BALTIMORE — A fake website is finding victims through targeted ads.
Keena Antonelli had been looking for a blow-up kayak for her upcoming camping trip.
While she was on Facebook one day, she saw an ad for a kayak at a lower price than many others on the market.
The company name said Intex, a California inflatable pool and sporting goods company, which Antonelli had heard of. She clicked the link, found one she liked, and went to checkout.
“I put in my credit card information, mailing information, everything. The screen kind of hung for a minute and I thought, well, this is weird, and then I got a pop-up message that said your transaction cannot be processed with this card,” said Antonelli.
Thinking something was up with her credit card, she logged into her account, and saw an unauthorized charge for $111 from PINGWILD.
“So then I went back to the website and that’s when I noticed the actual URL is SALE.INTEXCS.com and not just INTEX,” Antonelli said.
The fake website is a nearly identical copycat of the legitimate website except the URL is slightly different, the business address is a random home in Pennsylvania, and the phone number is one digit off from the real one.
“I googled the URL and saw other people have had the same problem with this company, but you don’t realize it’s a fraudulent website until you’ve already gone through the process,” said Antonelli.
And the scam doesn’t stop there.
Antonelli disputed the credit card charge, but the fake company countered stating they sent her the product and they have proof.
“I received, probably a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, random sunglasses. They were fake Ray Bans from China,” Antonelli said.
Angie Barnett, president and CEO with the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland suspects this is also a brushing scam.
“We receive lightweight items in the mail that we never order and those items establish a buying history or order history. Even though I didn’t order it or pay for it, you can substantiate the customer received it, hence it helps drive customer reviews,” said Barnett.
The culprits know customers will dispute the charge, so they try to cover their tracks.
The real INTEX seems to be aware of these copycat sites and posted a warning on their Facebook page over a year ago, however, Barnett said there’s not much they can do to stop scammers.
“It just takes a scammer two seconds to open up a new website and do the same thing over and over again. So as quickly as you shut them down, they come right back up,” Barnett said.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii emailed the address listed on the fake website, but it bounced back. The phone number is disconnected.
A month after providing her billing information to the fake website, Antonelli is still fighting the credit card charge, but she feels confident she has enough evidence to prove it was fraudulent.
Here are the BBB's tips on spotting fake websites and spam emails:
- Check the domain name. Scammers often mimic sites you already know and trust. Scam websites might purposely misspell familiar website titles to appear legitimate, and scam email addresses often do the same. A scam email address might look like firstname.lastname@example.org while a legitimate email might look like email@example.com
- Legitimate companies will not force you to visit their site to access their message, nor will they make you download attachments.
- Ensure the website address begins with https:// and check the address bar for a not secure message.
- Check the age of a website’s domain. Use a website like https://whois.domaintools.com/ to check whether a website was established recently.
- Check for an about page and a contact us section and ensure the phone numbers and email addresses are both legitimate and responsive.