Connor McCallum

Buyer Beware: The Great Instagram Scam of 2020

(Photo by Kate Torline on Unsplash)

On Instagram, users are purchasing goods, only to discover that they’re victims of a complex discounting scam.

 

Over the past few years, scammers have increasingly taken to Instagram to employ their bait-and-switch methods on unsuspecting consumers.

They often advertise quality-looking products, only for them to arrive as low-quality knock-offs. For example, one poor soul spent $400 on a rare pair of sneakers they never received, while another received a “junky stool” instead of a “Recliner Luxury Camp Chair-camping chair.”

Zoe Schiffer, a writer at The Verge, recounted her friend’s firsthand experience with an Instagram scammer. The friend, Jessamyn, bought a pair of boots she saw in an Instagram ad, only to receive shoes that were “a different size, color, and material than the ones originally advertised.” Jessamyn emailed the company anticipating an easy fix; after all, this is the era of quick-response, 24/7 customer service.

However, not all sellers in the marketplace have subscribed to the new age of service, and Jessamyn happened to be dealing with one of them. This is the email she received:

Dear consumer,

We’re so sorry that you’re not satisfied with the items.

Will it be possible to give them to one of your friends as a gift? Or how about a discount as a way to make up for this?

If you return you will bear the expensive shipping fee. How about a big coupon code or 40% refund as a way to make up for this?

– Missgaki Customer Service

Explaining that an item is too expensive for return and offering a discount is a common type of fraud. A bold move, no less—how many people, after receiving one shitty item, would view getting another shitty item as the solution?

After explaining she didn’t want a discount, but rather a full refund, Jessamyn received another email in the same light:

Dear consumer,

We’re so sorry that you’re not satisfied with the items.

If you return you will bear the expensive shipping fee $20usd. Will it be possible to give it to others as a gift? Or how about a big coupon code or partial refund 20% as a way to make up for this?

Just a suggestion, if you prefer to return, we will go to the further step.

Looking forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

MJH

After supposedly around 30 emails, Jessamyn finally got $40 back—about half of what she paid for the shoes in the first place. For good measure, the seller also threw in a 20% discount for her next purchase.

It isn’t at all clear how much this particular seller has violated Instagram’s Community Guidelines. While the platform does have a policy against listings that misinterpret what is being sold, it is unclear how different a delivered item must be from the original ad to count as misrepresentation.

Even if the seller is deemed a violator of Instagram’s policies, the social media platform won’t do much beyond removing the advertisement and perhaps shutting down the account. Even if this were to occur, there’s nothing in place stopping the scammer making a new profile and starting the cycle all over again.

The Verge asked Instagram for comment on the matter, to which a spokesperson said: “We want everyone on Instagram to have a positive ads experience. Counterfeit goods and fraudulent activity hurt our entire community and have no place on Instagram.”

At the end of the day, these scams prey on our own consumerism—everything should be readily available, cheap, and delivered within a matter of days. Sometimes we don’t care to perform due diligence on the seller, not just out of laziness or ignorance but because we want to believe we genuinely found such a product at a such a price.

 

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