Online Shopping Hacks & Scams - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog


Online Shopping Hacks & Scams

Social media scams to watch out for and the best tips to get everything for a fraction of retail price. Plus, the slimy secret behind sites like Gilt.


If you spend any time at all on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll have noticed slick video product ads for products. If you’ve clicked to buy them, you might have noticed that the websites they take you to don’t look super professional. That’s because there’s a new scam in town.

The scam:

Unethical Chinese companies are setting up websites listing loads of products and advertising them on social media. Except when you buy the product, they send you a box of garbage. Literally.

Online Shopping Hacks & Scams

They make money because most people don’t remember that they didn’t get the product, or they will be too busy or lazy to bother with doing a return or chargeback.

Online Shopping Hacks & Scams

The fake shopping website that scammed me and my friends. Found via an Instagram ad.

I learned this the hard way when I sent a link I got from an Instagram ad to a bunch of friends and we all ordered self-scooping cat litter boxes that never arrived (but my aunt asked for tracking and ended up with a box of garbage that she then had to find time to return.) Turns out the video and images were stolen from Kickstarter.

The enablers:

Why doesn’t Instagram and Facebook do anything about this? The same reason they don’t police political ads. For one, they’re making a lot of money on the ads. For two, it would cost a lot of money to staff a department dedicated to figuring out which ads are legit versus fake, and the Chinese scammers can create new websites and ads as fast as social would remove them.

PayPal is a bad-guy in all this too. In what I can only assume is a way to help scammers so they get to keep their commission, PayPal requires you to go to the post office and ship the garbage back to China on your own dime to get a refund.

Here’s how you can avoid getting scammed:

Search for the product on Amazon and/or reverse image search using right-click –> ‘search Google for image’. If you can find it, then order it on Amazon (where it’s usually cheaper anyway). For products that you can’t find on an online store like Amazon (one you know for sure is legit), then realize it’s a scam and don’t buy it. Or do, and just know that you’re most likely just going to donate money to a scammer.

How to get your money back if you got scammed:

Firstly, when making a purchase online always pay via credit card, but only if you can verify that the checkout page is secure and a legit payment processor (if you can’t, that’s a bad sign!) or use credit card with PayPal as the intermediary.

If you don’t get what you ordered, then file a dispute with PayPal, who will tell you to return whatever you were sent at your own expense. This is when you can ignore PayPal and call to your credit card and tell them that you want to initiate a dispute. They’ll ask if you tried to resolve it first with the merchant, and you can tell them that PayPal will only refund you if you spend more money and time to return the box of garbage the seller mailed you. Since you didn’t receive what you paid for, your credit card company should refund you without asking you to return anything. NB: PayPal’s dispute process takes several weeks, then the credit card dispute will take several more weeks to go through this whole process.

More online shopping scams to be aware of:

This video will show you a few more Instagram and Facebook ad scams to watch out for:

My Online Shopping Hack: How I Get Incredible Deals on Designer Clothing

I just bought a gorgeous new pair of Dolce & Gabbana lace booties for only $130. US (believe it or not, the retail price on these is $1050. US). I also bought a new off-white Coach clutch purse for 40 bucks (the in-store retail price is $140.) In fact, my entire wardrobe is filled with designer clothes, shoes, and accessories that I have purchased for a fraction of their retail price. How? I shop online at eBay.

Online Shopping Hacks & ScamsLike my friends, you’re probably in disbelief. Last week we all went out for dinner. I wore a skirt to show off my new lace boots. My friends noticed them right away. The compliments didn’t stop all night. At dinner, one of my friends asked where I got them and how much I paid. When I told her there was dead silence, followed by “how do you buy designer clothing for cheap online?” Everyone looked puzzled as if I had just explained a new theory of relativity.

We then entered an interesting conversation about online shopping. Some think I’m crazy. They say that they would never shop online. They need to touch the fabric and try on the clothes before they buy. Some thought they’d get ripped off and lose money. Others wanted to get in on the deals. The funny part is they seem to believe I’m the only one capable of finding these discounts. The reality is anyone can do it, here’s how:

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A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 66 Comments

  1. Aliza Lees

    Fantastic article! So many useful tips. Thanks!

  2. Justin Carter

    I own a shoe shop in Manhattan and I don’t say “no” to people who ask me for a discount. I merely ask them “Why?” because it’s quite possible that they have a very good reason! It all comes down to customizing the value exchange.

  3. James Hannks

    Going to use this advice buy cheaper kicks. Buying at Nike, and Adidas is very expensive. I will give it a try on eBay.

    • Camilla Collins

      Or if you like you can wait for the inventory sales. All of my kicks are from inventory sales. And I only got it for 50% of their original price. Nike and Adidas always post their inventory sales on Facebook. 🙂

    • Steev Smith

      I was thinking of that too. Our technology is fast upgrading, and before we knew, we are living in the future.

  4. George Sumanta

    This article is a whack! I love how you teach us to how to get huge discounts on eBay, Thanks for sharing your secret! Love you, Hilary.

  5. Kimberly Holder

    You are an amazing person, Hilary! When I was at school I used to live way out in the countryside with no means of getting to the ‘cool’ shops let alone affording anything – we weren’t very well off. Buying and selling on ebay was a great way for me to keep up with trends and have nice things that I wouldn’t normally be able to access or afford. I haven’t used it in years as back then it required a lot of time and commitment but maybe I should give it another go today – it is better for the environment to shop second hand.

  6. Kathryn Gibson

    I and my husband are fans of online shopping. Most of the time we are at work, and we don’t have spare time to buy things at the malls. I thank eBay for saving us!

  7. Blanche Martina

    Online shopping is very popular today. They don’t want to waste time looking for parking spaces and driving to the malls.

    • Chanelle Gregory

      Online shopping is good and it is really hassling free. But sometimes I pity those salesladies, guards and other folks who might lose their job if everyone will choose to shop online and no longer visit malls. For sure malls will cut their labor and focus on online selling instead.

  8. Jodi Thil

    Wow! Thanks, Hilary. You taught me how to purchase things for way cheaper than I’d been doing previously! It’s not easy, especially for beginners. Thanks! love love

  9. Candis Melton

    What I like on eBay is that you can buy items around the world. I purchased stuff from Asia. You must pay the shipping fee, but it’s all worth it once you get the items.

  10. Joss Butler

    I let my girlfriend read this article, and I’m just staring at her. I watched her laughing and smiling like a crazy woman. Lol.

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