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It can be difficult to spot a scam. Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated with the techniques they use, and with millions of us turning to online shopping during the pandemic, the number of scams has risen sharply.
Last year, there were 89,848 reports of online shopping fraud to the national reporting centre Action Fraud, compared to 66,861 in 2019. In total, customers lost £63m to scammers last year.
From buying something on a fraudulent website or a fake social media advert to a product that never arrives or a company that disappears, we explain how to tell if you’ve been scammed, what to do, and, crucially, how to get your money back.
How do I know if I’m being scammed online?
If you see a price that seems too good to be true, we’re afraid it usually is. Ditto with a much-desired product that has sold out everywhere else, but curiously has become available on a website that you’ve probably never heard of. Scam sites like to lure in shoppers with bargain prices, or fake or non-existent items.
It can also be a scam if someone contacts you out of the blue, for example a cold call or an unsolicited email. Other signs include being asked for the money very quickly or to be paid in an unusual way, for example by iTunes voucher or a transfer service like MoneyGram.
What to do if you get scammed online
The first thing to do is stop sending money. Perhaps you’ve been asked to send a series of payments, or even set up a direct debit – as soon as you realise it’s a scam, don’t give them any more of your cash.
You should then alert your bank. Is it able to stop the transaction? If not, you may be able to do a “chargeback” if you used a debit card, or claim it back under the Section 75 rule if you paid with a credit card. This involves the bank refunding you the money if the item never arrived, the item was damaged, or where the retailer has stopped trading. With Section 75, the minimum purchase is £100, whereas chargeback will cover you for smaller amounts. If the item cost less than £100 and you paid by credit card, you can also use chargeback.
Next, report it. Call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or use its online reporting tool. You can report it to Trading Standards too, if you received a fake product, or if your online order was never delivered.
How to get money back after being scammed online
This depends on where you bought the item, and how you paid. If you bought something on Amazon, and the item never turned up, you can ask the website for a refund. If it was purchased on Amazon Marketplace, you should contact the seller to find out what’s going on. If the seller is unresponsive, you may be able to file an “A-to-z Guarantee claim”, in which case Amazon will decide if you’re entitled to a refund.
eBay offers similar protection with its Money Back Guarantee if an item doesn’t arrive, or is broken or faulty. For Amazon and eBay’s protections to cover you, the order must have been paid for on their website – so if a seller asked you for a bank transfer or any other sort of offline payment, the website won’t help.
If you paid for your item via bank transfer, you should quickly ask your bank or building society if it is able to stop or reverse the transaction. If you used a debit card or credit card, you can use chargeback or Section 75 to try and get a refund. If your card provider refuses your claim, you can complain, and if you’re not happy with the response, take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Does PayPal refund money if you get scammed?
Yes, you can get your money back from PayPal if for example the item doesn’t arrive or match the description. There are a few caveats to this – the PayPal Buyer Protection does not cover gift cards and custom-made items, for instance, and you must raise the dispute within 180 days of making the payment. Alternatively, if you used your credit card to pay for something through PayPal you could make a Section 75 claim.
A social media platform was involved. How should I flag it to them?
You can report an advert or sponsored post on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram by clicking on the three dots on the top-right of the post and selecting ‘Report ad’. On TikTok, select “share” and then the report icon.
If you can’t find the advert anymore, you can report it to the platforms through their help centres:
You should also tell the Advertising Standards Agency.
How to report scam emails
If you’ve received an email that you’re not quite sure about, or one that you are certain is a scam, forward it to email@example.com and the National Cyber Security Centre will analyse it. Whatever you do, don’t click on any links in the email, download any attachments or reply to it.
How to protect yourself in future
If you’re buying on a site you haven’t used before, spend a few minutes checking everything looks genuine. Look for a proper company address, and have a sift through customer reviews on different websites. Don’t rely on the padlock symbol in the address bar – this doesn’t guarantee you’re buying from a legitimate business.
Whether you prefer to do your shopping on your phone or a laptop, it’s important to keep your devices up-to-date. Installing the latest software and app updates will help protect you. If your browser flags that it doesn’t trust a website or that it’s not secure, close the window.
Take care with links in emails and texts, especially unsolicited ones that are promoting amazing deals. If you’re unsure, go separately to the website.
Use your credit card for maximum protection. If the item cost more than £100 and less than £30,000 you can make a Section 75 claim. If you paid by debit card, you can use chargeback for any amount. Section 75 is a legal right, whereas chargeback is at the bank’s discretion, which is why paying by credit card is considered to give the best protection.