Beware the Scammy Social Media Seller

Money, Shopping, Technology, Tips

As COVID-19 and social unrest keep their grips on the world, scammy social media sellers seem to keep multiplying, hoping to capitalize on product shortages, people shopping from home, and a desire to support important causes. In particular, Facebook and Instagram are teeming with storefronts with strange names and spectacular sales.

As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

I’m in a few large parenting groups on Facebook, and it’s a topic that comes up often. “Has anyone purchased from this seller? Is this a good price? Do you think I should buy it?”

For instance, one “store” was selling a Step 2 water table – which usually sells for $60 at Bed, Bath & Beyond and has been sold out for weeks – for $30. The “store” said it had 100 water tables in stock, when the same product has been impossible to buy elsewhere, including Amazon, Walmart, and Target. Another is supposedly selling a $269 Graco convertible car seat for $69.

Scammy Social Media Seller
A scammy social media seller advertising a Graco car seat for $69.99

It’s not just parents they’re targeting. They use algorithms to attract everyone from sports to music fans, advertising branded merchandise you might not have seen elsewhere. For instance, one was selling high-top Converse sneakers with the logo of Journey, my favorite band. It wasn’t anything I’ve ever seen on the band’s website or at concert merchandise booths. But it determined I liked Journey from my Facebook likes and follows. (And if Journey had actually licensed Converse sneakers, they’d likely be outrageously priced based on how its other merchandise is priced.)

Talking about your family, Black Lives Matter, or law enforcement on your Facebook on your page? They’ve got a t-shirt for you too.

Potential results: The wrong product, inferior product, or no product at all. Stolen personal information. Difficulty getting your money back or absolutely no recourse. Is it worth the risk?

Ways to Spot Whether a Seller is Legitimate or Not

  1. Google the website – Fly-by-night operations usually don’t have a good Google presence. Often, its Facebook page is the first result, not the website itself.
  2. Check it out on – The website rates sellers as legitimate or not through a combination of factors, including website popularity, domain creation date, whether it has an HTTPS connection, and user feedback. New websites often don’t have a trustworthiness rating yet.
  3. See if it has an HTTPS connection – It should have “https” before the domain name and a little lock icon if you’re able to do a monetary transaction or submit personal information on the website. That means it’s a secure connection. How-To-Geek explains how HTTPS keeps you safer and makes sure you’re connected to a legitimate website. If there isn’t one, run. But even if there is, still be careful – even scammy websites can easily get a free HTTPS certification.
  4. Examine its Facebook page – A lot of these fly-by-night sellers have only been around for days, not months or years. If they only have a few page likes, a recent creation date, or absolutely no content besides an ad or two, it’s likely a scam. For instance, the Graco seller was only on Facebook for 20 days and had 25 likes when I first saw the ad.
  5. Examine the seller’s name – Many of the scammy sellers have strange names, like they’ve mashed together random words in the dictionary. The names usually aren’t strong and memorable.
  6. Look for website red flags – These include:
    • Broken English – This usually indicates the seller is not in the United States. Many of the scammers work from outside the country. For instance, the Graco seller says within its Terms and Conditions, “Although you can succeed to pay orders, but retention limit number, terminate the account and the right to refuse or cancel any orders.” … Huh?
    • A template-like feel – The website includes basic stock images and text, like it was put together quickly. Sometimes, you might even find lorem ipsum snippets, which is placeholder text used in the publishing and design world.
    • Obviously Photoshopped images or celebrity appearances – It’s easy to pluck a photo of George Clooney wearing a t-shirt off of Google images and Photoshop your product onto his body. Someone selling a “World’s Best Dad” t-shirt for $10 is not going to have the money to pay George Clooney to model.
    • Incongruous contact information or lack of contact information – Many of the scammers have form submissions only, or toll-free numbers that don’t work. Email addresses might not match the store name, or the store using a generic Gmail account. When they do have contact information, addresses and phone numbers often don’t match up (for instance, a shipping address in Dayton, Ohio with a Lancaster, Pennsylvania phone number). If you can’t get in touch with them, it’s likely your payment processor will also have trouble, delaying purchase resolution and tying up your money.
    • Long fulfillment and shipping periods – If the website mentions US customs or weeks-long fulfillment, it’s likely coming from overseas. 
    • Crappy return policies – You have to email to initiate returns and only have a short window to send items back, often on your own dime – that’s if you even get the product within the specified time period.
    • Generic or sloppy Privacy Policy and/or Terms & Conditions pages – They are either grammatically sloppy, copied from another store (sometimes even leaving the other store name in!), generic templates, or lack pertinent information (such as corporation name and contact information).
    • Overwhelmingly positive reviews – Reviews are easily faked and can appear like they’re from legitimate Facebook or Amazon users.
  7. Reach out to the brand of the product you’re trying to buy – Message brands, whether through their support page or on social media, to see if the seller and product is legitimate. If not, there are legal avenues they can pursue to try and protect themselves.

If you do come across sellers like this, report them as spam or scam. Hopefully once COVID-19 has died down and social media companies bring back more support staff, there will be a crackdown on fly-by-night sellers.

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