Online Shopping Scams: A Detailed Guide to Spotting E-commerce Fraud


In this comprehensive guide “Online Shopping Scams: A Detailed Guide to Spotting E-commerce Fraud”, tailored to a UK audience, we delve into the world of online shopping scams, empowering you with knowledge and insights to protect yourself from fraudulent schemes.

The convenience of online shopping has revolutionized the way we shop, but it has also attracted the attention of unscrupulous individuals looking to take advantage of unsuspecting (or unwary) shoppers. This guide aims to provide an in-depth overview of various online shopping scams, highlight the main red flags to watch out for, and provide essential tips to stay safe while shopping online.

Part 1: Understanding Online Shopping Scams

Online shopping scams are crafty schemes designed by fraudsters to exploit the vulnerabilities of the e-commerce landscape. As technology evolves, so to do the tactics employed by scammers. From fake websites, to counterfeit goods and social media scams, understanding the methods fraudsters and scammers use is vital to protect yourself from becoming their next victim.

Online shopping scams can take many forms, and it is essential to recognize the underlying techniques used by fraudsters to avoid falling prey to their deceitful practices. Let’s dive in and explore some of the most common types of online shopping scams prevalent in the UK, and how you can protect yourself.

Part 2: Common Types of E-commerce Fraud

In this section, we explore the most prevalent types of online shopping scams affecting UK citizens (though of course, many of the techniques and examples discussed apply more widely).

1. Fake Websites

Fraudsters create counterfeit websites impersonating reputable UK (and global) retailers to deceive shoppers into making purchases, resulting in stolen personal information, stolen credit card details, and non-delivery of ordered items. These fake websites often very closely mimic the design and layout of legitimate online stores, making it very challenging to identify them at first glance. The scammers may use slightly altered URLs (web page addresses) or domain names ( is an example of a domain name) that closely resemble the genuine website, leading unsuspecting users to believe they are on a trustworthy website.

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

  • Non-secure checkout pages: Legitimate websites use secure checkout systems to protect sensitive information. Look for “https://” and a padlock icon in your browser’s address bar. Never make a purchase through an insecure (“http://”) website.
  • Missing contact details: Reputable retailers provide customer service contact information, usually including phone numbers and email addresses (though these are becoming harder to find with the increasing prevalence of chatbots!). If these details are missing, be on alert – it may be a scam.
  • Unusually low prices: If prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. Scammers often use unexpectedly low prices to lure victims. After all, everyone likes a bargain!
  • Typos and grammatical errors: Poorly written content on the website, full of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors could indicate an unprofessional operation.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Verify the website’s legitimacy: Double-check the web address, domain, company contact information, and customer reviews before making any purchases.
  • Only use reputable online retailers: Stick to well-known and established online retailers to reduce the risk of encountering fake websites.

2. Counterfeit Goods Sites

Scammers try to sell knocked-off products, passing them off as genuine brand-name items, often originating from overseas locations in an effort to avoid detection. These counterfeit goods sites prey on consumers searching for bargains on popular and typically expensive items, such as luxury handbags, electronics, or designer clothing. The fake products often closely resemble the original items, making it challenging for shoppers to spot the difference at first glance. You may not notice until the item arrives – and of course, there won’t be any option to get a refund!

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

  • Unrealistically low prices: Counterfeit goods sites often offer products at significantly reduced prices compared to the genuine items. Remember – offers that seem too good to be true often are!
  • Use of stock or AI-generated photos: Instead of using genuine product images, scammers may rely on generic stock photos, or even completely fake (but realistic-looking) AI images.
  • Broken English or vague descriptions: Poorly-written product descriptions may indicate a lack of attention to detail and professionalism. Remember – luxury brands can afford great copywriters!

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Purchase only from authorized retailers: Buy high-value items only from authorized retailers or official websites of the brands.
  • Research the product: If the price seems too good to be true, research the product thoroughly to understand its market value. What does this mean in practice? Check how much it costs on other websites!

3. Social Media Scams

Fraudulent accounts on platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Instagram lure users with enticing deals, leading to fake checkout flows or payment-taking via bank transfer, without ordered products ever materialising. Social media scams have become increasingly prevalent due to social media sites’ vast user bases, and the ease with which scammers can create fake profiles.

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

  • Lack of reviews or connections: Legitimate sellers typically have genuine reviews and/or connections on social media platforms. Beware of accounts with little to no history of transactions or interactions.
  • Minimal details in listings: Scammers may provide limited product information and tend to avoid offering detailed product descriptions or specifications.
  • Pressure to pay outside the platform: If a seller insists on taking payment through alternative methods such as wire, bank transfers, or cryptocurrency, it could well be a scam.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Verify seller credibility: Check the seller’s profile for reviews and interactions with other users before proceeding with any transaction.
  • Stick to secure payment methods: Use secure payment options provided by the social media platform to protect your personal and financial information.

4. Auction and Resale Scams

Scammers exploit platforms like eBay and Gumtree by creating attractive listings, only to disappear after receiving payment, leaving buyers without the promised goods. Auction and resale scams typically involve high-demand items, or limited edition products.

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

  • Recently registered accounts: Scammers may create new accounts to avoid detection. Be cautious when dealing with sellers with little or no transaction history.
  • Limited listing details: Scammers may provide limited or even minimal information about the product or avoid answering specific questions.
  • Requests for upfront payment: Avoid sellers who insist on upfront payments or who request payment through unconventional methods such as cryptocurrency.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Check seller feedback: Review the seller’s feedback and ratings from previous buyers to gauge their reputation.
  • Use secure payment methods: Pay for purchases using only secure payment options offered by the platform.

Part 3: Red Flags to Spot Online Shopping Scams

Remaining vigilant is the best action you can take in avoiding online shopping scams. In this section, we outline the major ‘red flags’ and warning signs that can indicate potential fraud, and provide tips on spotting them.

1. Unbelievably Low Prices

Scammers often entice victims with unrealistically low prices to induce hasty purchases. When you come across a deal that seems too good to be true, there’s a strong chance that it is. Take a step back, and thoroughly research the seller and the product. Don’t let scammers play on your instinct to chase a bargain!

2. Pressure to Act Quickly

False urgency tactics, such as limited quantity claims (only 2 left at this exclusive price!) or impending price increases (time’s running out – lock in this bargain price now!), aim to rush buyers into making impulsive purchase decisions. Scammers use these tactics to prevent potential victims from conducting proper due diligence.

3. Lack of Reviews or Connections

Be cautious of sellers or websites with no or very few reviews, as this may indicate a lack of legitimacy. Legitimate sellers usually have a history of transactions and satisfied customers. Of course this isn’t always true – legitimate new sellers/companies will have few reviews or customers – but is an important red flag to look out for along with other warning signs.

4. Generic or Fake Product Images

Scammers may use stock photos or vague images instead of actual product pictures. This is especially common in counterfeit goods scams, where the products may differ significantly from the images provided. AI-generated images are increasingly becoming a problem – and they can be hard to spot.

5. Poorly Written Descriptions

Bad grammar, misspellings, and language errors are often tell-tale signs of potential online shopping scams. Scammers operating from abroad may struggle with English language proficiency, leading to poorly written content on otherwise convincing-looking websites.

6. Vague or no Return Policy

Legitimate sellers will have clear return and refund policies, while scammers often lack such assurances (for obvious reasons!). If you find it difficult to determine the seller’s return policy, it’s a red flag to proceed with caution.

7. Requests for Upfront Payment

Avoid direct bank transfers and sellers demanding payment upfront before delivering the goods. Secure payment options offer consumer protections and can help in case of disputes. Also look out for the seller insisting on unusual payment methods, such as cryptocurrency.

8. Missing Contact Information

Reputable sellers nearly always provide contact details, including phone numbers, emails, and physical addresses. If the seller lacks clear contact information, it may be a sign of a scam.

9. Suspicious URLs (web page addresses)

Scammers use slightly altered URLs to mimic legitimate websites, so double-check the web address for accuracy. Be especially cautious when clicking on links received through emails or messages, as they may redirect you to fake websites.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Verify the seller’s reputation: Before making any online purchases, research the seller’s profile on review platforms and communities to identify any red flags implying potential scams. Established reputable retailers and sellers will tend to have abundant, legitimate feedback.
  • Only use secure payment methods: When checking out, only use trusted payment providers that offer fraud protections and the ability to dispute charges. PayPal Services or credit cards are much safer than direct bank transfers, which have no consumer protections. Avoid paying solely with gift cards, as they cannot be traced or reimbursed.
  • Check contact information: For individual sellers or lesser-known websites, verify physical addresses, customer service contact details, and company registration information through independent registries before assuming legitimacy. A lack o transparency can be a warning sign of a scam operation.
  • Review return policies: Review posted policies on returns, exchanges, and refunds before making purchases. Scam websites often have vague, restrictive policies that make it extremely difficult to get money back on defective or undelivered goods.
  • Don’t believe everything you see: Scammers often lift images from other sites or use stock photos to misrepresent products. Search for images using Google Lens to detect duplicates, which are a likely warning sign for fraud.

Part 4: Staying Protected from Online Shopping Scam Sites

Although the number of fraudulent retailers and scammers promoting counterfeit (or non-existent) goods through online shopping scams continues to grow, consumers have many available resources to help them ‘vet’ websites and avoid being scammed.

If you have doubts or concerns about a particular website (for example, perhaps the content looks genuine but the web address seems suspicious, or vice-versa), the following tips can help you to conduct appropriate due-diligence and confirm the website’s authenticity.

1. Review Domain using Whois Lookup

Whois lookup is a valuable tool for verifying domain registration details. By accessing the Whois database, users can find information about the domain name, registrant details, registration date, and the domain’s expiration date. This information helps determine the legitimacy of a website and whether it matches the claimed identity of the seller or retailer.

To perform a Whois lookup, use reputable domain lookup websites such as Whois, or domain registrar services like GoDaddy. Be cautious of websites with recent registrations or anonymized contact information, as these could be indications of potential scams.

2. Search Company Name on Companies House

Companies House is the official register of companies in the United Kingdom. Checking the legitimacy of a business can be as simple as searching its name on the Companies House website. This search will provide essential information such as the company’s registered address, directors, and accounts filing history.

Legitimate businesses will have a registered profile on Companies House, which adds a layer of credibility. If the business claims to be registered but does not appear on Companies House or there are discrepancies between the information provided and what’s shown in Companies House, exercise caution before making any transactions.

3. Review Customer Complaint Boards

Scam monitoring websites, like Whocallsme and ScamAdviser, aggregate user complaints and experiences related to fraudulent websites or sellers. Checking customer complaint boards on websites such as these can provide valuable insights into potential scams, as victims often report their negative experiences on these platforms.

When researching a website or seller, look for patterns of complaints or consistent negative feedback. Multiple reports of non-delivery, poor quality products, or payment-related issues should raise significant concerns and prompt you to think about using an alternative seller instead.

4. Search Email Headers of Any Correspondence

Email headers (usually hidden in the source code of emails) contain valuable information about the sender’s identity, and the email’s origin. Scammers may use spoofed email addresses to make it look as though emails have come from legitimate companies or retailers. By analyzing email headers, you can verify the actual source of the email and identify any suspicious discrepancies.

Various online tools and email clients allow users to view email headers easily. Look for signs of manipulation or inconsistency in the sender’s information, and avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails.

5. Perform Google Image Searches

Scammers often reuse product images from other sources, especially if they’re advertising counterfeit goods. Google Image Search can help identify if the product images used on a particular website have been lifted from elsewhere on the internet.

To perform a Google Image Search, right-click on the product image and select “Search Google for Image”, or click the ‘Search by Image’ icon in Google Image Search to upload a file from your device. This will reveal whether the same image is used on multiple websites, or if it corresponds to the original product from the legitimate brand.

6. Check TrustPilot and

TrustPilot and are reputable review platforms that aggregate customer feedback for various businesses and sellers. Legitimate websites and sellers usually have a broad range of customer reviews and ratings on platforms such as these.

Before making a purchase, search for the seller or website on these websites to gauge its reputation. A lack of reviews or an abundance of negative feedback should serve as warning signs that further investigation is needed before committing to making a purchase.

Part 5: Common E-commerce Scams Targeting UK Shoppers

While understanding the general tactics used in online shopping scams is essential, it’s equally important to be aware of specific scams that target shoppers in various product categories. Scammers tailor their tactics to exploit consumers’ interests and preferences, particularly in high-demand and high-value sectors. In this chapter, we delve deeper into these specific types of scams, exploring their tactics and providing insights into how scammers target UK shoppers in different product categories:

1. Clothing and Fashion Scams

Clothing and fashion scams lure shoppers with the promise of name-brand items at steep discounts, only to deliver inferior quality products – or nothing at all. Scammers take advantage of consumers’ desire to find great deals on popular and trendy clothing items. They may use counterfeit brand logos, product images, and persuasive marketing tactics to try and trick buyers into making a purchase.

Tactics Used by Scammers:

  • Bait-and-Switch: Scammers advertise high-end fashion items at unbelievably low prices but deliver cheap knock-offs or counterfeit products.
  • Fake Clearance Sales: Fraudulent websites may host fake clearance sales, offering products at heavily discounted prices to create a sense of urgency and encourage impulsive buying.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Verify Seller Reputation: Research the seller’s profile and reviews to ensure they are reputable and have a history of selling genuine products.
  • Check Return Policies: Review the seller’s return and refund policies to ensure they are customer-friendly in case the product does not meet your expectations.

2. Electronic Goods Scams

Electronic goods scams target tech-savvy consumers looking for gadgets such as smartphones, gaming consoles, and laptops at bargain prices. Scammers often offer these high-demand items at significantly lower prices than their expected retail value to entice buyers. However, the products delivered are typically used, damaged, or even entirely different from what was advertised.

Tactics Used by Scammers:

  • Unrealistic Prices: Scammers lure victims with prices well below the market value of the product.
  • Bait-and-Switch with Accessories: The scammer may send a product without essential accessories or components, leading to an inferior experience.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Buy from Authorized Retailers: Purchase electronics from authorized retailers or official brand websites to ensure authenticity.
  • Research the Product: Thoroughly research the product’s specifications and market prices to make it easier to identify unrealistic deals.

3. Jewellery Scams

Jewellery scams capitalize on consumers’ desire for luxury and elegance. Scammers advertise high-quality watches, diamond jewellery, and precious gemstones at attractive prices, only to deliver fake or low-quality items.

Tactics Used by Scammers:

  • Sophisticated Fakes: Scammers may use high-quality images and descriptions to create the illusion of authentic luxury jewellery.
  • Fake Certifications: Fraudsters may provide counterfeit certifications to give the impression of genuine, high-value items.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Buy from Reputable Jewellers: Purchase jewellery from well-known, reputable jewellers or authorized dealers to ensure authenticity.
  • Request Additional Information: Ask the seller for more details, such as the source of the gemstones or metals used in the jewellery.

4. Collectibles Scams

Collectibles scams target hobbyists and enthusiasts seeking rare and valuable items, such as coins, postage stamps, trading cards, figurines, or limited-edition merchandise. Scammers offer these coveted collectibles at exorbitant prices, but the items delivered turn out to be counterfeit or non-existent.

Tactics Used by Scammers:

  • Emotional Appeal: Scammers play on collectors’ emotions and passion for their hobbies to create a sense of urgency in making a purchase.
  • Misrepresentation: The scammer may provide false information about the rarity or value of the collectible items.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Verify Rarity and Value: Research the collectible’s market value and authenticity before making a purchase.
  • Buy from Reputable Sellers: Purchase collectibles from established and reputable sellers with a track record of dealing with genuine items.

5. Event Tickets Scams

Event tickets scams exploit fans’ enthusiasm for concerts, festivals, and sporting events. Scammers offer tickets at discounted prices or even sell completely fake tickets, leaving their unfortunate victims with no access to the event.

Tactics Used by Scammers:

  • Fake Resale Platforms: Scammers set up fraudulent ticket resale platforms to trick buyers into purchasing non-existent tickets.
  • Overpriced Tickets: Scammers may list tickets at inflated prices, taking advantage of buyers’ eagerness to secure a spot at a popular event.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Use Official Ticketing Platforms: Purchase tickets directly from official event websites or authorized ticketing platforms.
  • Verify Ticket Authenticity: Check the ticket’s barcode or QR code with the event organizers to ensure it is valid.


Thanks for reading Online Shopping Scams: A Detailed Guide to Spotting E-commerce Fraud. Armed with this knowledge, you are now better equipped to protect yourself from the ever-changing threatscape of online shopping scams, and to make informed decisions when making purchases online.

This guide has explored various features of common online shopping scams, shedding light on scam types, red flags, and essential strategies to stay safe while shopping online. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, staying vigilant and staying informed are crucial to maintaining a secure online shopping experience.

The Power of Awareness

One of the most potent tools in your arsenal against online shopping scams is awareness. By understanding the tactics used by scammers and being familiar with common red flags, you can identify potential threats and take appropriate precautions. Remember to verify the legitimacy of websites and sellers, research products thoroughly, and use secure payment methods to protect your financial information.

The Importance of Verification

In the digital era, verifying the legitimacy of websites, sellers, and products is paramount. Perform Whois lookups, search Companies House records, and review customer complaint boards to identify potential scams. Additionally, use Google Image searches to ensure that product images are not stolen, or duplicated from other sources.

The Power of Reviews

Customer reviews play a crucial role in identifying reputable sellers and distinguishing them from fraudulent entities. Platforms like TrustPilot and offer valuable insights from other consumers, helping you gauge the credibility of a seller or website.

Avoiding Impulse Purchases

Scammers often create a sense of urgency or offer unbelievably low prices to induce impulse purchases. Resist the temptation to make hurried decisions and take the time to research the seller and product thoroughly.

Secure Payment Methods

Using secure payment options provides an extra layer of protection against fraud. Trusted payment providers like PayPal Services and credit cards offer consumer protections and allow you to dispute charges in case of any issues.

Educating Others

Empower your friends and family by sharing your knowledge about online shopping scams. A safer online shopping community can be created when consumers are well-informed and vigilant.

Continuing Vigilance

As technology advances, so too do the tactics used by scammers. Stay informed about the latest scam trends and always be on the lookout for new red flags. The more proactive and vigilant you are, the safer your online shopping experience will be.

Final Thoughts

Online shopping offers unparalleled convenience and a world of choices, but it also comes with potential risks. By familiarizing yourself with the common features of online shopping scams, you can confidently explore the digital marketplace while safeguarding your personal and financial information.

Remember that knowledge is your greatest defence against scammers. Whether you’re searching for clothing and fashion items, electronics, jewellery, collectibles, or tickets to events, this guide equips you with the tools to identify and avoid potential scams.