If you’ve ever bought anything online, you’ve probably experienced that same moment of hesitation before clicking “confirm” on your purchase. Is this seller trustworthy? Is he going to send me a defective item? Is he going to take my money and not send anything at all?
Those are very valid fears considering the high numbers of online shopping scams that are reported each year. But what a lot of consumers overlook is the fact that the seller may be putting himself at just as much risk of falling victim to a shipping scam. Due to some of the ways that the major online marketplaces meet the needs of both buyers and sellers, the door has been left wide open for thieves to steal from small business owners and individuals alike.
One of the major platforms that helps buyers and sellers is PayPal. It’s a secure and purchase-protected platform that has made the process of online shopping a lot more trustworthy. Unfortunately, scammers know how to skirt the system in order to achieve their end goal of ripping off their victims.
Scammers simply list a different address on the invoice than in their communication with the seller, meaning a scammer can make a purchase that lists one address on the PayPal invoice, but when it comes time to ship the item, he’s asked for it to go to a different address. The seller ships the item to the new address, and the scammer cancels the payment on PayPal as soon as he has the tracking number and knows the item has shipped. PayPal only knows about his actual address on his invoice and therefore refunds his money for failure to receive the item.
Another common scam involves retail giant Amazon, who also offers third-party vendors the opportunity to reach a vast customer base online. In Amazon’s case, they don’t deal with the same type of invoicing and shipping addresses, so the scam is a little different. The buyer makes the purchase, receives the item, and may even leave a review for the seller. Then, they simply contact Amazon customer service and state that the item never showed up; they also delete their review to cover their tracks. Amazon has no record of it showing up, and in the interest of customer service, they refund the buyer’s money and charge it to the seller.
If you’re a small business retailer or just an individual selling an unwanted item, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from this type of shipping scam. If you’re using PayPal, never agree to ship an item to an address other than the one on the invoice. Doing so nullifies the invoice according to PayPal’s terms, so even if the customer has a good excuse—it’s a gift for a relative, he’s moving and wants it to arrive at his new address, or any other reason—never agree to swap the addresses.
Any time you send an item to an online customer—but especially when using Amazon—go the extra mile and pay to ship it with a recipient’s signature required. It will cost you a little more, but the post office will have a record that the buyer received and signed for the item, preventing them from stealing your item and claiming it was never sent.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.