Amazon (AMZN) has become the colossus of the retail world, as the company has grown from 40 million Amazon Prime members in 2015 to 80 million members in 2017.
Amazon, which was founded in 1996, raked in a staggering $177.9 billion in net sales in 2017, up ninefold from $19.17 billion in 2008. In comparison, oil-rich Algeria had a gross domestic product of $173 billion in 2017. In fact, the total value of Amazon stock is greater than all but 16 countries.
With all that cash on the table, it's no surprise that scammers, fraudsters and identity thieves have gravitated to Amazon's burgeoning orbit. From phishing-based email scams to Amazon seller fraud, there's no shortage of ways to lose money when immersed in the Amazon experience.
The good news is there are ways to defend yourself against Amazon fraud, in all of its variations. All it takes is some knowledge of what you're up against, a few strong fraud detection and prevention tips, and the discipline to keep fraudsters well away from you and your family.
Here's how to do just that.
What Is an Amazon Scam?
There is no one, single Amazon scam that rules them all.
That said, one universal theme about Amazon scams is that fraud artists are using the digital retail platform in creative ways to separate you from your money.
The most likely way to be defrauded on Amazon is through phony sellers, who set up fake accounts to lure buyers in and take their money, without delivering the goods that were promised.
But it's not the only way. Gift card scams, Amazon job offer fraud, and email hacking scams are also high on the list of ways you can lose money from Amazon fraud - among other digital threats.
Top 7 Amazon Scams
Let's examine the most common - and threatening - ways Amazon fraud can strike, and provide some tips to keep Amazon fraudsters at bay.
1. Gift Card Scams
Amazon continues to deal with a nefarious scheme - gift card scams. Here, fraudsters reach out to Amazon consumers via email, phone or social media and offer deeply discounted deals on not only Amazon gift cards, but gift cards from third-party providers (like banks and credit card providers.) Often, the message comes with a call for urgency, i.e., the fraudster says he's about to lose his home or have his car repossessed, and offers goods that can be purchased at a steep discount with Amazon gift cards, and by gift cards that are sold on Amazon. Don't fall for it. Amazon gift cards can only be used on Amazon, and never can be used as a legitimate payment to other businesses and individuals.
To avoid this scam: Simply ignore the caller or emailer, and never use Amazon gift cards with companies and people outside Amazon.com. Additionally, never provide the claim code on an Amazon gift card to someone you don't know - they'll use it to steal the gift card long before you can get law enforcement involved.
2. Bogus Online Listings
In this scam, fraudsters claiming to be an Amazon seller, once again approach potential victims offering deeply discounted goods and services. The catch is that to make the purchase, the seller is only accepting Amazon gift cards as payment. When you make payment for the purchase, the goods never arrive, and you can't reach the seller to ask for your money back.
To avoid this scam: Any Amazon purchase engagement can only be made on the actual Amazon platform, either via the website or mobile app. Since no legitimate Amazon purchase can occur off of the Amazon platform, delete emails and hang up the phone if contacted by a fake Amazon seller.
3. The Amazon Job Offer Scam
Amazon pays its employees well (and works them hard), so landing a job for a person who places a premium on salary is a pretty big deal. Amazon job scammers leverage the demand for Amazon jobs by posting false employment advertisements or phoning potential job applicants with offers to work for Amazon. The catch on this scam? The fraud artist will ask for an up-front processing or finder's fee, usually requiring a credit card, bank account number, or even an Amazon gift card.To avoid this scam: Amazon.com jobs are always posted on Amazon.com/jobs, and there is never any upfront fee to apply or interview for one.
4. The Amazon Phishing Scam
Phishing-related Amazon scams are particularly dangerous, as the fraud artist's aim is to hide behind the Amazon brand to steal your Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card. Here's how it works. A scammer contacts you via email, claiming to be a customer service representative from Amazon.com. They'll note that your personal data needs to be updated on the Amazon website, or that a recent purchase can't be completed unless you confirm your personal data. They'll ask you to click on a link and transmit that data, which in turn takes that data and steers it toward a fraudster's digital device, resulting in the loss of key personal financial information, which paves the way for financial fraud.
To avoid this scam: Amazon.com covers phishing fraud on its website - here's what the company says. "Amazon will never send you an unsolicited e-mail that asks you to provide sensitive personal information like your social security number, tax ID, bank account number, credit card information, ID questions like your mother's maiden name or your password. If you receive a suspicious e-mail please report it immediately."
5. The Discount Voucher Scam
This common Amazon scam purports to "reward" you, a loyal Amazon customer, with a company discount voucher. The message is usually delivered via email, where the sender has you click on a link to get your voucher reward. Often the message reads "This $1,000 Amazon gift card is reserved for you." But instead of getting the gift card, all you're doing is providing the scammer with your personal data which he or she will use to steal your identity or to access your personal financial accounts and make off with your money.
To avoid this scam: Amazon doesn't offer deeply discounted "thank you" offers or $1,000 gift cards, unsolicited, and by email. Just delete any suspicious emails offering Amazon rewards.
6. The "Write an Amazon.com Review" Scam
Any offer to write an Amazon.com review, and get paid $50 to $100 for doing so, should be ignored and avoided. The scam usually pops up after a big retail buying period, like Amazon.com Prime Day (in July) or around the December holidays. Usually delivered via email, the message offers monetary compensation for writing an Amazon.com review. In reality, the recipient is steered to a fake Amazon.com site (which looks remarkably like the actual Amazon.com site), where their passwords, usernames, and other personal data is stolen and used to commit identity theft.
To avoid this scam: Amazon doesn't pay people to write site reviews, and doesn't ask for your password or username in any customer engagement situation. If you see a "write an Amazon review" email, hit that delete button.
7. The "Fake Product" Amazon Scam
This Amazon scam afflicts site buyers who believe they're purchasing a genuine, brand name product only to find that the product is a rip-off and nowhere near worth the money paid for it. Counterfeit sellers are a fact of life on Amazon and, even though the company does solid work in vetting and kicking fake sellers off the site, too many bogus sellers slip through the cracks and into the Amazon.com platform.
To avoid this scam: Before you hit the "add to cart" or "buy with one click" button, do your due diligence and check out the seller's feedback and reviews. If there's anything remotely suspicious about the seller, or any red flags, keep looking for a reputable Amazon seller you can trust.
Use Amazon Wisely
By and large, Amazon.com shoppers can expect to have a good, reliable experience shopping on the site, and engaging with Amazon.
Just avoid the potentially fraudulent scenarios listed above, and keep your personal data, and your money, safe and out of reach from Amazon fraud artists.