Every year, millions of consumers get ripped off online.

This regrettably includes some of our own customers.

[[Though we won’t claim no one has ever felt like they got a bad deal from CubicZirconia.com, what’s 100x more likely IMHO and experience is that our customers have a bad experience buying something else online from another seller that isn’t actually a real business]].

Buying online from a new seller can feel like a crap shoot.

In recent years, the bad players in the internet biz game have made online shopping such a tremendous risk that as a result, we arguably have to work harder these days than we’ve ever had to work to make a first-time-customer sale in the decades since CubicZirconia.com first went online in 1999.

(RANDOM ASIDE YOU MAY WISH YOU SKIPPED OVER: Don’t cry for us, ok? Our jobs are fun and we can’t imagine a business being much more difficult than the fax machine salesman doing his rounds back in the year 1980; imagine how difficult it would have been to sell that product? You tell your prospect he or she can ‘send a fax to Cleveland’ but he/she didn’t even know another person who even had a fax machine to receive that faxed message!)

REAL FACTS: Shoppers today are increasingly suspicious of internet ads.

As well they should be.

One of the biggest reasons to be suspicious of internet ads is that an unhealthy percentage of the ads in your social feed and the small display advertisements you see floating around the web are COMPLETELY FICTION:

  • offering products that don’t actually exist 
  • from “companies” that are purely made-up 
  • created for the sole purpose of getting your money for nothing.

A consumer sees a great-looking product and/or a great deal in an ad online.

      Money changes hands.
         But the buyer never gets what they ordered!

This is true in all sorts of product types-- and unfortunately we in the jewelry biz have our share of scammers in the jewelry industry, too. That link goes to an earlier post we did on “11 (unfortunately) common jeweler deceptions- and how to avoid them”.  Today, though, we’re gonna focus on equipping our readers to spot a dookie of a “deal” on the web that’s more than likely too good to be true (because it’s actually just poo). 

As a primarily online retailer and jeweler, we feel qualified to share some tips to help our customers avoid getting ripped off when buying ANYTHING online-- but especially we want to protect them from scammers that only PRETEND to have jewelry for sale, but really just have a pig in a poke…or worse, an empty bag of smoke).

You may wonder why this ‘fact vs fiction’ lesson is necessary.

One reason we do it: we’d rather you spent some of your discretionary budget this year with CubicZirconia.com-- and we’d hate for you to lose any of that money to a dumb mistake when you could give it to us and I can save money towards taking my wife to Tahiti.

And number two, not long ago my mom told me she’d bought something online but it was never received (the idea for today’s article was born on the pain-in-my-ass day when I made the dumb decision to waste half a day in an attempt to help get her money back from what turned out to be a fake retailer that sold her a product they didn’t even have-- an order that they had no intention of ever shipping to her). 

Mr. Cubic Zirconia here, dear reader. 

Scammers like the one that got my mom are all over the web (especially with social media ads, and I’ll explain why shortly). Let me take a crack at answering how these scammers operate-- and tip you off so you aren’t ripped off the next time. Today’s article will help you recognize a fake pretend “business” advertising online-- trying to game uneducated customers out of their money without providing any real value, a fake product, a crappy product-- or worse, no product at all.

Did you know that it’s possible for a fake “company” to pose as an online retailer, promise the world, offer a money back guarantee, ship later than promised (or even not at all), provide crappy products (or even no product at all), and then ignore your customer service requests-- and still make lots of money?

Unfortunately it’s true:

  • Entirely possible
  • Easily possible
  • Even perfectly legal.

Yeah, there are places where taking less than $100 from a customer and delivering no product isn’t even illegal. No different than gambling websites that are legal in some countries but illegal to run as a business in others.

A real online ad selling a fake product that doesn’t exist and won’t be shipped.

And it might not even be illegal where the scammer lives and/or does business out of!

A real online ad selling a fake product that doesn’t exist and won’t be shipped.

The question is…


(if you’ve ever bought something off a single social media ad, you may already know the BIGGEST REASON and general answer if you, too, went down the rabbit hole of trying to get someone in authority to help you recoup your lost money for a purchase that never arrives)

The more important question might be:
HOW do we make sure this doesn't happen to us (again)?

WARNING: Some bathroom humor 💩 may be involved, and I apologize for that in advance. My dislike for these scammy stinkers is like diarrhea (I can’t hold it in).

Let’s say just like my mom, you bought some toilet paper online from a discount deal ad on Facebook.

Hey, don’t judge. Let him or her among us who hasn’t seen an ad floating by on the web or socials that grabbed your attention and demanded a click, let them post the first troll.

Besides-- it might have only been during the pandemic-- but a lotta people have bought TP on the web. During that time, you might remember feeling like you had to stock up or you might be SH*T OUT OF LUCK-- literally.

Anyway, at home in good ol’ quarantine, my mom clicked through from the social media ad showing pictures of toilet paper rolls available on the cheap, was linked to a website she’d never seen but that looked normal, and proceeded to use her credit card to make the purchase. Later, she told me that she more or less forgot all about it until weeks later she remembered-- ‘hey what happened to my toilet paper order?’

There you are, visiting the porcelain throne, pants down and ready to do your part to feed the sewer gators…and you realize you’re out of toilet paper.

I won’t lie.
  I’ve been that guy.

What seemed like a simple online transaction now takes on a sinister note.

Was this an honest mistake? Or did you get scammed?

You resist the urge to fire back an email reply to the emailed receipt you got on the day of your purchase that says: “Hey shitheads, where’s my TP?”.

Instead, you politely write “To whom it may concern: My order from 6 weeks ago never arrived. This stinks as I was promised quick delivery for an in-stock product. Can you tell me when I will receive my extra-soft, unscented 3-ply? It was for the discount bulk package of toilet paper. My address is 123 Schitt’s Creek.”

By that time, even solving the case of WHO sold her the missing toilet paper was a bit of a mystery. The email support request bounced back “unknown”. From there, I was able to find a website. Visited the site. Offline. Re-checked the emailed receipt. There wasn’t a phone number listed there. But the email receipt had a physical address. Looked it up, but it was obviously a fake address after a copy-paste of the digits in Google Maps.

After a bit of sleuthing around online, it became clear that “internet business” who sold my mom a big bulk package of discount toilet paper was gone, vanished, vamoose, split with no forwarding address-- three TP sheets to the wind?


For a purchase of less than a hundred bucks, I was inclined to stop there.

Still, I happened to mention the situation to a friend. And they said something to the effect that: “Well, your mom is getting up there in years and scammers take advantage of older people.” And in a valiant effort to prove that my smart, capable mother made a mistake that anyone could have made--- I went further down the rabbit hole of trying to identify who had scammed her and how.

WHOOSH 8 hours later, I had a sneaking suspicion that whoever did it was gone, never to return. I didn’t have any luck identifying the culprits (but what I learned about HOW they did it, and how you dear reader can avoid the same mistake, I’ve detailed below).

And by then I was so invested in the process that I took another couple hours to use the provided website she purchased from to make some negative reviews and report the fake company with the Federal Trade Commission. Figured I’d help someone else not get scammed in the future-- but the truth was that the scam was over.

Whoever ran the scam made a ton of real sales of fake products within a few weeks-- and then vanished.

And only the bad reviews, social media complaints and FTC reports remained behind.

Here’s the BIGGEST SECRET TO NOT GETTING SCAMMED WHEN BUYING ONLINE: this kind of scam works in the 21st century because anyone who is pretty good at digital advertising platforms can put an advertisement in front of millions of people in a relatively short period of time and make thousands of sales.

However, scams cannot go on forever in their current form.

  • Unhappy reviews come in on external websites not controlled by the fake biz
    (and thus can’t be hidden).

  • Media publishing platforms get complaints and start turning the screws on the advertiser to follow through on their promises or take a hike.

  • In some countries, consumer rights’ groups and the government entities responsible for protecting customers receive complaints (and start an investigation if there are enough disgruntled buyers).

So the #1 thing you want to look for is often signs of longevity.

Here I’m gonna give you some tips I’ve used to avoid being scammed online, and some tips I learned researching what options my mom might have to hold the assholes accountable.

  • 1. Avoid buying from any company online that can’t get a merchant account

  • Any legitimate online business-to-consumer retailer website should allow you to pay with what today are considered standard options: credit card, debit card, Paypal.  

    If you’re being told you can only get that super-attractive deal by paying with a non-cancellable, non-refundable form of payment like a wire transfer or money order-- I would think really hard and investigate much further before you buy.

    Like a stinky thunder dump that won’t flush, that doesn’t pass the ol’ smell test.

  • 2. Avoid buying from any company that only seems to advertise in one online channel.

  • You saw their Facebook video ad and the product looks super cool. Before you buy what they’re supposedly offering you, look to see if the company has advertisements in another channel. You can search the website URL they are giving you on a search engine, and while you’re at it search the addy on a few social media sites too. Biggies to quickly search include Facebook, Instagram, Google, Youtube, TikTok.

    If you can’t find them elsewhere, it’s because they don’t want to be found.

    Translation: haven’t been around long, and don’t plan to be around much later than is required to grab a bunch of buyers and bounce with plenty of bail money in the unlikely event they ever get caught.

  • 3. Avoid buying from any company that doesn’t have a history of content creation and news sharing

  • At minimum, a legit company in this day and age will have one or more social media channels where they regularly pass out news, info and offers-- somewhere where you can scroll backwards in time and see posts going back weeks, months, years. For our jewelry shop, that’s Cubic Zirconia on Facebook. We aren’t really sure our organic Facebook page brings us any new customers, but we post regularly, it shows we’re alive, and there’s a degree of credibility added when running paid advertisements from a long-published organic social media profile that savvy customers know about.

    Blog posts and archived email newsletters hosted on a website are two other ways a legit biz might be able to provide this proof that they’re consistently there for the long haul-- day in and day out selling and serving happy customers (rather than quickly pumping and dumping unsatisfied customers with one made-up company/product, before changing gears to do it again in another place or another way).

    It’s super easy to create a new Facebook or Instagram page in a day (or hire someone to do so). It’s much more involved to make posts into the past to pretend that the profile has been active for longer than this week.

  • 4. Avoid buying from companies that give you pause when you type in a search engine “[product name] scam” or “[company name] scam"

  • Another simple but effective way to confirm a deal you’re considering is on the up-and-up is to  check what results show up online for a search engine type-in search of the company or product name preceding the words “review” or “scam”. 

    Does anything you see or read give you pause? I’m not saying a company needs to be perfect in order to work for you-- just see the awful reviews of most airlines-- but companies can’t easily hide a historical trend of shitty reviews. A handful here and there are to be expected, but when you run into review sites without a single good review and a slew of dozens or hundreds of bad ones…that’s a sign to stay away. I don’t know when the reviews for the “company” that sold my mm the TP first went online. This step might not have saved her. After all, the scammers got in, made thousands of sales and digitally skipped town (so to speak) before any of their buyers even realized they had been scammed-- or thought to place a negative review online.

    Personally, this step has saved me from a couple purchases I’m now confident that I would have regretted. If they’re scammers, eventually the online debris of people they’ve lied to and stolen from will catch up to them-- and that’s when they’ll change it up: new company name, new website, new domain name, new ads, new social profiles, new suckers. So let’s discuss a bit more of how to identify these jerkoffs by how they operate.

  • 5. Avoid buying from companies that don’t publish a phone number online-- or do but don’t answer the phone during posted business hours.

  • Pump and dump scammers are clever but they’re often inherently lazy. With each new scam, they’re gonna be doing their thing for a short period of time. They aren’t typically going to bother with a phone number on the website. Remember, the whole reason this kind of scam works in the 21st century is that anyone who is pretty good at digital advertising platforms, can put an advertisement in front of millions of people in a relatively short period of time. 

    I figure the scammer thinks about it like this: either the herd of customers brought in by their online ads will buy or they won’t. Since they have no intention of actually providing the product you paid for-- or intend to provide something of far less quality to what you were promised-- they don’t care what happens, so long as they sell more than their advertising costs and make a profit. 

    Translation: for a scammer, it makes little difference to get that “one extra sale” that might come from a fence-sitter hoping to be reassured with a positive phone call. Contrast that with a company like CubicZirconia.com where most of our sales happen online-- but a good experience on a 10 minute phone call for one prospect who decides to buy might just produce enough profit to pay the salary of that employee for the whole week. 

    You think we answer our phone number number during business hours? You’d better believe it. No matter how enticing the online ad might be, a published phone number that you call to check but no one answers is suspect. Another step that could have saved my mom some money. No number? Call and no answer multiple times? Tell ‘em scat! Begone dung-beetles, dontcha come back here no more!

  • 6. Avoid buying from unsecure websites.

  • If you’re shopping from a new website-- especially one that you clicked through to from a social media or internet display advertisement-- one of the quickest yet effective ways to check its legitimacy is to look at the website address bar. If the website is secure, it will begin with HTTPS rather than HTTP or just WWW.

    Is it difficult for a scammer to get that secure site proof? Not honesty hard, no. But when a website is only gonna be up and scamming people for a week or two, they often won’t bother with the extra things most consumers won’t even notice are missing. So if you do notice it, that alone ought to be a reason to avoid putting your credit card details into that website (I can confirm that this step alone would have saved my mom from “The Case of The Shitty, Fraudulent So-Called Toilet Paper Seller from Facebook”).

    FYI, identity thieves who aren't transacting your purchase but getting your bank or credit card details in order to defraud you in another way often use non-secure "dummy" websites-- especially ones that look like websites you might trust. Example: AMAZ0N.com with a zero and not an 'o'? Suspect as hell.

  • 7. Avoid buying from websites hosted on new domain names-- or domain names that will expire soon.

  • You can use tools like the Whois Lookup domain tracker to discover the age, owner, and expiration date of a domain name, along with other essential details. A legit business doesn’t just register its domain name for this year. They pay for it into the future-- and thus will have an expiration date further into the future. And the older the domain name is, the more valuable it is and the less likely it’s gonna be the home of an online scam. 

    For example, our primary business domain name is www.CubicZirconia.com and it first went online in 1999. A Whois lookup will also show you that we’re paid up with the internet registry through 2032 as of writing. Translation: Been here awhile, not going anywhere. Scammers selling in spurts of a few weeks aren’t gonna bother wasting money paying a website’s hosting space in advance years into the future. After all, in just weeks they plan to be offline and counting their ill-gotten booty!

    Are there new businesses that just went online this year who make a quality product or service-- and deserve your money? Sure. But they’ll tick some of these other boxes that a product pictured on an internet ad with a “too good to be true” deal won’t be able to if you really spend a few minutes to investigate.

    What it’s Like to Go Down the Rabbit Hole to Investigate Online Ecommerce Scammers

    These shitty scammers rely on the fact that very few people will even TRY to hold them accountable. I'm no fraud expert, but I suspect this pain threshold is much of the reason why smaller purchases are often more likely to be a scam online than some bigger transactions.

    Frankly, most of these scams don’t take enough money from any one “buyer” victim to break any international laws, or interest international authorities.

    It’s a $20-100 widget usually. 

    And they make it very hard to find them as early as a few weeks after your purchase.

    Poof, they’ve disappeared! And because they know they’re going to ghost you, they can make it really hard to find the man behind the curtain that ripped you off.

    But let’s say you’re a glutton for punishment like me trying to track down the turd burglars who stole my mom’s money for promised toilet paper rolls bought in bulk at a discount online off a Facebook ad-- little squares to spare that never got there.

    THINK BEFORE YOU DO, especially if it's less than a hundred US dollars.

    You’re already out the money you spent, you didn’t get what you paid for and the turd movie in this shitty trilogy? It’s really easy to waste more time trying to figure out how you got scammed -- and who did it-- plus try to ‘report’ the theft, than the time you’d have recouped the lost wages simply by working instead.

    Ask me how I know. :(

    They only took my mom for less than $100 USD.

    Yet the monies defrauded from customers adds up when with modern marketing tactics the scammer can make thousands of sales within a week or less…never ship a single thing, take a few shut-down steps and walk away to do it again later with just a few start-back-up steps.

    That’s because the internet scammer can simply make a name change, copy the old website to a new domain name and internet server, and sign up to run ads using a new email address-- and advertisements can be up and running on Meta, Google, Snap, or TikTok for a new doohickey next week. 

    The trickiest part is getting a new merchant account to collect credit and debit cards-- but the scammers have figured that out, too (not-so-big surprise: the how they do it involves identity theft and getting a merchant account in the name of yet another victim).

    Problems with an investigation? It’s not exactly difficult these days to move jurisdictions (either physically or digitally or both).

    Scammers say ‘Sayonara suckers!’

    A week, tops, to re-do a bunch of setup steps-- and they can be back in business.

    Same scam, different packaging, and nobody’s the wiser.

    Don’t fall for it, friends.

    Lesson learned? 

    I hope so. 

    Gratefully yours,

    Mr. Cubic Zirconia

    Sources: U.S. Federal Trade Commission articles and guides (various); Wall Street Journal “How to Shop Online and Not Get Ripped Off” ; USA Today “How to Avoid Getting Scammed Online” ; Consumer Reports (various publications).