tickets. Let them know that this is an issue you care about as well – even if you’re not a victim.
And as always, educate your family and friends. Encourage them to shop online but tell them what to do and what not to do.
As a proactive measure unfortunately there’s not much you can do. One possibility would be to keep the scammer occupied: engage in discussion and ask lots of questions. This is what members of the 419 Eater community do. The idea is that the scammers do not prey on other victims for the time being. But maybe they even mess up. I made them click on a redirect link that was recording data of visitors. Got an IP and an approximate location that may or may not belong to my scammer. Other than that you could only do the same as they’re doing: scam the scammer.
[Update 1 Dec 2016]
I was told to point out specifically that all ‘@xxxxxx-amazon.co.uk’ email addresses are fake. Here’s a picture of the very deceptive mail I’ve received from ‘email@example.com’ and a more transparent one from ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Also another testimonial on Amazon’s stand: “Last time I asked Amazon to check the seller because they were selling a product at 40% of the next lowest price, the rep told me that I would be protected by Amazon’s purchase protection, but refused to make a statement about or look into the seller.” Which means you are protected as long as you’re paying through Amazon and you’re willing to go through the hassle to recover your money of course. But if you happen to contact them via email or vice versa and get scammed that way you’re on your own. It also calls into question whether Amazon actually follows up on these issues.