Online shoppers are being warned of a new scam involving shipment tracking numbers and PayPal.
The Better Business Bureau says the scam – recently reported to the agency – involves con artists tricking shoppers into paying for goods that either don’t exist, or that never arrive, and then further prevent the shoppers from securing refunds by providing fraudulent shipping information to PayPal.
According to the BBB, someone could come across a website with “amazing deals” – often brand-name goods at a significant discount – while shopping online.
Both the website and products look legitimate, and shoppers are instructed to complete their purchase through PayPal. After checkout, the shopper receives an email that contains a tracking number from UPS, FedEx or another shipping service.
However, after a few days, the tracking number may indicate the package has been delivered when in reality, it was never received by the shopper, according to the BBB.
Furthermore, when the victim contacts the shipping company, they are told the package was delivered but sent to the wrong address. Then, when the victim tries to correct that mistake, they may find the website they ordered from “either unresponsive or unhelpful.”
“In many cases, the site does not provide contact information; in others, they simply ignore your emails or calls,” reads a BBB press release.
The agency says that, while some victims attempted to file a refund claim with PayPal under that company’s purchase protection policy, their claims were rejected because the scammers created the impression the package was shipped and provided a tracking number indicated it was delivered.
“Both businesses and consumers need to adopt and actively implement cybersecurity best practices,” said Karla Laird, manager for community and public relations and the BBB serving Mainland B.C.
The BBB contacted PayPal about the scam. After investigating, PayPal found that the scammers lured victims to a front site, set up to appear as a high-quality, legitimate ecommerce site. Some scammers also invested in advertising to drive traffic to these sites.
Shoppers placed orders at the website, which was not linked to a PayPal account, and during checkout, buyers would be unknowingly redirected to a “shell” low-quality website to complete payment via PayPal.
The fraudsters were also able to steal valid tracking data from different carriers with correct date ranges and zip codes, according to the BBB, and provided this to PayPal as proof of delivery evidence.
“We have notified various shipping carriers of this issue allowing tracking data to be stolen and we believe it has been closed,” said PayPal.
“In addition, we made enhancements to our algorithms to identify and disable these fraudulent bad actors. In fact, we are stopping a significant majority of these fraudulent sellers at first transactions through our detection program and have refunded customers impacted by this fraud scheme even if they did not appeal our decision.”
Laird said that scammers won’t hesitate to “exploit weaknesses on either side,” which leads to “costly consequences” such as losing money, disruptions to business operations, compromised personal information and risks of identity theft.
The BBB is offering the following tips to consumers:
- Research unknown or suspicious online sellers on bbb.org. Exercise caution if the seller has a negative BBB business profile or you cannot find one for them.
- Confirm the website has legitimate contact information before making a purchase. Check if the seller has a working phone number, email and an address that corresponds to the business, so you can contact them in case of problems.
- Pay attention to the URL information as you process an online payment. If the site is secure, its URL should start with “https://” and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page. Also watch to see if you have been redirected to another site, as the URL information might be different.
- If the price seems too good to be true, there's probably something wrong. Be wary if the item is selling for significantly lower than what you have seen elsewhere.
- Review BBB online shopping tips. Many online purchase scams use similar tactics. See BBB.org/ShoppingOnline for more advice.
Suspicious or fraudulent websites can be reported on bbb.org/scamtracker.