How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

From Instagram & Facebook ads to ‘sale’ sites, here’s how to avoid getting scammed and ripped off.


If you spend any time at all on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll have noticed slick video product ads for products. If you’ve clicked to buy them, you might have noticed that the websites they take you to don’t look super professional. That’s because there’s a new social media shopping scam in town.

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

Before you check out on that shopping site, check out the scam info below!

The scam:

Unethical Chinese companies are setting up websites listing loads of products and advertising them on social media. Except when you buy the product, they send you a box of garbage. Literally.

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

They make money because most people don’t remember that they didn’t get the product, or they will be too busy or lazy to bother with doing a return or filing a credit card dispute.

How To Avoid Online Shopping Scams & Ripoffs

The fake shopping website that scammed me and my friends. Found via an Instagram ad.

I learned this the hard way when I sent a link I got from an Instagram ad to a bunch of friends and we all ordered self-scooping cat litter boxes that never arrived (instead, we all ended up with boxes of trash from China.) Turns out the video and images of the product were stolen from Kickstarter.

The enablers:

Why doesn’t Instagram and Facebook do anything about this? The same reason they don’t police political ads. For one, they’re making a lot of money on the ads. For two, it would cost a lot of money to staff a department dedicated to figuring out which ads are legit versus fake, and the Chinese scammers can create new websites and ads as fast as social would remove them.

PayPal is a bad-guy in all this too. In what I can only assume is a way to help scammers so they get to keep their commission, PayPal requires you to go to the post office and ship the garbage back to China on your own dime to get a refund.

Here’s how you can avoid getting scammed:

Search for the product on Amazon and/or reverse image search using right-click –> ‘search Google for image’. If you can find it, then order it on Amazon (where it’s usually cheaper anyway). For products that you can’t find on an online store like Amazon (one you know for sure is legit), then realize it’s a scam and don’t buy it. Or do, and just know that you’re most likely just going to donate money to a scammer.

How to get your money back if you got scammed:

Firstly, when making a purchase online always pay via credit card, but only if you can verify that the checkout page is secure and a legit payment processor (if you can’t, that’s a bad sign!) or use credit card with PayPal as the intermediary.

If you don’t get what you ordered, then file a dispute with PayPal, who will tell you to return whatever you were sent at your own expense. This is when you can ignore PayPal and call to your credit card and tell them that you want to initiate a dispute. They’ll ask if you tried to resolve it first with the merchant, and you can tell them that PayPal will only refund you if you spend more money and time to return the box of garbage the seller mailed you. Since you didn’t receive what you paid for, your credit card company should refund you without asking you to return anything. NB: PayPal’s dispute process takes several weeks, then the credit card dispute will take several more weeks to go through this whole process.

More online shopping scams to be aware of:

This video will show you a few more Instagram and Facebook ad scams to watch out for:

Next page: Avoid Getting Scammed and Ripped-Off By These ‘Sale’ Websites

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Avatar of Hilary Rowland

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 296 Comments

  1. Avatar of Mark Alloway

    Mark Alloway

    I purchased a table and a sofa bed for £75 from mylifestyle.com — never received it. I was given faulty tracking number. FYI

  2. Avatar of Slemmons


    While shopping online for five Christmas quilts I found three from legit American companies and received exactly what I ordered. But two of the quilts I ordered turned out to come from Singapore, or China or Who Knows Where since they had a distribution warehouse in Los Angeles. The product I received was two cheap pieces of material sewn together with blurry images of the original quilt photo-printed on the fabric. No quilting, no handmade cute Christmas themed images. I emailed the company to request a refund and return label (like most American companies), but they replied (late at night since it was Asia Time Zone) and stalled, trying to negotiate. Fortunately I contacted my credit card company to reverse and contest the charge, while the emails kept coming asking that I agree to a 20% refund, then the next day a 30% refund, then the next day a 50% refund, then a 70% refund and then a refund of shipping cost. Each time, I refused and demanded a 100% refund, adding that I already paid for and arranged the return back to the distribution center address. Eventually, about three weeks later, the charge was completely resolved.

  3. Avatar of Cindy Hawkins Legorreta

    Cindy Hawkins Legorreta

    Few more points to keep in mind: If you check the reviews, you will note glowing ones, right alongside the terrible. And the raves (which can be purchased BTW by the scam company)… are in awkward English, with comical syntax, and phrasing. No native English speaker would ever write like that. How wonky does THAT sound? Worse still, once these ‘companies’ have your CC info, they can do God knows what with it. That should be a major concern here, in addition to crappy clothes, zero customer service and nonexistent ethics. Please, people – don’t take the bait.

  4. Avatar of Mikaela Svanborg

    Mikaela Svanborg

    I dont understand why you write that PayPal is any safety. I ordered clothes for 400 USD from China and got a cheap pocket mirror for 2 USD instead. I complained at PayPal but the didn’t believe me. So I lost 400 USD. PayPal is really not a guarantee for getting your money back.

  5. Avatar of Valerie Ling

    Valerie Ling

    For those who willingly buy fake brands, if it’s fake in the first place why would they bother to assemble it properly……IT’S A SCAM.

  6. Avatar of Stephanie Janet Carr

    Stephanie Janet Carr

    “it shipped from China” is by default a bad start when you’re shopping. The Chinese scams are the Ferengi of this world, except even more dishonest.

    • Avatar of Sara Hager

      Made in China goods are trash. But the way you speak is so rude and sounds kind of racist. Not cool.

  7. Avatar of Sandra Phillips

    Sandra Phillips

    LMAO I bought a drone from Comfyracks. My $15 drone flew off into the sunset, never to be seen again once it went beyond the signal of my phone ?????

  8. Avatar of Colleen Ebert

    I have been seeing a lot of ads on YouTube for the website Wish.com lately and it made me wonder: Is it still a scam?

  9. Avatar of Joseph Stoudt

    Okay so Amazon isn’t Asian but I saw something. There’s a gaming laptop being sold on it for 90 bucks and it cost 900 for Amazon!?!?!?!

  10. Avatar of Carmen Blair

    I got excited because I found something I was thinking about buying at half price. Then I saw the address of the outlet and then I immediately got suspicious about the company. I’ll take my money elsewhere and buy it at full price.

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