When your orders don’t arrive: how to spot a purchase scam

That feeling. You know the one. The adrenaline rush you get when you see signs shouting ‘80% off’, ‘one-day-only sale’ and ‘final clearance’ online.

We’re all suckers for online shopping: the convenience and prices are second-to-none and it’s an easier option than hitting crowded spots. But simplicity often adds bigger challenges, namely the risk of getting scammed by get-rich-quick swindlers.

Don’t worry too much, though – we’ll help you identify these scams to make sure your hard-earned money goes the right way. 

Table of contents

Online purchase scams – what are they?

A purchase scam is when scammers pretend to be legitimate online sellers and advertise non-existent or bogus goods and services at a hugely discounted price. They also exploit shoppers’ love of a premium option by promising perks like free shipping and overnight delivery.

The scam usually starts with a dishonest website, app or even ads on social media marketplaces. Some fake e-stores mimic legitimate retailers like Gumtree and Amazon, using their familiar logos and URLs, to convince you they’re the real deal. 

The website or ad might look legitimate, but they won’t have any guarantees or quality assurance for the goods they’re selling, if they even exist – which is incredibly risky for the consumer, especially in the case of dietary supplements, perishables and electronics.

They’ll go so far as to make you wait forever for an order that never arrives, pay for a package that you’ve never ordered, or even send you fake invoices and receipts.

🔍 In fact, purchase scams are a very common form of APP scam, marking 56% of the total number of APP scams in the first half of 2022. Our research found that the total losses due to purchase scams reached £31.1 million during the same period.

What you should look out for 🕵️‍♂️

Before you hit the ‘pay’ button, take a second to ask yourself: is this purchase too good to be true?

If your first thought is yes, then go with your gut feeling. Scammers rely on you making quick decisions, and in this case, impulse purchases – but if you’ve got concerns, it’s always better to wait and conduct thorough checks.  

We’ve put together a few clues to help you identify a purchase scam:

  • The deals are way below market price, disguised as a ‘limited-time’ offer

  • You notice subtle errors on the website, such as spelling mistakes, irregularities and added words that don’t make sense in the context

  • You come across a trending product that has sold out everywhere else but has suspiciously enough become available on a website you’ve never heard of

  • You spot multiple negative reviews or warnings about the seller, website or products. Do your research before you buy – if it’s a scam, it’s likely they’ve targeted others and have probably been exposed by unhappy customers

  • The seller is pressuring you to pay for the product quickly, and you don’t have time to think 

  • Someone contacts you out of the blue with a product they want you to buy, for example in a cold call or an unsolicited email. This alone isn’t always a sign of a purchase scam, but you should be cautious if it’s paired with other signs on this list

  • You get pressured to pay by bank transfer instead of a more secure option, such as debit or credit card. If you’ve paid using these two methods, your bank might be able to reverse the transaction. Bear in mind, though, that you only have 45 days after the amount was charged to report a transaction fraud. Once your bank raises a chargeback claim (it’s filed to reverse a fraudulent transaction on your credit or debit card), the investigation can take up to 45 days – and there would still be no guarantee that you’ll get the money back. If you’ve paid via a wire service such as MoneyGram or Western Union, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get your money back

How to shop safely online 😌

It’s true that the era of online shopping has made getting all that we desire a lot easier. But it isn’t just convenient for us, it’s also a profitable business for the scammers waiting around every virtual corner for their next e-victim. 

💡 With millions of us turning to online shopping during the pandemic, scammers even attempted to claim more victims by selling unauthorised COVID tests and other medical supplies such as masks and gloves.

So, what can you do about it? Before going on an online shopping spree, make sure you’re not leaving yourself at risk:

  • Shop with trusted retailers that provide a legitimate address and a verified phone number. If you’re ever in doubt that a company is legitimate, you can always call their customer service line to double-check

  • Don’t click on online ads that look suspicious, for example ones promoting cheap, knock-off or soon to expire items like cleaning products and essential oils

  • Avoid using public WiFi when making purchases to safeguard your sensitive information 

  • Never respond to pop-up messages on a website or app that ask for your financial information

  • Where possible, always try to avoid paying via Faster Payments (a service that allows you to make quicker electronic payments or transfers to another bank account within the UK) unless you’re paying someone you trust. Faster Payments are similar to paying using cash – they are processed instantly, and as soon as the money reaches the recipient’s account, it’s theirs to keep

  • Look at the website’s URL to see if it starts with ‘https’ and shows a small padlock icon 🔒 in the address bar – ‘https’ means the site is secured using an SSL Certificate. Secure Sockets Layer is a digital certificate that companies add to their websites to secure online transactions and keep your information private and secure

  • Check your invoices closely when paying your bills on websites and apps you haven’t used before or don’t know much about – especially if they ask you to wire payments, pay using your debit card, pay by cash only or pay through third parties. Make sure your staff are aware of this, too

  • Always keep your anti-virus software up to date on all devices you use for online shopping

Think you’ve fallen victim to a purchase scam?

Online safety should be an important consideration, whether you’re making purchases in your personal life or for your business.

If you think you’ve been scammed, get in touch with your bank right away. If you’re with Tide, send us an in-app message, and we’ll help you through the next steps. You can also report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Did we pique your curiosity on this topic? Read the other blog posts in our Keep your business safe series to make sure you’re armed against fraudsters.

Photo by Jean-Marc Abi Rizk

Christelle Khalil

Christelle Khalil

Midweight Copywriter

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