Found it cheaper elsewhere? Here are 5 risks when buying from third-party sellers online

Published 9:00 pm Monday, June 13, 2022


Found it cheaper elsewhere? Here are 5 risks when buying from third-party sellers online

Shopping online has never been easier. From ordering takeout to buying a car, you can purchase almost anything with the click of a button. Some shoppers feel safer buying from big-name websites, but they may not know that sellers on online marketplaces are predominantly third-party vendors, and unaffiliated with the company.

While most third-party sellers are honest, there are still plenty of examples of those who are fraudulent. Goods may not arrive as advertised, on time, or at all. Wicked Reports compiled a list of five potential risks when buying from third-party sellers online, using insights from new reports and expert opinions. 

Imports of counterfeit goods cost U.S. retailers about $54 billion a year in lost sales, according to an October 2021 report from the Buy Safe America Coalition. And an April 2022 TransUnion survey found that fraud by third-party sellers accounted for 23% of people targeted for digital fraud.

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Whether you’re determining whether a product is counterfeit, wondering if a seller’s account is fake, or dealing with harassment for leaving an honest review, here are practical tips to help you safely shop online.

A man unhappily unboxing a carton package of clothes

Prostock-studio // Shutterstock

Counterfeit goods

Around $54 billion in sales is lost to counterfeit goods, per the Buy Safe America Coalition. Top counterfeit items include toys and cell phones, two types of goods that the U.S. imports $1.5 billion and $6.8 billion worth of annually, respectively. Other common fakes include cosmetics, surgical masks, and automotive brake pads.

Amazon reported that fewer than 0.01% of sales receive a counterfeit complaint and that its fraud department of 10,000 people, aided by AI, investigates counterfeits and involves law enforcement when necessary.

A child getting scammed online


Fake sellers

Some third-party sellers have no intention of ever delivering goods and instead set up elaborate scams to string customers along and take advantage of refund policies.

Pay special attention if a third-party seller is offering high-end goods at a considerable discount—if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fake sellers may string customers along with excuses about shipping delays to give them time to collect payment from the online retailer before the customer complains. Report suspicious delays or anything that feels “off” right away.

A man using his credit card to shop online

Syda Productions // Shutterstock

Credit card fraud

The Federal Trade Commission recommends always using a credit card rather than a debit card when shopping online since credit cards usually have better purchase protections.

The huge growth in e-commerce since the start of the pandemic has meant an increase in scammers, as well. To avoid scams, don’t purchase from sellers charging significantly less than the going rate for the item, and only give your card details through the marketplace site (not through email or text).

Read the reviews to make sure they’re legitimately reviewing listed items. Partnered sellers that are rated or acknowledged by the marketplace are more likely to be legitimate. If you see a suspicious charge on your credit card statement, call the company to dispute it, put a hold on your account, and request a new card.

A child playing with an unsafe toy

Mama Belle and the kids // Shutterstock

Unsafe products

Most copycat goods are harmless, or simply more cheaply made compared to brand-name items, but some knockoffs may be harmful or even dangerous. Federal agencies flagged more than 4,000 products on Amazon that are deceptively labeled, outright banned, or determined to be unsafe, according to an August 2019 investigation by The Wall Street Journal. Examples include sleeping mats that could suffocate babies, toys that don’t pass safety standards or surpass lead limits, electronics with fake certifications, and expired consumables.

Lawsuits in several states have led to Amazon paying fines without admitting wrongdoing and removing questionable listings, which often quickly reappear on the site. The only way to ensure a product is legitimate is to buy directly from a manufacturer’s website or brick-and-mortar store.

A person holding a phone on which they rate a product or service five stars

AK-GK Studio // Shutterstock

Potential harassment

Third-party sellers aren’t supposed to have customers’ contact information, but there are companies that find customer emails and sell them to Amazon sellers. Amazon prohibits sellers from paying for reviews, but once they get customers’ contact details, some have taken to harassing customers who leave bad reviews.

Some will offer a refund in exchange for a deleted or edited review, which is a violation of Amazon’s terms. Others will offer a free gift in the package in exchange for an email address, which can be used to harass customers if they write a less than a five-star review.

Customers can report such harassment to the marketplace. Be sure to save all correspondence with the seller; don’t use your real name in your public profile and consider blocking, rather than replying to, sellers’ emails if they contact you.

This story originally appeared on Wicked Reports and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.