3 Delivery Scams to Watch Out for When Shopping OnlineWith intuitive website building tools and big online marketplaces like Amazon, it’s easier than ever for people to start selling goods online. Unfortunately, that includes scammers, who use online shopping’s impersonal nature to make quick cash and leave their victims with headaches. If you buy a lot of products on the Internet, it’s imperative you educate yourself on delivery scams, where con artists manipulate the contents and method of deliveries to swindle money out of you, or make you a pawn in their racket. To learn about three common delivery scams, and how you can take steps to avoid them, keep reading.

Empty box scams

As you can probably guess from the name, an empty box scam is when you order something, and the seller just ships you an empty box. If you report your issue, the seller will swear up and down that they really sent you what you ordered, and they may even ship the package using a courier service that requires a signature upon delivery so they have ample evidence that they at least sent you something. As you try to get your money back, the seller can quietly shut down their store, and then reopen under a different name to repeat the process all over again. These delivery scams are fairly common on Amazon, as scammers can easily set up a seller profile and take advantage of people’s trust in Amazon to get customers. They can also use long delivery times to wait out Amazon’s two-week payment cycle, banking the money from their fraudulent sales before the complaints from angry victims start rolling in.

To avoid this delivery scam, be careful ordering from websites you aren’t familiar with, especially ones with unusually low prices. If you’re shopping on an online marketplace, look at the merchant who is actually selling you the product. Some red flags to look for are long shipping times, a large variety of different products for sale and the seller’s account being new, which some marketplaces explicitly note. You can also defend yourself by paying for your purchase with a credit card, since credit cards have a lot of security features and liability protection that make shopping with them online fairly safe. Plus, if you get scammed and just can’t work out a way to get a refund from the merchant, you can go through your card company to request a chargeback for the purchases.

Brushing scams

Probably one of the most unusual delivery scams we’ve found, brushing scams don’t actually involve a scammer trying to take anything from you. Instead, the victim of this delivery scam will just receive packages they didn’t order, addressed to them and paid for using a gift card so the sender is untraceable. The source of the packages is generally a dishonest online merchant or someone they’ve hired, who places orders for their own products using real names and addresses they’ve gathered so they can leave fake verified positive reviews and inflate their rankings on online marketplaces. According to a report published by the College of William and Mary that tracked sellers on Chinese online marketplace Taobao, brushing is an effective and low-risk way for unscrupulous sellers to increase their visibility online.

While getting free stuff may seem like a blessing more than a curse, it also means that an Internet fraudster has your real name and address, and doesn’t have problems using it to impersonate you. With just one or two more pieces of personal information, that scammer could probably steal your identity in a much more damaging way. Additionally, brushing makes online marketplaces worse platforms for shopping online, as it lets unethical sellers rise to the top while crowding out the more honest ones. There’s unfortunately not much you can do to avoid these delivery scams, aside from completely avoiding third-party sellers online altogether so they can’t steal your personal information. However, if you find yourself targeted by brushing, you should definitely report it. Contact the companies sending you packages so they can close the offending accounts, and file a police report so you have a record in case the situation escalates.

Returned delivery scams

Thieves try to use stolen credit and debit card numbers to purchase expensive items online all the time, to the point that many card issuers monitor all accounts for suspicious activity by default. In this clever scam, though, the thief uses your credit card to place an order online, but has it shipped to your address with your name on it so the unauthorized purchase doesn’t trigger any alerts. After you receive the package, the scammer will then send a box and return label to your address via a delivery service. Most people will assume the return label came from the business that originally sent the package, so they’ll ship it back, but the address on the return label actually leads to the scammer, or to a reshipping mule they’ve tricked to forward them packages with a work from home scam. Because the business won’t receive your return, you’ll have a difficult time getting the fraudulent purchase refunded.

While this scheme is elaborate and hard to piece together on your own, it’s easy to avoid once you know what’s going on. The key is to check the address on any return labels you receive to see if it actually belongs to the business that sent you the package. You can call the business and ask about valid return addresses, or type the address into Google Maps and see if it leads to a shipping center of some kind. If the address brings up a residential street, it’s almost definitely a scam. To catch the scam even earlier, you can set up email or text alerts on your financial accounts that trigger whenever a transaction over a certain limit goes through. That way, even if someone sends an unauthorized purchase to your address, you’ll know about it. Also, remember to use a credit card instead of a debit card when you’re shopping online, so you’ll get stronger fraud protection.

As technology evolves, scammers are constantly exploiting it in new ways to cheat people. To keep up with them, and find more great tips to help you stay safe while shopping online, follow our scams blog.