Flavors of Fraud: Who Pays for an Internet Scam?

An internet scam artist waving around stolen credit cards

Here’s a major bummer: just about everyone with a computer has been the target of an internet scam at some point. Fraudsters are just a regular part of our day. You might get more calls from “Scam Likely” than you do from your loved ones!

We’re used to seeing fraud everywhere. So, after a while, any bad behavior by a company we interact with on the web looks like another internet scam. The problem with this is different forms of scam or potential fraud toward consumers require different solutions. This week, we’ll look at different kinds of internet scams and how you can deal with them.



We’ve discussed this particular brand of criminal in the past. In a spoofing attempt, you’ll receive a message from someone impersonating a real organization, trying to convince you to pass along sensitive information: login and password, social security number, credit card details, etc. This common form of internet scam can take numerous forms: from phone calls and text messages to emails and web pop-ups. While spoofers go to great lengths to appear legitimate, the fact that they are reaching out to you without prior contact and asking for personal information is the tip-off that they are up to no good.

The best solution: never respond. Don’t feel rude hanging up on scammers, deleting their messages, or flat-out ignoring them. If you do end up giving them any sensitive information, reach out to your financial institution right away and change any relevant passwords fast. If you receive “official” communication that appears suspicious, contact the organization using information from the official website to verify that it’s authentic.

Can you get your money back if you are defrauded by a spoofing/phishing scam?

Sometimes. Spoofing/phishing is an internet scam with any number of goals. Some criminals will use your credit/debit information to make immediate purchases. In these cases, you can sometimes prove fraud and have your accounts refunded. Different financial institutions and credit card companies will have different rules and limitations. Some companies even have safeguards in place to halt suspicious transactions before they occur – prompting you to confirm that unusual purchases are genuine.

If a fraudster has been using your account to make purchases without your consent, immediately contact the relevant financial institution and find out what steps they require for you to claim fraud, halt activity on your account to prevent further theft, and see what their policy is on being reimbursed in the case of criminal activity.

It’s important to note here that this option exists when your card or card information is stolen. If you’ve knowingly given credit card access to another (a particularly common occurrence is children making in-app purchases on a phone that has a connected credit card saved), this is not treated in the same fashion. You may not have personally consented to the purchase – but willingly granting access to that card is permission and doesn’t qualify as fraud. Essentially – take care that only YOU have control of your card or any device that can use it.

Other criminals will utilize stolen personal data to take out loans and credit cards in your name for their use – which can also have a devastating effect on your credit score. In this case, immediate steps to take include contacting your financial institution immediately to notify them of the fraudulent account order a credit freeze (which must be done through all three credit reporting bureaus individually),  file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and potentially even file a police report. Identity theft cases can be daunting and take time and evidence to resolve. The biggest threat is to your credit, which can possibly be repaired if you have adequate evidence of fraud, take all necessary steps, and continually contact the authorities to be sure they process your case in a timely fashion.



You’ve probably been blasted with ads for these online and app-store mega-sellers before: Wish, Temu, Shein, and others. The ads feature flashy photography of quality items at prices that are sometimes way too good to be true. Your savvy scammer sense is immediately tingling upon seeing these outrageous offers. Still, a lot of folks will give these sites/apps a go. So…are they another internet scam?

That’s up for debate. Sites like Wish and Temu, especially, function as a shipper, typically working directly from wholesale merchants. They reduce fees by cutting out “middleman” steps in the usual buying process. The downside of this is that their shipping times tend to be lengthy (compare your Amazon Prime 2-day shipping to waiting a month or more from these sites), and customer service, quality and responsiveness are often unreliable.

While the sites (and the mobile apps associated with them) are legitimate, their quality control practices are often lacking. Since their main function is to ship directly from wholesalers, the integrity of the merchandise provider isn’t assured, and you need to have a “get what you paid for” perspective when purchasing. Common complaints are that items show up looking totally different from what was ordered, quality is far inferior to the featured image, sizing is off, etc. Of course, other shoppers have been perfectly satisfied with their experience! While these wholesale shipping apps tend to have a return policy, don’t expect them to be as prompt or reliable as Amazon or brick-and-mortars like Kohl’s or Walmart.

One prevalent form of consumer fraud practiced through these bargain shipping sites goes like this: Imagine you order a pricier item, like a phone charger. Instead of the charger, a shady seller will package up a completely different, cheap item and inform the shipping company (Wish, Temu, etc.) that they have fulfilled your order. With the order supposedly fulfilled, the scammer gets their share of your purchase. Meanwhile, it takes a long time for the item to arrive in your hands. When it finally does, you’ll have a very limited amount of time to request a refund. If you don’t – the scammer gets the full share of payment for an expensive item, and you get left holding overpriced junk.

It’s worth noting that while these particular sellers get a bad reputation (which they may be deserving of) as internet scam marketplaces, you can find similar fraud schemes even on more reliable sites like Amazon. One popular grift is to sell computer storage devices like USB and hard drives with high capacity for a low price. These fraudulent devices actually have a very limited capacity and, instead, save over previous data rather than filling up. By the time the buyer realizes the trick, not only have they lost important data, but they are likely past the point at which Amazon is likely to take action to reimburse the buyer and punish the seller.

Can you get your money back from scammy sellers?

Sometimes, if you act fast. As we stated, these companies do have return policies, but they aren’t as generous as you are used to from Amazon and the like. Regardless, issues that you have with getting scammed through apps like Wish and Temu need to be taken up with those companies directly. However, since these are customer service concerns, your financial institution can’t intercede. because you did authorize the purchase, your bank or credit union won’t consider them as fraud. While you definitely didn’t get what you expected from the vendor, the transaction itself wasn’t a fraud because you agreed to pay for items from the merchant.



Craig’s List and eBay have been a staple of internet shopping for well over a decade now, with Facebook Marketplace rivaling them as a hub where individuals can sell directly to others. While these sites may act like a refined and searchable mega-garage sale that never ends! they’re also another potential host for an internet scam.

No doubt you can guess the sorts of problems that might occur in making these person-to-person sales! Even looking beyond the well-discussed risks of meeting strangers in-person to conduct the final transaction (which is more the case with Facebook and Craig’s List than eBay), we have to look at the potential for fraudulent practices.

Buying from an individual (like on Facebook Marketplace) does not come with any particular guarantee short of reaching out to the seller and hoping they are inclined to give your money back if the item they sell you is faulty.

Can you get your money back after a P-2-P Marketplace scam?

Sometimes. Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and similar sellers might offer some buyer protections for transactions made when using their service to make your payment, but there are limitations. For instance, eBay’s auction format and connection to PayPal means shoppers have a means to dispute any scams or other issues. It isn’t foolproof, and eBay’s policies should be consulted before you bid on a suspicious item.

Person-to-person marketplace sites are handled through the site’s customer service rather than going to your credit union, bank, or credit card company. While it’s logical to define false claims and bad behavior from person-to-person sellers as fraud, it’s in a different category than the sorts of fraud financial institutions are equipped to address.



It’s not a reliable or recommended method of getting a return, but on occasion, making a public complaint can see some results. If you are scammed by a seller on a web service with ratings, providing an honest, accurate, and polite-if-stern review will sometimes see the seller reaching out to compensate you. If the seller expects you to pull the review in exchange for resolving your issue, don’t accept! This can violate review policies on some sites and also puts future shoppers at risk.

The same goes for making complaints on social media and tagging a seller’s official account to get their attention. It’s a shot-in-the-dark attempt (and keeping calm when writing your complaint is a best practice!), but some wronged shoppers will get an acceptable outcome. Again, only the company you bought from can act on a complaint – credit card companies and financial institutions don’t have any recourse to force a refund, even in the case of a provable internet scam.



All too often, the answer is you, the consumer. The best solution to web fraud is to be vigilant of the various internet scams that are lurking and not fall into the trap in the first place. While that is little comfort for those who have been taken by a sophisticated con, there are sometimes ways that you can be reimbursed or at least mitigate the damage. Remember:

In cases where fraud has to do with identity and personal or financial account information, reach out immediately to your credit union, bank, or credit card company. While they can’t always refund your lost money, they can stop fraud from getting worse.

In cases where you receive incorrect, faulty, late, or missing items, reach out to the website, app, or seller directly. Financial institutions can’t help in the resolution of these kinds of fraud.

Happy shopping, and stay savvy and safe!