We live in a fast-paced world, and we’re all attracted to the ease and convenience of online shopping. Chances are, you have an Amazon account – almost everyone does. Whether your cart stays filled with daily essentials, or you only use your account for holiday shopping, chances are good that you are familiar with the ordering process. If you toss a ball into a crowd, it’s likely to be caught by someone who has an Amazon account – and scammers know this.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, between July 2020 and June 2021, 96,000 reports of “Amazon impersonation” were filed. Six thousand of the targeted individuals lost money in the scam, with reported losses totaling more than $27 million. The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher, because not all instances of fraud and attempted fraud are reported.
What is an Amazon Impersonator?
An Amazon impersonator is someone who pretends to be a representative for the online retail giant. Typically, they contact you by email or telephone, on one of many pretenses, such as:
A supposed issue with your account set up or contact information;
A claim that there are suspicious charges or orders appearing on your account;
A notice that “an item you ordered” cannot be delivered and you are due a refund;
An ironic “warning” that a hacker has gained access to your personal information through your Amazon account.
In all of these cases, the fraudster pretends to be on your side; there to help you protect your account or get your money back.
In addition to these proactive attempts, you also need to be aware of online traps that might make you the one to unknowingly initiate the first contact. A technique that criminals will use is to plant fake customer service numbers on legitimate looking websites that might appear in a general Google search. Instead of resolving your issue, you might be connected to an imposter who is all too happy to “help,” and the scam begins. If you need to contact Amazon, or any other online retailer, it is best to look for the correct contact information by logging into your account first, and then conducting the search for the right answers and phone numbers within the secure website.
How Does Amazon Fraud Work?
Whether you received a call, text, or email, or you reached a bogus customer service line, the first thing the fraudster will do is to try to gain your trust and assure you that they can resolve your issue. The person may be overly friendly or share personal details about themselves to seem more genuine, even claiming to had experienced the same problem. They may claim that they are are doing you “a favor” to get around the bureaucratic red tape by initiating a special process just for you. One common technique includes asking for remote access to your computer or phone, where they then log in to your Amazon account to process your refund. In this case, the fraudster may “accidentally” enter too many zeros in the amount line, and then beg for your help to correct it so they won’t be punished for their mistake. Some are so convincing that they are able to gain access to a victim’s online banking system with the supposed purpose of correcting the error.
And there are countless variations to email scams where the sender claims to be from Amazon and asks you to click on a link and verify either your account information or your payment information. Even if you click on the link and then stop before adding your personal information, it may still be too late. You may have downloaded a virus to your computer that can collect personal information later.
Additionally, links to claim prizes from Amazon have great success for scammers. The victim clicks the link and enters credit card information to pay to ship what they have won. This leads to unauthorized charges, and as you can guess, no prize.
Why is This Type of Scam so Successful?
This scam works because it’s convincing. Almost everyone has an Amazon account, and many people place at least one order every few weeks. An email or phone call about a “recent order” calls to mind a legitimate recent purchase. From there, the scammer is knowledgeable, helpful, and courteous. As the victim, you view them as a solution to your problem. When caught off guard and suddenly confronted with a problem and the offer to solve it, it can be easy to forget to think twice.
Unfortunately, these fraudsters are good at what they do, and they’re often smart enough to continually change their techniques to become even more successful. Reports have been made of money appearing to have been deposited in an online bank account, or a refund appearing to have been added to an Amazon account, only to disappear later. These deposits and refunds last long enough to offer apparent proof of legitimacy while the perpetrators complete their scam.
What should you do to protect yourself?
According to this article by the Federal Trade Commission, there are ways to protect yourself from some of the common scams used by business impersonators. Additionally, Amazon has tips for identifying whether or not an email, text message or phone call is legitimate, located from within the Help section of their website. Here are a few things to remember:
- Legitimate Amazon websites have a dot before “amazon.com” such as http://”something”.amazon.com. For example, Amazon Pay website is https://pay.amazon.com/. Amazon will never send emails with links to an IP address (string of numbers), such as http://123.456.789.123/amazon.com/. If the link takes you to a site that is not a legitimate amazon domain, then it is likely phishing.
- If you receive correspondence about an order, login to your Amazon account and try to match it to your orders that you can see online. If it doesn’t match an order that you recognize, it is not legitimate.
- If you are asked to update payment information or told that there is a problem, go to your account and look in your Orders. If you are not prompted to update your payment information then this activity is a fraud.
- If you have a customer service issue, go directly to the company’s official website. Don’t trust phone numbers or links from unofficial pages in search results.
- Never allow anyone to have remote access to your devices unless you initiated the interaction with someone you trust. You will never have to provide remote access to receive a refund. Likewise, do not respond to requests to download software to your device in order to perform customer service functions.
- Don’t buy gift cards that a customer service agent requests you to purchase. Also, never send photos of gift cards. If someone tells you this is the only accepted form of payment, don’t follow through with the transaction.
Spread the word. If this is happening to you, it’s happening to others. Share what you know to help protect other people. Data suggests that people over age 60 have a greater risk of falling victim to this type of scam, so tell the seniors in your life to be vigilant of Amazon and other business impersonation fraud.
If you are concerned that you’ve been targeted by a business impersonator, report it by clicking this link to the FTC https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.
Remember, as a HomeFREE Checking account holder, you have access to identity protection benefits. Our fraud specialists are standing by to help you identify the risks of fraud, if you fall victim to a scam. And if your identity information is misused our trained professionals can help you address fraudulent activity, minimize your risk and recover your good name.