What are Amazon unauthorized purchase scams?

Privacy news
5 mins
Skull on a virtual shopping cart.

Scammers are nearly ubiquitous on online marketplaces, and Amazon is no exception. From hilariously misspelled emails to eerily convincing phone calls, these scams come in many forms and grow more elaborate by the day. And one scam in particular that’s becoming worryingly common now is the Amazon unauthorized purchase scam

It starts off simple: The would-be victim receives a scam call or phishing email from “Amazon”, informing them that a pricey item has been purchased through their Amazon account. To avoid being charged for this alleged transaction, they would have to call a specific number or click a link to contact “customer support”. 

Of course, these are really just scammers impersonating Amazon representatives—who’ll convince the user to divulge their account details and other personal data. Once this information is provided, the scammers will be able to make actual, fraudulent purchases through the user’s account or credit card. And there lies the cruel irony of this scam: In trying to rectify a completely bogus purchase, the poor user is now going to fall victim to the real thing.

How to identify an unauthorized purchase scam

With scams constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated over time, it’s not always easy to tell what’s really legit. But as a rule of thumb, here are some common things to look out for:

If it’s an email…

Verify the sender’s email address

Is the email address actually from the brand it’s claiming to be, or just attempting to imitate its format? Are there any misspellings? Does it contain a strange mix of letters and numbers? If so, it’s more than likely to be fake. 

Examine its content

Go over everything with a fine-tooth comb, including the email’s subject line and images. Weird logos and spelling or grammatical errors—especially regarding your name, account username, or the service in question—are dead giveaways. And while you’re at it, avoid opening any links or attachments as they may contain malware, or direct you to fraudulent websites designed to steal your credentials if you attempt to log in.

If it’s a phone call…

Cross-check the number

If the number is anything but the service’s official customer support number (Amazon’s is 1-888-280-4331), you should be on guard. This is especially if the number has a preceding country code, as those are highly likely to be scammers.

Be wary of the information being requested

Customer support should never be asking for highly sensitive information over the phone, such as your bank account and credit card details, passwords, and social security number. If you’re ever asked to install an app or file on your device, it’s safe to conclude that you’re dealing with a bona fide scammer, as doing so can leave you vulnerable to hacking and data theft. Any questions along these lines should immediately put you on high alert—remember, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

And in general…

When in doubt, go directly to the source. Log in to your account on the Amazon website, check your purchase history, and if need be, contact customer support via the site. That way, you know you’re seeing the real deal.

What to do if you find an Amazon unauthorized purchase scam

Whether you’re certain it’s a scam or just don’t want to take any chances, the best thing to do is to report it. 

Amazon’s reporting system covers a range of reports tailored to the mode of suspicious activity (via phone call/email/text, unsolicited packages, or gift card fraud). For the former, there are different options depending on how you may have responded to the potential scam. After the report has been made, simply block the sender’s email or number so they won’t be able to contact you after.

If the scam has already occurred, it’s advisable to report the matter to your local authorities. If you’re in the U.S., you can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), either via their website or their hotline 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Other common Amazon scams

“Suspicious activity detected” alerts

Designed to incite urgency, this email scam appears as a warning that there has been “suspicious activity” on your account—and that it may even be blocked! The email claims that to “retrieve” or “verify” your account, you’ll have to click on an embedded link and fill in your Amazon login details… which would, of course, be promptly stolen by scammers.

Fake prizes, bonuses, or gifts

This works in much the same way as other email scams on this list, though this time, you might be told that you’ve won some money, are eligible for a prize, or even that your accumulated Amazon points are about to expire. The goal is the same: To get you to click a fraudulent “redemption” link and provide your account details.

Buy gift cards for someone important

Received an urgent plea for Amazon gift cards from an unfamiliar number or email address, that’s claiming to be your boss/family member? You guessed it—that’s a scam. Luckily, this is pretty easily verified: Just reach out to your actual boss or relative to confirm if they’ve really sent that through.

Tech support impostors

Scammers posing as Amazon tech support may call or email unwitting users, telling them that their account has issues or may have been compromised. In order to save their account, the user may be persuaded to give up their details or install fraudulent third-party software on their device.

Failed delivery

This scam is slightly different in that it targets Amazon sellers directly. The scammer will place an order, then claim they didn’t receive the item in hopes of getting a refund. Luckily, this is much less of an issue nowadays as most sellers opt for track-and-trace postage.

“Alternative” payment methods

On the flip side, this scam targets Amazon buyers by trying to convince them to pay on a different platform. The scammers may try to sweeten the deal by offering discounts and other incentives, but once the transaction has been completed, will disappear entirely so the buyer never gets their item or their money back. And in these cases, Amazon will be unable to help, since the transaction took place outside of their platform.

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FAQ: About Amazon unauthorized purchase scams

Will Amazon refund unauthorized purchases?
How can you tell if an Amazon email is real?
Does Amazon send security alert emails?
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