The FTC has been warning consumers about counterfeiting scams for years. calls that falsely claim to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration, or other offices or businesses. The messages try to get people to make immediate payments or hand over confidential personal information. The FTC’s latest Data Spotlight focuses on the rampant rise in Amazon impersonation scams, which have already bilked consumers out of millions of dollars.
Between July 2020 and June 2021, roughly one in three people who reported a business impersonator to the FTC said the scammer claimed to be calling from Amazon. The FTC has guidance for consumers on how to spot, stop, and report copycats. But Data Spotlight’s findings also suggest steps Amazon and other businesses can take to reduce the impact on consumers when well-known company names are misused by fraudsters.
How big is the problem? In that one year, reports of Amazon imitators have increased more than fivefold. About 96,000 people reported being targeted and nearly 6,000 said they lost money. Reported damages exceeded more than $27 million, and the average individual loss was about $1,000. (To put those numbers in context, according to reports received by the FTC over the same period, the next most frequently impersonated company was Apple, with nearly 16,000 reports.)
Data Spotlight explains the many ways scammers take advantage of Amazon’s name and ubiquity, but it often involves an unexpected message from Amazon warning that there has been suspicious activity on a person’s Amazon account or unauthorized purchases. Sometimes, when a person calls back the number listed in the message, a fake “Amazon representative” tricks them into giving them remote access to their computer, supposedly to facilitate the refund. You can guess what happens next. a series of lies that lead a person to believe that too much money has been refunded (supposedly) and should be refunded.
What can be done? The FTC’s usual advice to consumers is to ignore such unsolicited messages and, if in doubt, whether a call, email or Unfortunately, many companies, including Amazon, have made it difficult for consumers to detect and stop such scams because people can’t find an easy way to find out if a suspicious message is real.
Another option is for large, often individualized institutions, public or private, to develop consistent policies about how they interact with consumers. For example, some entities have a general policy of not immediately disclosing consumers. Instead, they may answer incoming consumer inquiries over the phone, or they may follow up after the consumer has been mailed. When institutions share these policies with the public and enforce them consistently, consumers can more easily identify when an unsolicited message is fraudulent.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to how personalized companies can help people detect and stop this form of fraud. But simply shifting the onus to consumers is not the answer. It is in the best interest of businesses to consider solutions that will help protect their good name and loyal customers.