A global ransomware attack raises awareness about cybercrime, but a less-publicized scam is likely to impact students more: phony third-party sellers on Amazon that snag credit card information and fail to ship promised goods.
Students often encounter trouble when they go beyond campus vendors for textbooks. The books they buy are outdated, excessively dog-eared or both.
Amazon has a reputation as a safe choice for buyers and sellers alike, but as cybercriminals find more ways around the company’s fraud protections, there’s more reason than ever for students to buy courseware through known school vendors.
Alerting students to the possibility of third-party scams will help save them from theft and encourage them to buy local.
Here’s how the attacks work
- A phony vendor signs up to sell on Amazon and uses software to ID the most prominent listings
- The cybercriminal acquires a two or three-month history of legit activity or hacks an established seller’s account
- Goods are posted at extraordinarily low prices
- The seller provides an international return address and promises to ship the goods in about two weeks
- You place an order with your credit card
- The seller posts a notification that the order has shipped
- The shipping notice prompts Amazon to charge your card. Sellers don’t have to demonstrate an item was received to earn money off the deal
- The phony seller then charges your card two or three times
- By the time the arrival date has passed and you’re ready to file a return, the seller has disappeared
How do you know if you’ve been scammed?
It can take several weeks to find out, especially if you’ve placed multiple orders on the same day — like a student buying textbooks. It’s easy to lose track of what was supposed to arrive when, and sellers exploit your patience. They know you won’t be looking for your order to appear anytime soon, and they know you can’t demonstrate a crime has been committed until after you’ve given the order enough time to arrive. That can take weeks if the seller has an international address. Unless a significant time has passed, it’s difficult to know whether the seller has simply made a mistake or the item is lost in transit.
If six weeks pass and an order hasn’t shown up, check the tracking number. If the seller has provided no tracking number, or the given number turns out to be phony, it’s likely you’ve been scammed.
What do you do if you have been scammed?
Contact Amazon customer service. The site will refund your money if it finds out that the seller has absconded. However, for students, a scam like this could bring more than an inconvenience. Most don’t have six weeks to spare. By then, classes will have already begun, and, waiting another week or more for a legit seller to send a textbook will mean falling further behind in a course.
Students rarely have extra cash. It’s likely they will spend the money they thought they saved on something else before discovering the fraud. That means they won’t have enough to buy from a legit seller at a more honest price.
Tell students to watch out for miraculously low textbook prices on Amazon. It’s the first sign of a third-party scam that could jeopardize their learning, their finances and their ability to pass a class.