Amazon's business is booming and a move into Australia is planned, but scams from fraudulent third-party sellers are on the rise. Here's how you can shop safely and avoid buying a big ol' box of nothin'.
Photo by Stephen Woods. This is not the cat I ordered...
Be Wary of Massive Discounts
You should probably know this by now, but if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Yes, you can sometimes find crazy deals on Amazon that are legitimate, but when an expensive item is discounted more than 30 per cent, you should be wondering why.
This goes double for any items being sold from a new, "just launched" third-party seller. Keep in mind, however, not all third-party sellers are scammers. Most of them are perfectly fine.
Know How to Spot Fake Reviews
Wow, this item has all five-star reviews! Nope. Just because an item has a few customer reviews doesn't mean the seller is legit. Faking reviews is easy to do and unless you see "verified purchase" tag you probably shouldn't be taking reviews seriously anyway.
If you're a careful reader, you can spot the fake stuff by looking for certain key words and phrases. Fake reviews have a lot of verbs, adverbs and high usage of the first-person singular.
They also refer to other people a lot, like spouses or family and they tend to give the exact details of the product or service. There are also online tools that can analyse reviews to tell if they're most likely fake or not.
Don't Fall for Seller Ploys
Amazon scam artists are usually third-party sellers who try to convince you to do something out of the ordinary, like direct you off of Amazon's site or ask for an odd type of payment. For example, Alexandra Garcia, a makeup and beauty YouTube blogger, told her story to BuzzFeed News:
The seller posted a note telling potential buyers to email them before purchasing. Although it seemed odd to Garcia, she emailed anyway and received confirmation of her order from an email account that looked like Amazon's instructing her to buy the camera using an Amazon gift card. A few days later, the seller said they wouldn't ship the camera unless Garcia sent the code for another gift card to cover insurance on the shipment.
Being asked to email the seller is a red flag, but so is being told to pay in gift cards. This is something Amazon customer service specifically says you shouldn't do. Stay on Amazon's site and only pay through their system.
Double Check Who You're Buying From
OK, so you know to be somewhat cautious of third-party sellers, but do you always know when you're buying from them? Amazon doesn't always make it clear who's selling an item at that great price you're seeing.
So you click "Add to Cart" and pay before you realise you didn't buy from Amazon. Most of the time it works out fine, but your online shopping complacency can get the best of you.
Even if you do take the extra second to see who you're buying from, though, you may not know what each seller description means. Here's a basic breakdown, courtesy of Chris Hoffman at How-To Geek:
- Ships from and sold by [seller]: This is a third-party seller that ships an item from them directly to you (like eBay). Amazon doesn't ever touch the item, they just get a cut. This is where scammers thrive.
- Sold by [seller] and Fulfilled by Amazon: Fulfilled by Amazon doesn't mean the product is being sold by Amazon. A third-party seller sends the product to Amazon's warehouse, then Amazon ships it to you (and probably doesn't check the contents or legitimacy of the item). These items will often be "Prime" eligible, but they're still third-party.
- Ships from and sold by Amazon.com: This is the real deal and almost certainly not a scam of any kind.
Those first two are the ones you have to look out for and look into before you buy. Again, the "Prime" logo does not necessarily mean it's safe. If you want to avoid all the trouble, narrow your product search results to "sold by Amazon" only.
Make your search, then scroll down the left sidebar to the "Seller" section. Click the "See More" option and choose "Amazon.com."
Reach Out to Amazon Customer Service if It Happens to You
If you get duped, and you actually paid through Amazon's services, contact customer service and tell them what happened. You'll probably get your money back since it's part of Amazon's A-to-z Guarantee. They "guarantee purchases from third-party sellers when payment is made via the Amazon.com website or when you use Amazon Pay for qualified purchases on third-party websites."
Their guarantee also includes the condition of the item you bought and its timely delivery, and will cover up to $US2500 ($3150) of the purchase price, including shipping.