Bogus shopping sites getting slicker

An increasing number of fake sites look like legitimate online retailers. — Dreamstime/TNS

An increasing number of fake sites look like legitimate online retailers. — Dreamstime/TNS

TOKYO: Fake websites disguised as genuine online shopping sites to swindle visitors out of their money have become more sophisticated. 

Fraudulent websites previously tended to show suspicious signs such as offering extremely low prices. But with such signs becoming less evident, an increasing number of fake sites look like legitimate online retailers. That has prompted relevant entities to take measures such as setting up hotlines for customers to report scams. 

“New sites emerge one after another while we’re asking for such sites to be deleted. We’re tired of being bothered by them,” said an employee of Hatoya, a motorcycle retailer based in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, who is in charge of the company’s online shopping site. 

About four years ago, Hatoya first found a website disguised as its site after receiving an inquiry from a customer saying, “The ordered product hasn’t arrived.” The fake site, claiming to be Hatoya’s, carried images of products that are believed to have been copied from the company’s genuine site.

Credit The Japan News/ANN

Since then, more than 70 fake websites disguised as Hatoya’s have been detected. The company has been forced to deal with inquiries almost daily from customers who made purchases without knowing the site was fake. Most of them were bilked out of a few thousand yen for products such as gloves or motorcycle parts. 

Hatoya has asked the provider of a search engine not to list the fake sites and filed a report with police. The company has also put a warning on its website, but even so, fake sites have continued to emerge, it said. 

Busy handling inquiries 

Suitcase retailer Unido Inc in Koto Ward, Tokyo, has also received nearly 50 inquires, such as about undelivered products, since around last autumn after a fake site emerged carrying images of products and company information copied from the company’s site. 

Based on accounts of its customers, the company ran searches with product brand names and words like “lowest price” and “discount.” It then learned that such searches likely lead to a fake site that looks exactly like its genuine site. 

“If this situation continues, it will undermine the trust in our business,” a Unido official said. 

According to the Japan Cybercrime Control Centre, an incorporated organisation comprising police, security firms and other entities, scam sites could previously be identified from displays of extremely low prices, such as half the market value, and sloppy Japanese, among other features. Recently, however, such features are less present on fake sites, making it more difficult to detect them. 

The Japan Direct Marketing Association says the number of complaints it receives related to fake sites has been on the decline after hitting a peak of 3,829 in fiscal 2013, but scam methods have become sophisticated. The association has continued to take such complaints, which totalled more than 900 in fiscal 2017. 

“Skills of fraudsters have improved as there have been more websites that look like copies of genuine sites,” said Shuichi Yashiro, head of the association’s consumer counselling office. 

“It is also necessary to take precaution such as confirming phone numbers given on the sites before placing orders.” — The Japan News/Asia News Network