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The Great Fake: Scammers are luring shoppers to fake websites and sellers

Shoppers don't find out until after they hand over their money.

CLEVELAND — You may remember last year when a scammer created a website selling fake dog licenses to Ohio residents. Residents don't need licenses here. And the site was shut down. But this is a huge problem in the online shopping world and not even that little lock in the URL guarantees you're safe.

We found a $9,000 Rolex watch selling for $27. And a $900 jacket for the bargain price of $24.

Anyone's eyes would light up at those deals. But what arrives from those online sites will likely have you seeing red.

Those offers are especially upsetting to Gabriel Openshaw, E-Commerce Vice President of Overland Sheepskin Company.

Overland sells luxury outerwear, and last fall, Openshaw found pictures of his coats on sites that were selling knockoffs.

"What started as a few websites that we saw in October turned into over a thousand to date," he says.

Those ridiculously cheap prices corresponded with the poor quality fake coats the spoof sites delivered. But there's not a lot Overland can do about it.

"As soon as we shut one down,” Openshaw says,  “another one comes up."

Sites selling counterfeits are the least of it though. Hackers are creating spoof sites that mimic real ones like one that Cybersecurity firm Cyren found for designer Michael Kors. They showed how the URL address didn't even have Michael Kors' name in it.

We discovered that the people behind fake sites aren't really looking for your business.  What they want is your credit card information.

Sometimes we end up on these sites by misspelling the company's name, which happened Allen Stern when he misspelled “Costco”.

He landed on a spoof site where he could fill out a survey to get a free bottle of face cream, if he paid for shipping.

But, "I looked at my credit card statement,” Stern says, “And there's four $98 charges on my account!”

Cybersecurity experts at Normshield say, even if you’re a careful typist and you don’t ‘accidentally’ find the fake sites… the bad guys will find you.

"So they'll send you an email with an advertisement about that great coat for your wife,” Normshield Chief Security Officer Bob Maley says.  “You really go ‘Oh that's legit’…. and you click on it.  Now you've gone to the bad actors site. They're going to get all of your information.”

We even found online tutorials about how to create spoof sites. But it's not just big companies being hacked. It's smaller sellers on sites like eBay.

Russell O'Rourke paid $150 for what he thought was a Mont Blanc pen from an ebay seller with a 98% approval rating. He ended up getting a counterfeit.

"The seller was outraged that he hadn't had any part in this,” says O’Rourke, when he showed them the knock-off pen. “They didn't know what it was. Somebody had apparently been able to spoof their name on ebay.”

The hacker got the $150 and the funds never made it to the "real" seller.  

“When I responded, the message went to him, and then I was actually on the phone with him. So I had the direct contact for the real business, and they denied everything,” O’Rourke says.  

He immediately contacted eBay. They looked into it and determined that yes, indeed, the $150 never made it to the legitimate seller. It had gone to someplace out of the country.

O’Rourke was reimbursed, but wanted to tell his story to let it serve as a warning that the scammers are way ahead of us.

And Normshield tells us that not even that little padlock in the URL address can protect you.

"What the bad actors have done, is they'll register it legitimately, they'll get what's called an SSL certificate, and you can see that lock… and say 'oh it's a safe site',” says Maley. “It's not a safe site. It's just telling you that the traffic is secure. So you really can't trust that anymore.”

So, here's the deal. Before you buy, look carefully at the address bar to make sure it actually has the company's name.  If you get an email link from what appears to be a legitimate business, don't click it. Go directly to the retailer's website. And obviously, if the price is much lower than anywhere else, it's likely a fake. 

Also, when shopping on ebay, if a seller requests you contact them before bidding, or that you click a link, stay away. 

More safety tips for online shopping:



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