There is a simple strategy that many retailers follow: go where consumers are spending money. In the last several years, that has meant a shift to a greater online presence as e-commerce revenue continues to grow every year.
Scammers use the same strategy, and it’s a win-win for them. As consumers spend more money online, scammers are able to take advantage of the low overhead costs of website creation and the anonymity of the Internet to gain access to those consumer dollars through fraudulent activity.
So, what drives consumers to do business with unfamiliar websites? BBB experience suggests that it’s often low prices.
One recent example was AceTechnologyOnline.com, a website that claimed to sell various Microsoft software products at discount prices. Consumers looking for Microsoft Office Professional 2010 found a very attractive price of $99 from AceTechnologyOnline.com, significantly lower than others selling the same software for $150 to $200.
Sounds like a great deal, right? Not really. Beginning in October 2013, BBB serving Dallas and Northeast Texas started receiving consumer complaints, 28 so far, alleging that Ace Technology Online sells fraudulent computer software that customers are unable to activate. Complainants also allege difficulty in contacting Ace Technology Online after failing to receive purchased products. BBB has yet to receive a response from whoever is behind the website.
Not long after BBB began to investigate, BBB determined that although the website claimed the “business” was based in Dallas, the address was really a UPS store. In addition, the website was created in September 2013, shortly before BBB began receiving complaints. Not all private mailbox addresses and new websites are involved in scams, but because many scams use post office or private mailboxes and new websites don’t have a track record, both are red flags — possible indications of a scam.
As of today, the website is down. However, there are almost certainly others that have taken its place.
BBB offers the following advice that may help you in recognizing traits of a fake online retailer:
- Be wary of unusually low prices online. If the seller is not an easily recognized national brand, investigate further.
- Be cautious with brand new websites. Learn how to search a WHOIS database, and determine how long ago the website was created. Younger websites, those that are only a few months old, deserve more scrutiny.
- Verify specific contact information. Look for registered business names (inc., llc., ltd., etc.) and verify their existence. Also, PO Boxes and private mailbox storefronts are more suspicious than physical addresses.
- Look out for broken links and broken English. Often, scammers spend time making a website look legitimate, but they don’t always take the time to make all the links work or content legible.
- Can the seller be contacted by phone? If you can’t contact them by phone prior to purchasing, you probably won’t be able to contact them if you have problems.
- Check with BBB. Start at bbb.org. Does the BBB Business Review show complaints, advertising concerns, or government actions? If so, has the business resolved the underlying issues?