It’s no secret that 2020 has presented a number of twists and turns in many aspects of our lives. Most notably, the global pandemic of COVID-19 has affected millions, disrupting the general population’s daily lives and forcing many to isolate. Shopping traffic has moved heavily online, with many retailers experiencing an uptick of fraudulent activity by way of fake but very realistic websites. The equestrian industry in particular has been targeted by numerous scams, where bogus sites steal product photography from well-known retailers to sell products. Several members of our EQLiving team have fallen for fake Facebook posts from apparently real brands that link to very realistic websites.
Premium performance retailer Dubarry of Ireland is one such brand that has experienced difficulties with their consumers being targeted by scammers. Equestrian Living sat down with Danny Hulse, general manager of Dubarry USA, to discuss the warning signs associated with online scams and how they affect the industry.
Q: How did you discover the increase in bogus sales for your brand?
A: We have encountered websites that pretend to be our factory outlet and websites that are general equestrian stores who ‘carry’ our brand as well as many other brands in our industry. I can’t speak for the other brands but it seems likely they have not authorized use of their imagery either. These sites are also actively targeting equestrians with paid social media ads. Some of these sites are brought to our attention by our customers.
Q. How do these websites carry out a scam? What can you do about it?
A. Bogus sites seek to sell based off a catalog of industry leading products with no intent to ship anything. They then string customers along with shipping delay notices until funds are long cleared. I imagine that a site can probably operate for weeks on a legitimate platform before consumers start to report suspected fraud to a card company. I have also been made aware by one customer in Canada of a company that sent her a no-brand (very cheap) jacket after she ordered what she said was an image of one of our jackets on a bogus site. The site claimed she had received the product as advertised, possibly to stretch out the confusion and delay the merchant account from being frozen.
Our only legal recourse is to report them for copyright and/or trademark infringement with the host company and with Facebook. However, it’s like playing a global game of whack-a-mole with server jurisdictions and sites popping up under new registrations
Q. What are your tips for protecting yourself against potential online scams?
- If the price looks too good to be true, go with your gut. Start digging deeper before you order, and don’t feel rushed. These sites may even use pressure tactics such as a countdown clock stating something like, “you only have X minutes to order before this offer expires.” This is designed to panic you into a purchase before you can do the research.
- If you get targeted through social media, check the public comments on their social media profile before looking at their website. Fake or suspicious sites often carry negative comments in their social feeds which are placed there by burned consumers warning other potential victims to stay away.
- Check the url address. For example, a known brand’s site should have the name of the brand directly before the .com.
- Check the contacts page on their website. If there is no physical address or no working phone number, that should be a big red flag.
- Try emailing a question and see what kind of answer you receive. Fake sites will often send a boilerplate response that doesn’t address your question or will even tell you there has been a delay on your order—even if you have not placed one yet.
- If you are still unsure, check to see if the website is listed as a dealer by the brand that makes the product you want to buy. For example, if you go to Dubarry.com you will be able to see a list of our dealers. Failing that, contact the brand directly to ask whether they supply the retailer whose website you are looking at. It’s always best to email the brand a link to the site you are concerned about, and preferably, the actual page that our product is offered on. They will appreciate learning about scams that can damage their brands.