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Amazon Shoppers Beware! ‘Tis The Season For Fraud

With promises of free shipping, Lightning Deals and super-low prices it’s easy to see why all links this time of year lead to Amazon.com. But, as more and more shoppers discover the benefits of shopping at Amazon.com, so do more and more resellers, and that leads to more and more possibilities of fraud. Before you click that “Add to Cart” button at Amazon, here are some things you should know.

Amazon.com Is Just A Website

Amazon.com is not a big “store” that carries everything under the sun located somewhere “out there.” Other than the Kindle, nothing on the site is made by or for Amazon, nothing carries the Amazon label. Other than some Kindle products, Amazon doesn’t control the pricing on any items on the site.

We all think Amazon is this huge, trustworthy site that carefully vets every single item listed, but in reality it’s simply a huge website where anyone can sell – or resell – anything they want. Sound familiar? Maybe you’re thinking of a similar site – Ebay. Hmmmm…. Here’s how Amazon works…

Anyone Can Sell Anything At Amazon

Just like Ebay, anyone can set up a Seller’s account at Amazon. Anyone. Even you. And it only takes a few minutes. That’s how Amazon makes its money, by charging selling fees, listing fees and store fees – just like Ebay. The only difference is there are no auctions at Amazon. Everything has a “Buy It Now” price tag which makes you feel like you’re shopping in a real, brich-and-mortar store.

And, just like Ebay, Amazon is filled with resellers – people who haunt flea markets, garage sales and clearance sales to find cheap stuff they can sell for a profit.

Sellers Create Their Own Listings

Ever wonder why you see so many different listings for the same products on Amazon? That’s how sellers compete for your eyeballs. At Amazon, every seller can create his own listing and product description to attract your attention. They can even create multiple listings for the same product – just like Ebay – and many do just that to increase their exposure on the site.

And, Just like Ebay, Amazon has no way of knowing whether the seller is telling the truth or not. Is that necklace really sterling silver? Is that really a Louis Vuitton purse? Is that lip-balm really made with all-natural ingredients and is it really safe for your kids? The folks at Amazon don’t know and they don’t really care because they’re not making money from you, they’re making it from the sellers.

Remember: Amazon is just a website that makes the bulk of it’s money collecting fees from sellers, so the more successful the sellers are, the more money Amazon makes. With millions of packages going out their doors every day, Amazon itself has very little to lose if you’re not satisfied with your $40 set of Rachael Ray cookware. That’s the seller’s problem – not Amazon’s.

Sellers Set Their Own Fees

Sellers also set their own prices and shipping fees and, just like Ebay, sellers usually set prices and shipping fees to their advantage – not yours. Before you’re swayed by that low, low price, take a look at the shipping charges.

Amazon has two ways of handling shipping. In the first scenario, the person selling the product will stock the item at his own business or residence and take care of all shipping and handling. In this case the vendor is responsible for paying for shipping and handling, and he may or may not push that expense off onto the consumer.

Sellers also have the option of having their products stocked at one of Amazon’s Fulfillment centers. In this scenario the seller has to pay to ship his products to Amazon and then Amazon takes over shipping them out to consumers. The products are already packaged by the seller. All Amazon does is put them in a box and mail them to you. Again, someone has to cover that shipping cost and Amazon isn’t in business to lose money.

Regardless of how the shipping is handled, Amazon employees do not open in inspect every package. They have no idea if you’re receiving what you ordered or what condition it’s in when it ships.

How To Shop Safely At Amazon.com

On the bright side, Amazon wouldn’t be in the position they’re in if they weren’t doing something right. You’ll find thousands of name-brand manufacturers selling their products on Amazon, manufacturers who stand behind their products and do whatever it takes to make sure you’re satisfied no matter where you spent your money.

On the downside, Amazon’s trustworthiness and popularity make it a magnet for unscrupulous resellers. The kind of resellers who turned you’d off on Ebay.

In general, Amazon’s refund policy is like most other retailers’ – depending on your method of payment your refund can be instantaneous or take up to 10 business days.

However, you may only receive a 50% refund if you’re returning an item that’s damaged, missing parts, not in the original condition, or has obvious signs of use for reasons not due to an Amazon.com error. Which means if you’re trying to return a LEGO set that’s missing half the pieces that you bought from some unscrupulous Amazon reseller because he had a super-low price – forget it. You lose!

Here’s what to look for when you’re shopping at Amazon:

The seller’s name: Underneath every product name you’ll see the name of the person or company who listed the product. Look for the word “by:” If it’s anything other than a brand-name you recognize, click on that name to check it out. Are they selling more of the same type of product or does it look like they’re cleaning out their garage?

Ships from and sold by: Underneath the price you’ll see “Ships from and sold by” and the name of a company or person. Click on this link, too, to see a feedback rating and a link to more detailed information about the seller.

Product descriptions: A sure sign you’re dealing with an unscrupulous seller is a lack of a product description. They know that, too, so look closely. Look for poor grammar and spelling, especially. When’s the last time you saw grammar and spelling errors on a real manufacturer’s website? You don’t because they take the time and spend the money to produce quality ad copy.

Product information: Legitimate sellers and manufacturers go to great lengths to give you all the information you could ever want in their listings. Some include more information at Amazon than they do on their own websites.

Similar products: Use keywords to see if the same product is listed elsewhere on the site. For example: Toy / Play LEGO Minecraft 21102, mindstorms, sets, list, star, wars, legoshop, lego, fire, station, bionicle Game / Kid / Child is listed by a reseller company and LEGO Minecraft, Micro World 21102 – the same exact toy – is listed by LEGO, the actual manufacturer of the toy. The reseller’s product is listed for $73.68, while the LEGO listing is only $59.78. Who would you rather buy from?

Customer reviews: Don’t be fooled by all those 5-star reviews at the bottom of the page. Anybody can leave a product review on Amazon. Anybody. Even you. And it only takes a minute. Unscrupulous sellers can even go to one of the micro-gig websites and hire someone to leave a few dozen glowing reviews for just a few bucks. If everybody who’s left a review sounds like they’re reading from a script, then they probably are.

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