Phony Prizes and Sales: Remain Alert


Phony Prizes and Sales: Remain Alert

Phony Prizes and Sales: Remain Alert

                Unfortunately for the everyday consumer, online shopping scams are only becoming more and more common. These scams can come from many sources such as, but not limited to: fake social media ads, scam giveaways, and fraudulent online listings. While we cannot list all the phony prize and sale scams, we can give you the tools to make smart online shopping decisions.


                According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the number of online scams has risen 87 percent since 2015 and accounts for 1/3 of all scams. These retail scams tend to be some of the most harmful in terms of how much money the victim loses with 72 percent of victims losing funds.

                Many of these scams rely on drawing victims in by discounts or free items as scammers have adapted to American consumers’ budget consciousness. Indeed, one quarter of victims say they were enticed by offers and low prices. The usual rule applies: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Below are the three most common phony prize and sale scams.  

Most Popular Scams

Fake Merchandise

                Fake merchandise refers to listings on websites like eBay or Craig’s List that are at extremely low prices. These are usually for designer bags or clothing that probably do not exist at all. The scammer harvests your credit card information and either keeps the money you sent as well as the item, or uses the payment information to make fraudulent charges.

Scam Giveaways

                Scam Giveaways can occur on social media, through email chains, and even in the mail. The scammer usually requires their victim to go to a website or call a number to pay for “shipping” or other bogus fees in order to claim the prize. The victim’s payment or banking information is then compromised. This is always a scam; any legitimate winnings will not require you to pay anything out of pocket.

Social Media Ads

                Social media ads have become one of the most prominent ways that scammers are drawing victims in. Scammers will spoof legitimate companies through social media ads and offer large discounts. However, the ad link goes to a scammer’s website designed to steal your personal information. “Imposter sites use the same tactics as retailers like paid search optimization tools, mobile apps, and advertising strategies to generate traffic” (The New York Times). One company recounted having to report over 20,000 spoof websites in one month!

The other way scammers target victims through social media ads is through offering merchandise that looks great on the website but looks completely different when the victim receives it. Often these are fake websites pushing another company’s merchandise that they have cheaply recreated and then advertised misleadingly. 

Safe Online Shopping

Here are some general guidelines for safe online shopping:

  1. Before making a purchase, research prices for similar items.
  2. Check buyer reviews and research the company with your state consumer protection agency.
  3. Know that a lack of complaints is not a guarantee.
  4. Be skeptical about too-good-to-be-true prices.
  5. Have all the details of the sale or offer.
  6. Resist any pressure to make a fast purchase.
  7. Think twice about unsolicited emails or calls.
  8. Guard your personal information.
  9. Pay with credit cards.
  10. Check out the registration details of the web domain and see if there is a working phone number.
  11. Only shop at online retailers with a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption noted by the padlock in the search bar.


                Online retail scams can hide in many places, and the sheer volume of them can cause many problems for the everyday consumer. Lifestyle changes related to the pandemic meant that many people turned to online shopping. While retail scams are a real problem, there is nothing wrong with online shopping if it is done safely. People who talk about scams are less likely to fall for them, so let’s all help each other avoid scams by talking about them!



Fake prize offers don’t pay | Consumer Advice (

Scam Alert: How to spot a fake social media giveaway (

With Many Retailers Offering Online Sales, Phony Sites Blend In - The New York Times (

Fake prize offers don’t pay | Consumer Advice (


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