We’ve all felt it: that little spark of Christmas-morning joy elicited by a cardboard box emblazoned with the familiar black swooshing arrow. Even if the order was for a banal necessity like vitamins, most of us warm to the sight of an Amazon package on our doorstep.
It’s a glow felt millions of times every day around the globe, and in rapidly increasing numbers. In the U.S. alone, Amazon accounts for nearly 50 percent of retail online sales and has 95 million Prime customers.
That’s a lot of virtual carts.
And just as shopping malls and big-box stores are magnets for shoplifters, ne’er-do-wells have also cultivated the art of online pickpocketing. On Amazon, they often come in the form of a third-party seller.
Third-party sellers are independent entities that offer a variety of new, used, refurbished, and collectible merchandise. And they’re big business. In 2017, more than half the items sold on Amazon were from third-party sellers.
Most of these sellers are legitimate. They’re well-reputed companies looking for another place to offer their goods, small stores aiming for more exposure and a larger audience, and individuals selling items just as they would on Craigslist or eBay.
But as its third-party business has grown, so has the window for scammers.
The good news is that Amazon’s A-to-z Guarantee will typically cover an issue with one of these sellers. The bad news is you may still suffer headaches securing the refund, and you may not get the item in a timely manner – or at all.
Use common sense and caution to avoid the hassles of dealing with a scam seller. Here are a few tips:
- Just say no if a seller asks you to bypass Amazon’s checkout and send funds directly. Then report the incident to Amazon customer service.
Ordering through a legitimate third-party seller is no different than ordering any other item. Amazon disburses the funds to third-party sellers, but doesn’t share the customer’s payment information with them. So there’s no need for a customer to send funds directly to the seller.
- Search for items marked “Fulfilled by Amazon.” They’re shipped directly from the company’s warehouses, and are covered by its customer service policies.
Sellers who ship from their own facilities are often not Prime eligible, and delivery times can be lengthy.
- Even better, search for those marked “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” These products are also sold by the company, making them your safest option.
- Beware of long delivery times.
That often means the item is coming from overseas, and may be of dubious quality. Or it could be part of a payment scam in which the scammer is counting on your silence and time. Since Amazon typically pays its sellers right after the sale, the scammer may have been paid and vanished by the time a customer reports an item never arrived.
- Do some quick research on the seller. If it’s not Amazon, click on the seller’s name to see what other items they sell and how the ratings stack up overall. Take the time to find the seller’s website to further ascertain its legitimacy.
- Read the reviews, and look for fakes. Fakes often contain misspellings, grammatical errors and excessive praise on reviews that just doesn’t ring true. You can also sort reviews from top to bottom, so try sorting by the lowest (one-star) reviews first and look for any complaints about scams and policy violations.
- Be sure any Prime item you select is still marked “Prime” at checkout.
The Prime logo isn’t a designation given solely to items sold by Amazon, though it does mean the order is covered by Amazon customer service.
- Shop with a credit card, not a debit card. It’s easier to dispute charges and credit card companies typically cover customers who are victims of fraud.
By the way, the fraud game is played in both directions: Amazon and its third-party sellers have also been scammed by customers. An Indiana couple was sentenced to prison in June for their role in a $1.2 million fraudulent Amazon returns scheme.
But the best source of comfort is Amazon’s fierce concern for its reputation. Amazon wants its customers happy, and aims to ensure that with its A-to-z Guarantee – which is specifically designed to protect you with purchases from third-party sellers.
Next week: How to guard against porch pirates