You will find many businesses on the Internet (including B2B sites such as Alibaba.com and on eBay) that offer mobile phones, notebook computers and other electronic products are very low prices. You should be aware that many of them are fraudulent.
Most fraudulent mobile phone sellers are not actual registered businesses. They have no offices, no warehouses, no accounts. They are just a bunch of guys with cellphones. All names and postal addresses are fake. The whole purpose of the fake companies is to trick people into sending cash or providing credit card details, without ever shipping any products to the customers.
The criminals are taking advantage of the fact that there is a serious lack of law enforcement resources targetted at small scale online fraud. If you have lost less than $5,000-10,000 the police would rather not even open a file on your case. Don’t expect serious action unless the damage is much higher. This legal mess comes as a shock to many victims, but it’s the current reality.
The fake stores listed here are primarily run by gangs from Nigeria, Romania and Russia. In some cases the only indication of where the criminals are is the country where the bank account is based, which may be different from the address claimed for the company. Here are some simple rules to follow if you don’t want to get burnt:
1. Never pay for online purchases by Western Union wire transfer (no exceptions)! It doesn’t matter where the store claims to be based: Once you send money it can be picked up anywhere in the recipient’s country, with no way of tracing the person who picked it up. The criminal remains anonymous. Do not trust any schemes to later change the recipient’s name or the question/answer pair. Assume that if the criminal knows your name and the amount you sent he can pick up the money, no questions asked!. That’s why Western Union has become the leading payment vehicle for online scams. Western Union is fine to wire cash to a stranded family member in a hurry, but do not use it for internet shopping, ever!
2. Never pay by bank wire transfer into a bank account in a name other than the name of the business or in a country other than where the store claims to be based (e.g. UK company, Spanish account or German company, Dutch account). Why would a legitimate business use an account held in the name of an individual or not have an account in the same country?
3. Beware if the seller uses a free webmail account (Hotmail, Yahoo, etc) or if the company’s main phone number is a mobile phone (Spain: +34-6xx, UK: +44-70xx, +44-87xx, Nigeria: +234 80x) or if it shares the same number for the phone and fax or it doesn’t list a postal address.
4. Beware if a seller doesn’t have his own website or uses a free webhosting site (e.h. http://phonestore.8m.com).
5. Beware if the business has its own site, but the domain was created less than three months ago (use the following link to check their domain registration).
* Domain WHOIS lookup
6. Search for the name of the company on Google. Search for the phone number too, some of the frauds get reincarnated with a new company name but still using the same mobile phone. If the search yields scam warnings or only classified ads by the company and its own website or if you don’t find anything at all you should be very careful. Use the form below to search:
7. Beware of prices that are too low and/or free shipping and/or worldwide on-site service. Legitimate businesses need to pay suppliers, rent, taxes etc. and still make a profit. They won’t underprice the nearest competitor by 30% or 50%, if they can also get the sale by being only 5-10% cheaper. In the real world international shipping is expensive and so is on-site service. You only get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
8. If you pay by credit card you’re generally protected, but if the business is a scam they can abuse your credit card details for making fraudulent purchases elsewhere. You may have to get it cancelled and reissued, which is a hassle. PayPal is the safest.
9. Don’t buy mobile phones and other electronic equipment from a supplier in Nigeria unless you actually live there. Nigeria does not manufacture high-tech electronic equipment. All such goods have to be imported first and its ports and airports are notoriously inefficient. There is no reason why anyone there should be able to export mobile phones, computers and other imported high tech, high value articles cheaply. When you receive offers for such equipment at prices that sound too good to be true, assume it to be a scam.
How to fight back
If you have been defrauded, report the email addresses used in the scam to the webmail providers and ask for the accounts to be suspended (see here). This interrupts all scams in progress and forces the criminals to start from scratch using new email accounts, making all their ads on the web obsolete.
If you have had any questionable offers to buy mobile phones, laptop computers or similar items in Nigeria or Europe, please forward copies of emails to email@example.com so we can warn others! Please use one of the following subject lines for your message:
 mobile: fakecompanyname
 mobile: scamemailaddress