Amazon is the most popular online retailer in the United States, and for good reason; it's convenient and the prices are often better than big box retail stores. But one thing still nips at the heels of online retailers like Amazon: scam sellers ripping off unsuspecting customers.
For the most part, items you buy on Amazon are covered by a guarantee. Anything that is Prime-eligible or marked as "fulfillment by Amazon" should be currently present in an Amazon warehouse. You send Amazon your money, they send you the product, and if a third-party merchant is involved they get paid.
And while Amazon does also list items that are not currently at its warehouse—items that may not exist at all—any order you complete through Amazon.com is covered by the company's A-to-Z Guarantee. In short, buy it on Amazon (or through the Amazon Pay service on another website) and they'll cover your purchase. If you get scammed, you may not get your item or money in a timely manner, but you're generally covered.
This scam circumvented all of that, offering brand-new items for rock-bottom prices. The only issue? They're selling "so fast" that you have to e-mail the seller directly with your payment details to ensure you get it on time. Why is that so bad? Because if you're not paying through Amazon.com or Amazon Pay on another site, there's no way for Amazon to back up your side of the story.
Scams like this make everyone look bad. The customer loses their money, the scammer commits a crime, and Amazon has to stick to the letter of its guarantee.
It appears that Amazon has finally cracked down on the main way that sellers were executing this scam, as well as a few other notable scams. According to Marketplace Pulse, a company that claims to track third-party selling on Amazon, eBay, and other networks, Amazon sent the following notice to third-party sellers last month:
Condition notes are no longer accepted for new products
2 Feb 2017
Effective 22 February 2017, the Condition Note attribute will be disabled for all new products. If you do have new products listed with condition notes, the condition notes will be removed from the offer listing page. You can still continue to use the Condition Note attribute for all other product conditions.
The goal here is to stop sellers from listing an item as New at an impossibly low price, getting it into the coveted "Buy Box" on Amazon, and then noting that the item was actually not new. Scammers trying to get people off-site were often putting things like "BRAND NEW – BEFORE ORDERING YOU MUST E-MAIL AT Artist@SCAMMER dot com TO COMPLETE TRANSACTION." in the condition notes.
If you're desperate to get it at that price, you might go through with it. While some sellers may be trying to avoid paying Amazon commissions for listing their item, it's just as possible that the item doesn't exist at all, and they'll disappear once they have your money. Of course, it doesn't stop them from doing the same thing with Used or "Like New" items, but those are less valuable targets.
Marketplace Pulse, in the same report, also highlights that there seem to be significantly fewer scam sellers creating new accounts on Amazon, listing thousands of fake products to generate sales, and then disappearing before Amazon's feedback system can catch up to them.
Of course, it's also possible that the downtick in scam sellers is due to seasonality; with fewer shoppers hitting up Amazon for last-minute purchases, there are fewer people to take advantage of.
Either way, there are simple rules you can follow to stay safe on Amazon:
- Only pay directly through Amazon.com, never through another site (unless it uses Amazon Pay), and certainly never through e-mail.
- Only buy direct from Amazon or from trusted third-party sellers with lots of reviews and near-universal positive feedback.
- Your best bet is to stick to products that are "sold through" or "fulfilled by" Amazon.com, if possible
- Beware fake-sounding reviews, both for products and third-party sellers
And as always: buyer beware.