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 you order daily essentials or only use your account for holiday shopping, you’re likely familiar with the ordering process. If you toss a ball into a crowd, it’s likely to be caught by someone with an Amazon account. 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 each case, the fraudster pretends to be on your side; there to protect your account or refund your money.
You should also be aware of online traps that might make you the one to unknowingly initiate the first contact. Criminals 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.” Then the scam begins.
If you need to contact Amazon, or any other online retailer, it’s best to go straight to the source. To locate the correct contact information, log into your account and search for it within the secure website.
How Does Amazon Fraud Work?
The first thing scammers do is attempt to gain your trust and assure you that they can resolve your issue. They may be overly friendly or share personal details to seem more genuine, even claiming to experience the same problem. They may claim to be doing you “a favor” by initiating a special process to avoid the bureaucratic red tape.
One common technique includes asking for remote access to your device to process the refund directly through your Amazon account. The fraudster may “accidentally” enter too many zeros in the amount line then beg for your help to correct it. They prey on your emotions by claiming they will be punished for their mistake. Some are so convincing that they can gain access to a victim’s online banking system to “correct the error.”
Countless variations of email scams appear to come directly from Amazon. The email urges the victim to verify their account or payment information by clicking a link. Even if you click on the link and 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 for shipping on 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” recalls 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 suddenly confronted with a problem and the offer to solve it, it’s easy to forget to think twice.
Unfortunately, these fraudsters are good at what they do. They’re often smart enough to continually change their techniques to become even more successful. Reports outline refunds appearing in an Amazon account, or money deposited into a bank account, only to disappear later. These deposits and refunds last long enough to offer apparent proof of legitimacy while the perpetrators complete their scam.
How Can I Protect Myself?
According to this article by the Federal Trade Commission, you can protect yourself from common scams used by business impersonators. Additionally, Amazon includes tips for identifying whether an email, text or phone call is legitimate in their website’s Help section. Here are a few things to remember:
Legitimate Amazon websites have a dot before "amazon.com,” which appears as http://something.amazon.com. For example, the 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 directs you to a site that is not a legitimate Amazon domain, then it’s likely phishing.
If you receive correspondence about an order, log in to your Amazon account and match it to your orders. If it doesn't match an order that you recognize, it is not legitimate.
If you’re asked to update payment information or notified of a problem, go to your account and view your orders. If you’re 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 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’re concerned that you’ve been targeted by a business impersonator, report it the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.
Remember, as a Smarter, Smart or Fresh Start checking account holder, you have access to identity protection benefits. Our fraud specialists are here to help you identify the risks of fraud if you fall victim to a scam. And our trained professionals can help you address fraudulent activity, minimize your risk and recover your good name.