ChainMail | Online Purchases

How I got scammed

ChainMail | Online Purchases

COVID spurred a boom in e-commerce sales to $870 billion last year. That represents about 13% of all U.S. retail sales, a 50.5% increase from 2019. Nearly half of all apparel sales are now online. 

Online retailing is efficient for businesses and convenient for customers, but it brings a risk of fraud. Here’s how I — your otherwise skeptical supply chain correspondent — fell for an internet scam.

I’m a fan of Brooks running shoes and wanted to replace a favorite pair of black/blue/nightlife Ghost 13s. Since Brooks had updated to the Ghost 14 model in different colors, I went searching online for leftover Ghost 13s, knowing that Brooks, Amazon, shoe retailers, or a reseller might still have a pair in my size.

First mistake: I didn’t limit my search to official websites like or I did a Google search of the shoes I wanted and perused websites that popped up. Of course I was hoping for a bargain on the $130 sneakers and found what I wanted: Brooks appeared to be offering discontinued Ghost 13s in my size and color for just $78! The website looked official — indistinguishable at a glance from the legit one — and set off no alarm bells. I never bothered to check the web address, which actually was a poorly named fake.

Second mistake: A deal too good to be true probably is. The fake Brooks site offered free shipping on shoes practically half off the retail price. The website added: “Because of the limited stock, each customer can only buy 1 pair of shoes at a time.” Scarcity added another enticement to cheat the gullible. 

Third mistake: I successfully completed the purchase by credit card, but the transaction for my American running shoes was processed in Hong Kong. I foolishly shrugged this off, assuming I was buying via a distributor. 

Fourth mistake: The fake sellers completed their scam by sending a confirmation email. It looked authentic and was clean of misspellings but there was a tipoff. The email came from one email but a notation at the bottom had a different email. So they apparently forgot to update their fake template when switching from one bogus address to another.

I finally woke up to the hustle about a week later when the shoes hadn’t arrived and a vision of that Hong Kong address flashed in my mind. I rechecked the email and immediately recognized the fraudulent addresses. I also noticed for the first time a separate receipt from PayPal, which processed the credit card transaction. It identified the seller as a Hong Kong company not Seattle-based Brooks Running Inc.   

I called my credit card company, which canceled the transaction, and then called Brooks. The company confirmed that it battles scam artists, as do other sneaker companies. Thieves create fake websites that mirror the look and functionality of legit firms. Sometimes they mail shoddy fake versions of the shoes or send an empty box. On its website, under the heading “fraud protection,” Brooks notes: “Don’t be fooled! Although Brooks works hard to shut down imposter web sites, be careful to only shop on legitimate web sites.”

The hucksters are clever. The fake site even includes a street address in Los Angeles, which corresponds with FrontRunners L.A., a legitimate shoe retailer. FrontRunners confirmed to me that scam artists attached its address to a fake Brooks site. The retailer said it is trying to get such sites shut down.

Read the complete Issue 9 of ChainMail here.

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