An investigation by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has revealed that eight fraudulent online retailers used a residential address in Abbotsford, and victims lost hundreds of dollars for non-existent or inferior-quality products.
The BBB said they began receiving complaints and reports on Scam Tracker in February of this year about the websites.
Queries with the City of Abbotsford revealed that there were no business licences issues for the specific address or for the following businesses: Lemon Dresses, Comfyfree, Dress Stars, Modaboxs, Wearing Pearl.com, Instylewaye, Chicgoby and Theinnstyle Clothing.
The BBB said their investigation also revealed that the scammers hijacked the home address for a B.C. resident who has no connection to any of the businesses, and used it on the websites for several months.
The agency said victims of the shady retailers come from across North America. In Canada, the BBB received complaints from B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
In the U.S., reports came from states such as Washington, California, Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Connecticut, New York, Florida and Massachusetts.
The complaints and Scam Tracker reports primarily mentioned issues with long delivery times or no delivery, challenges connecting with the businesses to process a refund, and poor customer service. Victims lost between $80 to $300.
The BBB said that a New York consumer who spent over $200 on Dress Stars wrote: “I ordered merchandise [and] was sent an email with an order number. When I went to check on my shipping, it does not have my email or order and there is no contact phone number.”
The BBB said that since the start of the investigation, one of the businesses, Chicgoby, has changed the address on their website to a location in Poland.
BBB found that the new address belongs to a footwear wholesaler named Sinda Wolka Kosowska, which seems to have no connections to Chicgoby. Also, the website for Comfyfree is no longer active.
In July, the agency warned about scammers using residential addresses on their websites to appear more reputable. They sometimes use the address of a vacant lot or a residential property that has been listed for rent or sale.
“Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of fraudulent websites have been created to lure in consumers who have increased their shopping online,” said Karla Laird, manager for community and public relations at BBB.
“Scammers continue to develop sophisticated schemes that not only victimize online shoppers, but also innocent members of the public and legitimate businesses.”
Among the tips recommended by the BBB to avoid such online-shopping scams are:
• Know the normal price range of the item you want to purchase and be wary if you see it available elsewhere at a steeply discounted price.
• Double-check the business address – if it pops up as a residential address or a vacant property, or is linked to another business, it could be fraudulent.
• Double-check the business ratings at BBB.org.
• Use a credit card, which not only provides additional protections, but makes it easier to later dispute charges.
• If you are the victim of a scam, report the experience to BBB Scam Tracker.