CHEAP ELECTRONICS SCAMS
Have you been
looking into finding electronics items to sell on eBay, or just checking if you can find the latest mobile phone cheap on the internet? Then there are hundreds of websites and suppliers out there waiting for you. The problem is, they have no intention of delivering anything but a hole in your wallet.
(mobile phones, laptops, GPS systems, video games, mp3 players, ipods, plasma TV's etc...) are very popular items for scammers to "trade" in. Sadly, a lot of people buy into the hype that you can find cheap brand name electronics to buy wholesale on the internet and resell on eBay, and some come to see this as a way to get-rich-quick, or at least supplement their incomes with a cosy work-at-home job. As a result, there are a lot of con artists waiting to take advantage of that fact.
They tend to
hang out on trade sites like Alibaba.com and ec21.com, for example, scamming new internet traders and experienced businessmen alike, depending on how slick they are. Some also spam internet forums [example below
] hoping to catch the unwary individual who is interested in the latest gadget. Anywhere they can post their fake advertisements for free is fair game. Many of them advertise on auction sites, which is not the focus of this article but some of the information is valid for that as well.
selling these kinds of electronics are very common. These will often be complete with fancy shopping carts, created from standard templates in a matter of minutes. Normally they do not have SSL certificates, but there are exceptions to this. They will often abuse the logos of various certification agencies like VeriSign, IQNet, TRUSTe and so on in order to appear legitimate. A certificate means nothing unless you can confirm it with the giver. Scammers are not beyond creating their own "certification agencies" either, there used to be a fraudulent such website at www.eicafraud.org
(They are back again with www.eicafrauds.org
, this is also a scam site. If you see a similar site, remember there is no such things as a European Internet Certification Agency)
are also common. They can send any amount of imaginary documents, passports and birth certificates to prove that they exist and are legitimate. Pictures of passports can often be real and belong to previous victims. Any such documents or identification is useless unless you can confirm it with some third unrelated party. Some of the fake documents can look very nice on the surface, others look as if they were forged in the Paint program that comes with Windows. As an example, here
is a fake UK incorporation certificate used by a scammer impersonating a registered UK company. The real
one has a few significant differences (thanks to the person who sent me these). In this case there would have been nothing to stop the scammer from getting a copy of the real certificate and sending that instead, but he was probably not willing to pay for it.
These scammers can be found
in most parts of the world. If they are in a country like Nigeria which is already known for internet fraud, they are often very adept at pretending to be somewhere else with the use of VOIP or forwarding numbers and various other tricks. Many can be exposed by tracing the IP address in their emails, but this is not necessarily a foolproof method.
The UK Deals
Many of them have
figured out that they can appear significantly more legitimate by having a registered company. So they find a website like www.ukdata.com
, do a search for "mobile", "communication", "laptops" or whatever it is they feel like not selling. Then they copy the name and address of a suitable company and claim it as their own. When they find a suitable victim, they refer them back to ukdata.com so they can check that their company is registered and legitimate. To complete the less than solid illusion they use a type of phone numbers that are free to set up and receive calls to, and that can be forwarded to just about any number in the world. These usually start with +44 70 or +44 87. Most of these supposedly UK scammers are located in Nigeria or Eastern Europe, and they will be careful not to admit that, if they can avoid it.
Western Union or MoneyGram
is their favorite way of receiving payments. They often use tricks saying that the buyer should send the money but withhold part of the transfer information until the package is received, in order to make him/her feel safe. However they are quite capable of receiving the money in countries outside of where it was sent to, with only few details about the transfer. Completely untraceable, of course. Some also have access to PayPal or bank accounts. Remember, PayPal does not offer much in the way of buyer protection outside of eBay. These accounts frequently belong to third parties who have been conned into laundering money for them.
Example conversation with a UK scammer
Register article about UK company impersonations
The Medan Connection
are also quite prevalent in this type of fraud. The city of Medan in Indonesia has become known on the Alibaba.com forums as a center for internet scammers. There is a large amount of fake companies from this one city scamming people trying to buy electronics, but also items like jetskis, ATV's and anything else reasonably high-priced. There are plenty of them elsewhere in Indonesia as well.
The main difference
here is that Indonesian scammers can fairly easily set up bank accounts that can't be traced back to their real identities. They will most of the time ask for payment into a personal bank account. As soon as they receive the money, it will be withdrawn in cash and there is generally no way of getting it back. They will more often have fake websites that support their scam, these can look very legitimate on the surface.
Just like the
Nigerian scammers, they often pretend to be in other countries. Singapore is popular, they often use VOIP phone numbers and sometimes impersonate legitimate companies there. The bank account will still be Indonesian.
Notes Regarding China
Simply read this
, which is pretty much all I can tell you about Chinese scams.
So... How To Get The Real Thing?
Find a local store
selling it, or get one on eBay (watch out for scams there as well).
If you're buying in bulk find an authorised distributor from the manufacturer's website, and if you actually find the kind of information in this article new or helpful, you desperately need someone more experienced than yourself to teach you the ways of internet trade.
Some hints on how to recognise the scammers are below, though this is in no way a perfect list;
The easiest way
- Payment is up front by Western Union or MoneyGram.
- Payment is up front to an individual's bank account rather than one with the company's name.
- Payment is through an unknown escrow or courier service (Try a search with Google to see if they are well-known).
- There is often a sense of urgency that you need to make the payment quickly. They often claim that their low prices are only temporary.
- They claim to be located in a certain country, but can not provide working phone numbers in that country when asked.
- They claim to be in the United Kingdom and only provide forwarding numbers starting with +44 70 and +44 87. (Note: Many legitimate companies in the UK also use the 87 type numbers)
- They only provide mobile numbers.
- They claim to be in a western country but have a warehouse/office/branch in Nigeria, West Africa, Romania, Indonesia etc...
- Prices are far below retail on famous brand items.
- They claim they have such low prices simply because they buy wholesale.
- They claim to be a major company, "leading in the electronics/communications/laptops/GPS business", or something similar, but a Google search finds nothing on them.
- They do not have a website where you can purchase securely by credit card, even though they claim to be a major company.
- They ask for credit card details over email or in a chat session.
- They deal through free email addresses such as Yahoo.com, Hotmail.com, Myway.com, AOL.com etc... Real companies selling on the internet will have their own domain name.
to recognise an electronics scam is often to do a search on eBay, if the item is popular enough you will find out some realistic prices for it. If you see someone selling for 50%-70% or even 80% of the usual eBay or retail price, this is a huge red flag, and it's most likely just another scam. Brand name electronics do not have high margins, it's a competitive market, and the prices are similar all over the world. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Internet fraudsters prefer
to use Western Union because it is untraceable. It is not meant for
businesses, it is generally not used by
legitimate businesses, and it is the most insecure payment method possible for the buyer. It's the equivalent of handing a masked stranger in the street cash out of your pocket, and hoping he will get back with the item you bought. Don't do that. Western Union themselves do not recommend
that their services be used for these purposes. They may try to tell you that it is safe if you pay WU by credit card - this is not true. You can not do a charge back for payments to WU and other cash transfer services, call your credit card company to check.
Fake escrow sites
should also be mentioned as they are common in this type of fraud. There is a database of such fraudulent sites at www.escrow-fraud.com
and some information on how to avoid them. Scammers also set up fake courier sites where they give the victim a tracking number so they can confirm that their goods have been "sent". It is nothing but words on a page, the shipping company does not exist. Some will also impersonate for example DHL [fraud alert on DHL.com
], TNT [fraud alert on TNT.com
] and other legitimate companies by sending fake emails [Example below
]. Contacting that company through their website should be your first step, though you would have to be certain that it's their real website first. Feel free to post on our forums or contact us
if you need help recognising a scam site or a fake email from the real thing.
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