If you plan to shop on Amazon.com this holiday season, be warned.
There’s a new scam afoot, and the con artists are using Amazon to steal your money. Based on the number of complaints reported to Bamboozled from across the country in the past few months, the problem is widespread, if not rampant.
Amazon isn’t doing anything about it, according to shoppers who fell victim to the scam.
Given that we’re at the start of the busy holiday shopping season, one might think Amazon wants to warn its customers.
The retail giant is staying silent.
We’ve reported before about fake third-party sellers who lure buyers to leave Amazon’s site when it comes time for payment. Through untraceable wire transfers, the fraudsters take money for items they never deliver.
This time, the scammers are using Amazon gift cards to pull off the fraud.
And it seems to be working beautifully.
The dozens of complaints reported to Bamboozled share essentially the same story. And, the readers agree, Amazon hasn’t done a thing to help.
We reached out to Amazon about these cases and to ask what it’s doing to protect consumers as the holiday shopping season gets underway. It hasn’t responded to our inquiries.
Here’s a look at what’s happened to some shoppers who put their trust in Amazon.
Nick Gladis of Frenchtown wanted to buy himself a birthday present.
He decided to buy himself a drone.
“It was the biggest purchase I’d made for myself in years,” he said.
Looking on Amazon on Nov. 1, Gladis found the product he wanted for $500. The seller’s ad told him to text the seller before placing the order.
What followed was a series of texts and emails — emails that looked exactly like authentic Amazon emails — in which Gladis was instructed to purchase an Amazon gift card to make his payment. He gave the gift card numbers to the seller, and the seller took the money.
But no product arrived.
When he realized something was wrong, Gladis contacted Amazon.
Amazon said the gift card had already been used and nothing could be done to recover the money, Gladis said he was told.
“Amazon simply does not care and has very little to say about it, and wants it brushed under the carpet so that they don’t have a sketchy name,” Gladis said. “Amazon received the money I was scammed for either way.”
In essence, with the gift cards being used as payment, Amazon has unwittingly become a middleman for fraud, and it’s profiting as more gift cards are purchased.
And, Gladis said, the phony seller continued to post items on Amazon even after he reported the scam.
“That’s absolutely unforgivable,” Gladis said.
He asked Amazon to share information on the fake seller, such as the seller’s IP address, but Amazon wouldn’t give Gladis any information.
Gladis isn’t the only one reporting this kind of scam and the lack of action by Amazon.
Kevin Donaldson of Tempe, Arizona, decided to buy a refurbished computer from a third-party seller on Amazon.
On Nov. 3, he found one for $441. Next to the shipping information, the listing said buyers should email the seller before placing an order, and it gave an email address.
Donaldson said he figured the email request was to confirm the item was in stock. He put the item in his Amazon shopping cart and emailed the seller.
The seller asked for information on the system he wanted, Donaldson said.
“After confirming that they had the computer in stock, I noticed in my shopping cart, for that computer, the price had jumped $200,” he said. “Since I did not want to lose the deal, I wanted to push the order through to lock in the price.”
He then received an email full of Amazon logos and fonts, giving him link to what was supposedly an Amazon “e-payment” page. He was instructed to buy a gift card and submit the numbers to the seller.
“It was Amazon’s gift card,” he said. “I should have stopped then. I thought that hey, I am using Amazon, I am using an Amazon credit card and they are asking for a Amazon gift card. Everything is directly through Amazon, which I trusted.”
Within 10 minutes of completing the purchase, Donaldson realized the transaction wasn’t showing on his Amazon account.
He immediately contacted Amazon and explained he thought he was scammed, and he asked the company to stop payment on the gift card.
“They said they could do nothing,” Donaldson said, noting he offered all his contact with the seller as evidence.
He said the rep suggested he call the police.
After continued attempts to get help from Amazon, Donaldson said, the company won’t respond to him anymore.
“I have not used profanity on any level with them and they have halted communication,” Donaldson said. “Amazon only seems interested in working with sellers and have no backing for their customers.”
Ron Eberle of Merritt Island, Fla., tried to buy a $1,000 generator from a third-party seller on Nov. 7.
He tells a story similar to other scammed shoppers.
Eberle said the generator ad told buyers to text a telephone number before placing an order.
He did, and the response instructed him to email the product number and delivery address.
The response said, “Amazon will confirm your order and guide you through the payment process once we will receive your details.”
Eberle asked if he could use his debit or credit card, but the seller didn’t respond.
Eberle later received an email that used Amazon’s logos and fonts and color schemes. The writer said he was from “Amazon Customer support Purchase Protection Program Department.”
It confirmed the purchase order number, and said the purchase was eligible for Amazon’s buyer protection program.
The email instructed him to buy Amazon gift cards, and it listed retailers where he could buy the cards.
Eberle did as instructed, buying two $500 Amazon gift cards and giving the numbers to the fake Amazon employee.
The next day he received a new request for $1,000 more. Insurance was needed on the purchase for the transaction to go through.
“The payment will be secured by our service and you will have your money back once you receive the product,” the email said.
That’s when Eberle realized something was wrong. He tried to cancel, but the seller never responded.
Eberle reported the scam to Amazon, which he said offered nothing to help him get his money back.
“I feel like a real dumbbell, but the third-party seller emails looked legit, and the real concern for everyone, I think, is that I never would have suspected a fraud scam that I believe was enabled through the Amazon website management,” Eberle said. “How many others got robbed?”
In the week following the scam, Eberle monitored similar products and found many similarly phony sellers on Amazon, he said. He shared the images with Bamboozled
HOW TO AVOID THE SCAM
We asked Amazon for protection tips for you, dear readers, but it didn’t answer.
So here are our suggestions.
First, while there are opportunities to contact third party sellers to ask questions about items, the only legitimate contact you would have is on Amazon’s site. At the bottom of most items for sale, you can find a Q&A area where you can ask questions, and the seller will respond right there.
If a seller tells you to call, text or email for any reason, don’t do it. Find another seller.
If you do end up in a conversation with a seller, never follow any links where you can supposedly make a payment.
The seller may tell you the transaction is covered by Amazon. Well, it’s only covered by Amazon if you pay through Amazon Payments directly on the Amazon page — not on an impersonation page that’s made to look like the real thing.
And never pay with an Amazon gift card the seller tells you to buy.
If you have a gift card, sure, use it — through Amazon Payments. No legitimate seller will tell you to buy new gift cards to pay for any product.
We tried to find Amazon warnings about this new abuse trend, but we couldn’t find anything.
But what it doesn’t seem to do is warn shoppers at the point of purchase that these kinds of scams are out there.
Amazon, can’t you do better for your customers?
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.