From the comfort of your room, you can buy a jumpsuit or a smartphone from a store that is halfway across the world. Press a few buttons, and you can get it delivered to your doorstep.
Unfortunately, this comfort comes with a lot of risks. Among the thousands of legitimate products you’ll find at an online retail store, tucked somewhere in between are scam products. And it’s easy to fall prey.
Here are some great tips to tell scam products from legit ones when shopping online.
1. Research the Product Name
The easiest way to spot a fake product is through an old-fashioned Google search. If someone has had an unfavorable experience with a product and wrote about it, there’s a good chance Google has picked it up.
Look up the product title and then repeat with different variations of the name. If no information comes up about a product, it’s not a good sign. It could mean it’s unheard of or goes by a made-up name.
When looking up the product on a search engine, type the name alongside that of the vendor. This will help search engines narrow down your search to that store. A legitimate product name could be used to market a fake product. However, if the vendor has a history of scams, adding the vendor’s name should make things much clearer.
2. Do a Reverse Image Search
More often than not, when vendors put up a nonexistent or fake item for sale, they use stock images or an image from another vendor as the product’s image. Doing a reverse image search will expose this.
If you think a product on an e-commerce platform is suspicious, there are two ways to check. The first is through uploading the photo or a screenshot of the item into images.google.com. Click on the camera icon on the right side of the search bar. When a file upload prompt comes up, upload your image to initiate a search.
Or if you use Chrome, right-click on the picture then click Search image with Google Lens. A bar will appear to the right of your tab showing visual matches. You can also search Find image source from here.
If Google locates other copies of the image on a stock image site or another e-commerce platform, that’s a red flag. However, that’s not conclusive evidence, so you’ll need to investigate further. Wholesale brands sometimes provide images to retailers to use for marketing. Nonetheless, always treat lifted images with suspicion.
If you’re visiting images.google.com from your phone browser, you’ll need to switch to desktop mode to be able to see the camera icon that triggers an upload prompt.
If the vendor uses a product video instead of an image, it’s not the end of the road. Take multiple screenshots of scenes from the video and run a reverse image search. You should find other instances if it has already been used online.
Berify, TinyEye, and prepostseo are specialized alternatives to Google’s image search.
3. Scrutinize the Product’s Review
Reviews hold a lot of weight in deciding whether to buy a product. Retailers know this. That’s why they invest a lot of time and money to ensure the reviews of their product are positive whether it’s legit or a scam.
To tell scam products from real ones, you’ll need to unlearn and relearn how you read reviews. Never trust the overall rating. Ratings can be manipulated by brands to promote their product.
When reading reviews, look out for black-and-white opinions. Real reviews will typically have mixed opinions: they’ll include the good with the bad. A review that appears to only sing the praises of a product is probably fake.
Similarly, watch out for superficial reviews that lack details or depth. Genuine reviewers might describe a specific experience they had while using a product. Their review should be able to demonstrate some considerable knowledge from first-hand experience.
Be wary of online product reviews that are full of marketing words. Look out for strongly worded descriptions. A review for a modem that has descriptors like “super explosive speed,” “out-of-this-world lightning speed,” or “unparalleled data transmission speed” has a high chance of being fake.
Average customers simply do not use those kinds of wordings in their reviews, regardless of how much they like a product.
If too many reviews are showing red flags, the product is probably fake or not as good as advertised.
4. Look out for Suspicious Warranty and Return Policies
Another telltale sign of a scam-in-progress is a suspicious warranty and returns policy. If a product goes for more than a few hundred dollars but comes with a short warranty, exercise caution. Products with a big price tag should come with a longer warranty period than a couple of weeks!
Similarly, fake products also come with a sketchy returns’ policy. Vendors selling fake products typically impose a few days’ return window for defective products. Others will demand you pay for the product to be shipped back to them, and in a lot of cases, to an overseas address.
A warranty or return policy that isn’t compliant with industry standards for a particular product is usually sign of foul play—definitely avoid it.
5. Be Wary of Ridiculous Prices
As a rule of thumb, if a price is too good to be true, it usually is. A Rolex going for $50 has “fraud” written all over it. Even when prices are labeled as “discounted,” ridiculous deals on scarce luxury goods are a huge warning sign.
The best-case scenario is that you get delivered a counterfeit. In other cases, the product never comes. Don’t be baited by cheap prices.
6. Pay Attention to the Product Description
Sometimes, fraudulent vendors hide their scams in plain sight. To avoid the sledgehammer of the e-commerce platform they use, they tactfully include the “real description” of the product they are selling amidst a flurry of irrelevant information.
You could see a smartphone as a product image, but what is being sold could be smartphone casings or other components. To further mislead potential buyers, the vendors typically increase their prices to be close enough to that of the product you think it is, but low enough to bait you into paying for it.
Take some time to read the detailed product description to ensure an item is what you think it is.
Also, some fake products come with grammatical blunders. Louis Vuitton could be spelled as “Vitton” and Versace as Vasache or any other variation. Original brands will not make such cheap mistakes.
In some cases, these misspellings aren’t exactly mistakes. They can be intentional and are usually a way for malicious vendors to protect themselves when a dispute arises. They’ll claim they advertised “Vitton” and not “Louis Vuitton” in order to invalidate a consumer’s claim of being sold a fake.
7. Look Up the Vendor
A malicious vendor will almost certainly be selling fakes. It’s either that or they’ll take your money while you endure an endless wait for your product. Either way, spotting a fake vendor will help you avoid the scam products they offer for sale.
A popular way to spot a fake store is to check which country they ship from. Countries like China and Malaysia make a lot of good quality products. Unfortunately, they’re also responsible for a bulk of the fakes in circulation globally.
According to a European Union report, 72 percent of fake goods circulating in the US, Japan, and the EU are shipped from China. While it’d be unwise to blacklist anywhere shipping from China outright, you should exercise more caution when dealing with them.
Apart from the location of the seller, look up the vendor online to see if they’re flagged as a scam by any site. Better Business Bureau and TrustPilot are two useful websites to check the reliability of a brand. And Google search can unearth a lot of information. Essentially, you should know how to spot scam vendors online.
8. Unusual Need for Urgency
Flash sales, limited-time offers, and seasonal deals are tried-and-tested marketing techniques to get customers to buy a product as soon as possible. The idea is to create a sense of urgency, giving prospective buyers little time to think about the decision to buy.
While these tactics are regularly deployed by legitimate vendors, they’re a huge favorite among malicious vendors whose aim is to sell as many products as possible within a short amount of time before being caught.
You might even see a countdown timer, indicating a deadline after which the product will go for a higher price. Exercise extreme caution whenever you come across products that push you to buy immediately by creating a false sense of urgency, implying that you’ll miss out if you don’t.
Stay Suspicious Until Your Goods Arrive
Irrespective of where you are shopping online, always maintain a healthy level of suspicion until your goods arrive at your doorstep. Make sure the products you want to buy, and their vendors tick all the right boxes.
Online vendors enjoy a considerable level of anonymity. This makes it hard to get a refund when the need arrives. Don’t put yourself in such a position. Stay safe by being alert and suspicious.