3 Amazon Scams to Avoid

August 24, 2018

By Geoff Williams, U.S. News

Don’t fall for these common phishing scams while shopping with the retail giant.

If you’re an avid Amazon shopper, you may be leaving yourself vulnerable to cybercrime and scam artists. Why? Criminals go where the money is, and Amazon is an influential and popular retailer. Here’s the reality: While you may think your personal information is safeguarded, con artists are more sophisticated than ever, and easily able to target unsuspecting consumers with fake online listings, tax scams, money-payment scams and other forms of financial fraud. So, it’s not surprising that crooks are also targeting shoppers.

With that in mind, stay on the lookout and sidestep crooks by protecting your personal and financial information and staying vigilant of these common Amazon-related scams.

Email scams. Don’t assume every email you receive is authentic. Plenty of retailers send legitimate emails to their customers, so when a con artist sends you a fake email, your radar may not immediately go off. Once you receive a suspicious email claiming to be from Amazon, make sure you don’t open the file or click any links. The message may appear to be coming from a legitimate retailer such as Amazon, and could include a request for account information such as your email address or password, according to Kevin Lancaster, CEO of ID Agent, a cybersecurity company based out of Bowie, Maryland, that protects businesses with dark web and identity monitoring systems.

Don’t fall for it, Lancaster says, noting that every message should come from an Amazon email domain. Furthermore, “Amazon never asks for financial information such as bank account, credit card number, PIN or other personal information.” Poor punctuation and grammar are also bad signs, Lancaster adds.

There are other types of emails to watch out for, too. Some scammers will send emailsindicating there is a problem with an order, or it’ll ask to confirm an order “seeking to lure the victim into clicking on links in the email to remedy the issue,” says Steven Weisman, an attorney in Amherst, Massachusetts, and a college professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Weisman teaches a course on white collar crime and also authors Scamicide.com, a blog about scams.

“Of course, these links lead to downloading malware or providing personal information that can be used to facilitate identity theft,” Weisman says.

If you think the email is real, Weisman suggests going to Amazon’s website and checking your account to see if there is a problem with your order. Also be wary of any message requesting that you update your account. If you receive such a notification, make sure you open up a new browser, go to Amazon.com, and update your account using the official “Manage Payment Options.” Or go to the “Log-In and Security” page if you’re concerned about changing your password.

Alternatively, you can call the customer service department and ask about the email to see if it’s authentic. Whatever you do, don’t try to get to Amazon through the suspicious email.

Phone call hacking scams. Say you have a question for Amazon before or after making a purchase, and you want to talk to customer service, and so you look up their phone number online. Before you dial, make sure you’re getting the phone number from a trustworthy website.

“Scammers know that you are going to look up phone numbers online, and they often capitalize on this practice,” says Robert Siciliano, who is based out of Boston and is a security analyst with Hotspot Shield, a virtual private network service. “Basically, they set up a website or redesign a current website, and then they create a toll-free number that people often look for, such as the number for Amazon.com. However, this phone number is a total scam,” Siciliano says.

And according to Siciliano, if you call the number and believe you’re talking to someone from Amazon, you could soon find yourself being tricked into, say, giving a thief a gift card number to Amazon or other personal information that leads to a PayPal account or bank account being drained. And if somebody calls you, claiming to be from Amazon’s customer service team, make sure to not give out any personal information since scammers like to utilize the phone in that way, too.

Fake listing scams. While Amazon’s marketplace features reputable businesses selling their wares, dishonest “companies” can easily set up an online store, too. But if you see a product that is listed way below market value, don’t hand over your credit card info just yet.

“Amazon is continuously developing algorithms to automatically detect these merchants, but it also relies on consumer awareness,” Lancaster says. “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.” And what really can throw people off is that sometimes these con artists build up a couple months of legitimate sales, making a con artist’s products appear reputable, Lancaster says. “People buy from the fake listings, and instead of receiving a product in a few weeks, the scammer has already made off with the money,” he explains.

In fact, there have been some cases of criminals buying their own products and shipping it to a real address. The con artist then writes a fake review, purportedly from the buyer the product was shipped to. Why does the thief go to the trouble? To make it look like a “verified” review, since the review came from a “buyer” who bought the product. Still, generally, if you want to know if a review is real, you’ll want to look for reviews marked with the company’s “Verified Purchase” badge.

While stories of online scams are alarming, keep in mind that most of the time you can shop with Amazon and other retailers without leaving yourself open to fraudsters. Still, tread carefully before providing any sensitive personal information to avoid leaving yourself susceptible to scammers. After all, when it comes to you and your money, whether you’re out in public or parting with it in the comfort of your home, it pays to be cautious.