Fraudulent website appears legitimate thanks to Facebook promotion

Opinion by Semire Yekta

A fraudulent e-commerce website promoted by Facebook has led to the victimisation of at least 1000 people while unknown victim figures are likely to be much higher.

A fraudulent e-commerce website promoted by Facebook has led to the victimisation of at least 1,000 people while unknown victim figures are likely to be much higher. The shopping website for fashion received considerable attention from consumers through an advertisement on Facebook, but while consumers can make online orders for products, they usually never receive them. For as long as the website is still online, it will continue to defraud internet shoppers. 

Deal Man provides mens and womenswear and offers worldwide delivery. Consumers who might be looking for a good deal are attracted through “FREE SHIPPING ON ALL ORDERS” or promotions such as “Get 25 percent OFF”. Free shipping and promotional offers increase the likelihood of reaching out to a higher number of people worldwide. Further, the positive customer reviews and customer gallery are used to build a trusting shopping environment. As products are “shipped” worldwide, it might take about 30 days until customers start looking after their delivery which can then be too late.

Interestingly, at the first glance the website looks like any normal online shopping platform, however a closer look at the company details can give clues about possible fraud. For example, there is no information about where the company is based or any address that could be helpful in knowing the location of the company or the warehouse. Secondly, the Deal Man does not provide a phone number which could also be useful in identifying the location or getting in touch with the retailer. Only an email address is provided. While customers attempt to contact the retailer via email, they usually do not receive any response. 

It is of course clear that any fraudulent website will attempt to create an attractive and a trusting environment to increase the number of possible customers. However, the most problematic issue about this website is the advertisement and confirmation of their shopping platform through a “neutral” third party such as Facebook because Facebook not only is used to attract people but also to “prove” through five million likes and followers that the website is “genuine”. Additionally, Facebook indicates that the website is very responsive by taking account the first automated response by Deal Man when receiving a message but ignores the fact that the actual customer inquiry remains unanswered. 

Further, the Facebook page of Deal Man looks active as Facebook users like and share product posts and write comments. However, the page only displays selected and positive comments or customer inquiries to promote their shipping policy. The vast majority of comments are not displayed. It seems that some people use angry emojis to share their experiences which might also might result from not being able react otherwise.   

While the website is promoted on Facebook, it is impossible to ignore that over 1,030 reviews on Trustpilot, an online review community (English and German version) indicate that they feel defrauded as they purchased products through Deal Man which they usually did not receive. Online Threat Alerts wrote in March 2017 that this is a fraudulent website. Although it has been over a year, the website is still online.

What lessons can be learnt? 

Firstly, a normal person cannot easily identify whether an online retailer is a fraud. As this case shows, at least 1,000 people have been victimised. However, the missing address and phone number can be a reason to examine an unknown website more closely before making a purchase. While choosing between a variety of online retailers can be challenging, it is worth checking whether the website of interest seems to be trustworthy. Googling a website might be an option to rely on the experiences of others, particularly when using unknown shopping platforms. 

Secondly, while it might be easy to rely on social media, particular on the number of likes and followers to assess a retailer, this case demonstrated that social media might not necessarily be able to prove the genuineness of an online retailer as many processes are simply automated. As outlined in this case, Facebook advertised, promoted the website and created a positive image which has certainly influenced the extent and scope of victimisation. 

Contributed by Semire Yekta,  Doctoral Researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

*SC has contacted Facebook which has responded to say it is investigating this case.

**Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.

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