Online shopping scams

Every year, it seems that the Christmas season starts a little earlier than the one before. This year, retailers were stocking shelves with Santa Claus tchotchkes, nutcrackers and stocking stuffers within hours of taking down Halloween products. 

Halloween and Christmas are more retail-friendly than Thanksgiving, but Christmas is coming early this year because the ongoing supply chain problems across the country will make it harder to get your shopping done on time..    

“Yes, you should start shopping for the holidays now,” a Forbes headline from October 19 re-assured those of us who were thinking about it.

“Shop early and expect to pay more: Supply-chain issues could be a stumbling block to upbeat holiday shopping forecasts,” said a Marketwatch article from September 2021. 

Scarcity combined with an earlier than usual scramble for Christmas presents creates an ideal opportunity for scammers. One of the most likely culprits this year will be the fake online store scam, where phony e-commerce sites offer hard-to-find products at unrealistically low prices.

The relative ease with which anyone can quickly construct an e-commerce site on platforms like Shopify makes them an ideal platform for scammers; a recent study found that roughly 21% of Shopify websites are either fraudulent or dangerous for consumers.

A typical scam works like this: You see an ad on Facebook or Google offering a popular gift at a deep discount, often these scams will have something to do with an online vendor going out of business. The ad leads the visitor to a seemingly legitimate website, complete with product photos, videos and reviews. 

After checkout, the scam is revealed. It could be that the victim receives a shoddy knock-off of the intended product. 

Lele Star Wart

If you report it, the seller offers a refund if the product is returned. Typically these are overseas deliveries at a cost that exceeds the initial purchase. In other cases, the victim doesn’t receive anything at all and the online vendor closes up shop and restarts again under a different name and identity.

How to spot the scam:

At first glance, a fake e-commerce site looks largely the same as a legitimate one; pre-made templates can be installed in minutes, giving the appearance of a fully functional and professional website. A closer look can be revealing:

  • The domain name: Domain names cost money, and the goal of scammers is to maximize their profit. Since a domain name will be banned from Facebook or Shopify  after it’s associated with a scam, the domains used by criminals tend to be weird. If that hard-to-find gift is only available on, you can’t find it.
  • No contact information: Reputable businesses list a physical address, phone number and provide a means for contacting customer service. Not having one of these listed (like a physical address) should be a red flag. Don’t see any? The site is a scam.
  • Product photos can be found elsewhere online: If a website has professional-looking product photos or videos, do a quick Google image search. Scam websites will often scrape images from other legitimate sites to look more convincing.
  • Unrealistically low prices: If every store in your area is sold out of the latest release of a video game console and the owner of a website just happens to be sitting on a container-full of them, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to part with them at half price. If a deal seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

There’s a strong temptation to leap at the opportunity for a fast and easy deal. This is exactly what scammers hope you’ll do. Take your time, look before you leap and make sure everything is copacetic before providing a website with your payment information.