Caveat Emptor: Watch Out for Phantom Stores
Most people are proud to say they would never fall for a phishing scam, that they would never give their personal and financial information away at fake banking sites, just because someone asked them to in an e-mail. But how many people will use that same common sense when a too-good-to-be-true bargain presents itself at a no-name online electronics shop?
A slew of fake electronics sites, some of them apparently being promoted by major online search engines and comparison-shopping sites, have been swindling consumers out of cash and credit card numbers for several weeks. The Web sites are confusingly named after legitimate electronics and clothing shops in the United States. All say they accept major credit cards and PayPal, and some carry seals boasting that they are "hacker safe."
But customers who order something from these sites soon find their accounts charged increasing amounts for unauthorized transactions.
Regina Arndt, owner of harborelectronics.net, a small repair shop in Hoquiam, Wash., said she has been receiving angry phone calls and e-mails from people who thought they had purchased items at harbourelectronics.com (pictured at left), a bogus consumer electronics store that lists Arndt's physical address, phone number and e-mail in its contact information.
Arndt said she's even had a frustrated and confused harbourelectronics.com shopper file a complaint against her company with the Better Business Bureau. She found that shoppers who enter their credit or debit card numbers at the fake site are then told that the site can no longer process credit card transactions due to a high rate of credit card fraud (a nice, ironic touch). Consumers who still want to purchase the product are told to wire the money via Western Union.
"The people never got what they ordered, and they're blaming us," Arndt said. "Usually, on Monday mornings there's a bunch of e-mails from people who got scammed."
A check for other Web sites that may be hosted at the Internet address assigned to harbourelectronics.com (18.104.22.168, a Web server at a company called Piradius.net in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) reveals a nest of other bogus e-commerce sites, such as electronicsrs.com, electronicsready.com, electronicsroyalty.com, fashionboudoir.com, nancoelectronics.com, wizzardelectronics.com, to name just a few.
Googling for some of these domain variations brings up a recent investigation by Gary Craig, a staff writer for democratandchronicle.com. That piece tells a story similar to Arndt's, with zack-electronics.com, another site that traces back to the above Internet address.
From that story:
Zack-Electronics.com, for instance, lists 145 Metro Park, Rochester, as its "USA Logistics Department." In Duarte, Calif., there is a longtime business, up and running since 1931, called Zack Electronics.
Zack-Electronics.com even lists its headquarters as the same address as Zack Electronics.
Dennis Awad, president of Zack Electronics, said his company first became aware of someone using an almost identical name on a Web site earlier this month.
"I've gotten a number of e-mails ... from concerned consumers," Awad said. " ... Some people have sent money orders and have been ripped off."
There are several things that should raise huge red flags about these sites. In almost every case, the contact information lists a Web site/e-mail address domain that is not the same as the name of the store, or the contact phone number is no longer in service.
Running a quick "WHOIS" search (I like to use whois.sc, since it's very quick), can tell you gobs of information about a site. For example, most of the bogus online stores we've mentioned so far were registered within the past few weeks.
Also, a quick Internet search on nearly any of the domains mentioned so far returns plenty of results from people who have said they were ripped off by these sites.
Update, Jan. 9, 8:23 a.m. ET: While I was putting this piece together, I sent a message to the founder and chief executive of Directi, the domain registrar of record for five of the domains found at the above-mentioned Internet address. Directi sent me a reply this morning saying they had suspended all five of those domains "to avoid any further nuisance." The suspended sites are: wizzardelectronics.com, otek-electronics.com, fashionboudoir.com, harbourelectronics.com, and harbour-electronics.com.
January 7, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Categories: Fraud , Latest Warnings , Safety Tips , Web Fraud 2.0
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