Thousands of consumers are being targeted by newly established websites offering closing-down sales, as shoppers look for good deals from businesses hit by the coronavirus fallout.
The PA news agency has found almost identical adverts on Facebook from two different websites, claiming they are being forced to shut down, and offering discounts of up to 70%.
After being alerted by PA, the social media giant booted the companies off its site.
“Fraudulent activity is not tolerated on our platforms and we have removed both pages for violation of our fraud and deception policies,” a spokesman said.
In a paid-for advert on Facebook which had been running since March 1, Coat London said: “We are very sad to announce that we are SHUTTING DOWN our website.”
In a separate advert, Age Of Rock, a rock-themed clothing site, said: “Even after lots of struggle and lots of effort, we are very sad to announce that we are CLOSING DOWN our store.”
The ads have racked up thousands of interactions from social media users, many complaining about the items they have been sent in the post.
Consumers should always exercise caution when buying from unfamiliar online retailers, particularly if you spot the use of time-pressure tactics such as closing-down sales to reel in customers, or if it looks like they are operating multiple near-identical sitesAdam French, Which?
One user posted on the Coat London ad: “Got a coat delivered on Thursday, it’s a pile of crap, looks like it work (sic) about £3 … got a feeling I will never get a refund … speaking with my bank at the moment to dispute the transaction.”
Another customer, who asked to remain anonymous, told PA that his bank had blocked what it thought was a suspicious transaction.
He later received three emails from Coat London asking him to complete his transaction. One offered a further 10% discount, he added.
Despite claims that the sites are having to shut down, a WhoIs Lookup, which reveals details of a website’s ownership and history, shows that both sites were only set up 58 days ago. Both companies’ Facebook pages contain no information that is more than a few weeks old.
Experts have warned that customers might be targeted by unscrupulous companies using the coronavirus pandemic for their own benefit.
Which? consumer rights expert Adam French told PA: “Consumers should always exercise caution when buying from unfamiliar online retailers, particularly if you spot the use of time-pressure tactics such as closing-down sales to reel in customers, or if it looks like they are operating multiple near-identical sites.
“If you are considering shopping from an online retailer found on a social media site, make sure you do your research to ensure the company can be trusted and scrutinise the returns policy before making a purchase.”
Both Coat London and Age Of Rock are registered at different addresses in the same street – Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. The “Our Story” sections of their websites are nearly identical.
Both businesses say they “started with our customers in mind”.
“Our mission is to provide an unparalleled shopping experience by delivering exceptional customer service and great merchandise at affordable prices!”
A Google search for that paragraph returns hundreds of other companies with the same description.
Alex Nicoll, from Staffordshire, told PA he is still waiting for his delivery from Coat London, after buying a jacket from the site.
According to a parcel tracking service, the package is being handled by Chinese delivery company Yanwen.
When PA emailed the contact address for Coat London, the news agency was sent a reply with the time listed in Japan Standard Time, which is used in Japan, Korea, parts of Russia and Indonesia.
We continue to invest in people and technology to identify and remove this content, and we urge people to report any suspicious content to usFacebook
Another company whose website lists the same Los Angeles address as Coat London is technology firm The Blank Labs.
One UK-based Blank Labs customer told PA he had spent £300 on five CCTV cameras from the company, three of which have since stopped working.
His neighbour also bought a camera, which has also broken, the customer told PA, asking not to be named.
Facebook said: “We continue to invest in people and technology to identify and remove this content, and we urge people to report any suspicious content to us.
“As part of this work, we have donated £3 million to Citizens Advice to deliver a new UK Scam Action Programme and set up a dedicated reporting tool, supported by a specialist internal operations team.”