THE Better Business Bureau serving Mainland BC (BBB) on Wednesday issued a warning to online shoppers to be wary of unknown retailers and to carefully review the address listed on their website before handing over money. This warning comes after a BBB investigation revealed that eight fraudulent online retailers used a residential address in Abbotsford to legitimize their website and convince consumers across North America to spend hundreds of dollars for nonexistent or inferior quality products.
In February of this year, BBB started receiving several complaints and reports on Scam Tracker about online retailers based in Abbotsford. BBB’s investigations revealed that there were eight online retailers in particular that all shared the same address in Abbotsford.
Queries with the City of Abbotsford revealed that there were no business licenses issued for the specific address or to the businesses Lemon Dresses, Comfyfree, Dress Stars, Modaboxs, Wearing Pearl.com, Instylewaye, Chicgoby and Theinnstyle Clothing. Investigations also revealed that the scammers hijacked the home address for a BC resident who has no connection to any of the businesses, and have been using it on these websites for several months.
Victims of these shady retailers span all over North America. In Canada, BBB received reports from consumers in BC, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and Ontario. There were also victims in California, Texas, Missouri, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts and Washington in the United States. The complaints and Scam Tracker reports primarily mentioned issues with receiving timely or any delivery at all, challenges connecting with the respective businesses to process a refund, and poor customer service. Victims lost between $80 and $300.
A consumer in New York who spent over $200 on Dress Stars said: “I ordered merchandise [and] was sent an email with an order number. When I went to check on my shipping, it does not have my email or order and there is no contact phone number”.
Since the start of the investigation, one of the businesses, Chicgoby, has changed the address on their website to a location in Poland. BBB found that the new address, aleja Krakowska 163, 05-552 Wólka Kosowska, Poland, belongs to a footwear wholesaler named Sinda Wolka Kosowska, which seems to have no connections to Chicgoby. Also, the website for Comfyfree (http://comfyfree.com/) is no longer active.
Back in July, BBB shared a warning about scammers using residential addresses to perpetrate various cons. Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of fraudulent websites have been created to lure in consumers who have increased their shopping online. To give the schemes a more reputable appearance, scammers are adding a physical address to their websites or online product listings. They will sometimes use the address for a vacant lot or residential property that has been listed for rent or sale online, or even the address for a legitimate business with no connection to the fraudsters.
“Scammers continue to develop sophisticated schemes that not only victimize online shoppers, but also innocent members of the public and legitimate businesses,” said Karla Laird, Manager for Community and Public Relations at BBB. “The scammers hijack addresses to make their websites appear trustworthy, and because consumers fail to research before buying, they are more susceptible to these kinds of scams. Additionally, if you start receiving mail addressed to someone else with complaints or returned items, it is possible your address has been hijacked and you will need to investigate further.”
BBB is sharing the following tips to online shoppers:
- Look out for deals that are too good to be true. Know the normal price range of the item you want to purchase and be wary if you see the same product available at a steeply discounted price.
- Double check the ‘business address’. If you are shopping on an unfamiliar website, take some time to research their address. If the address pops up on a map as a residential address, leads you to a vacant property, or is being connected to another business, you may be dealing with a fraudulent company.
- Make purchases through a reputable online retailer. Double check business ratings at BBB.org and read through customer reviews before you decide to do business with an online retailer. If you cannot find a business profile for the company, it is a strong sign that you may want to consider shopping elsewhere.
- Use a credit card. In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card not only provides additional protections, but also makes it easier to dispute charges that you did not approve. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards do not have the same protections as a credit card. Also, if you have purchased a service or product and it has not been rendered or received, if you tried to cancel a purchase, or you are unable to secure a refund within 15 days of purchasing, contact your credit card provider with specific details about the transaction and ask for a chargeback or reversal of the charges.
If you are the victim of a scam, report your experience to BBB Scam Tracker. Your report can help others to stay informed and avoid similar scams.