R. Paul Wilson On: Deals That Seem Too Good To Be True

R. Paul Wilson On: Deals That Seem Too Good To Be True

In the last year or so there seems to have been a dramatic increase in online advertising that offers amazing items for incredible prices but is in fact a complete scam.

Imagine a glossy video ad that has all the elements of a brand-new device but is so cheap that you are easily drawn to click ‘buy’ before really analysing who is selling and why.

A Social Media Minefield

About a year ago, I searched online for some new cargo shorts and a few hours later – as if by magic – an ad for exactly what I was looking for popped up on that popular social media site we should all stop using.

I opened the ad, watched the promo, looked at the catalogue and picked out a pair of shorts which arrived within about three months, despite selecting ‘express shipping’!

By this time, I had danced with the payment system to try and reclaim my funds but to no avail and had already bought another pair and gone on the trip I’d planned.

But when they arrived, they were so badly made that it was almost funny and while they were not expensive, I felt I’d been careless and was suitably annoyed with myself.

But lesson learned, right?


About a week ago, I did it again and this time I knew immediately that I’d made the same mistake.

The Signs

Social media shopping scams

As with all deception, the signs are not always present or easily apparent but generally speaking, these types of online fakes have a few hallmarks you might notice.

The main tip-off tends to be the name of the company that often seems to be the result of grabbing a random fistful of scrabble tiles.

The names make little sense, have no meaning in any language and are probably one of thousands of hit-and-run identities used to make sales before being banned or shut down only to pop up again with the same content, same bogus deals and same graphics but a different bullshit name.

The text used to advertise may also be very poor English and this is another giveaway unless the company states it is not based in an English-speaking country.

Scam ads tend to force the impression that they are in the UK or the US and not in China (or elsewhere) but this deception is often a tip-off for the greater lie (that you will not receive what they’re claiming to sell).

The price is also a dead give-away on some items.

For example, I once searched for silicone horror masks and my social media exploded with ads for incredible masks at bargain prices with videos that looked like a scene from Mission Impossible as old men, demons and Frankenstein monsters removed their faces to reveal an entirely different human underneath.

And the price was around $30 (plus shipping), so who could resist?

On this occasion, I was not remotely tempted but lots of people fell for these fake ads.

Knowing how silicone masks work and how much they cost, it was easy to see through this.

But many people didn’t and there’s a rich vein of pissed-off Halloween fanatics who received thin, unpainted latex masks with cheap nylon hair stuck to eyebrows or beards.

The cargo shorts I bought were around $20 so cheaper than the pair I ultimately bought from a UK company but there were some subtle differences in the pair from China.

They would maybe fit a child, the buttons were not sewn where they were supposed to (and with very little thread) and the material would not be able to compete (in terms of quality and strength) with whatever you last blew your nose with.

They were so bad, they looked like I made them myself!

A sure-fire indicator you have fallen for a bogus ad is that after reading the website, the advertising and the online catalog in English (or your local language) changes to Chinese characters when your purchase completes.

This is not to say that all Chinese companies are all swindlers but if they present themselves as a Western company with Western locations and then switch at the last minute, you’re almost certainly not getting what you hoped for.

Stolen Sites

Many of these tip-offs require a little caution to notice but late night, after a few beers and a movie, it’s possible ‘yours truly’ might have recently fallen for an ad with a believable name, a funny but intriguing product and professional graphics, text and video.

The product appeared on my feed and in this case, bore no relation to any past searches or interests. 

It was a cooking item that claimed to help roast a chicken in half the time with a clever method for infusing flavour using a comical, almost phallic device similar to The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Turkey Stone
Image: TurkeyStone

It was intriguing enough to click on and from that moment I found myself watching a well-produced video with high-end graphics and a promise to send me one of the first models made.

So I clicked ‘BUY’ with confidence (thank you, beer!) and was perfectly happy until I completed my purchase and was told my funds had been sent to a Chinese company, whose name was written in Chinese characters.

Homer Simpson
Image: Nicepng


Right away, I knew this was all wrong, so I jumped onto my computer and searched the name of the product, which was in fact the exact name of the item they appear to have ripped off.

Sure enough, I found their recently funded Kickstarter with all of the elements that had been scrubbed and re-used by the bogus site, so I immediately contacted them to buy the real deal while raising a claim with the payment system.

I lost $40 in total and will receive either an entirely different item or a bad fake sometime in the future but hopefully I will also get the item I wanted from the people who made it and have alerted them to the rip-offs already being sold after their crowdfunding campaign.

I don’t hold out much hope for getting my funds back but now I’m secretly hoping that they send me a rip-off.

Although, since it’s supposed to be placed in a hot oven (inside a chicken) the chances I would do so are zero.

That said, if I receive the real McCoy I will happily report back with a side-by-side comparison.

Anyone Can Get Taken

Seriously, it’s not just an excuse.


We can’t be vigilant every second of every day and when beer or wine or whisky is a factor, our judgement can be easily swayed.

That being said, allow me a few words in my own defence: the name of the store was made up of two English words that did in fact go together so that particular tip-off didn’t exist and the click-through to the site revealed a professional presentation in perfect English so the ‘bad English’ tip-off was also absent.

The real lesson (for me) is to never buy anything advertised on any social media site because these platforms allow far too many obviously bogus ads to get through to their users and offer little to no protection before or after people fall for these scams.

Of course, I made this same resolution over a year ago when I received my comedy cargo shorts yet somehow managed to completely forget this in the cold light of my phone and in the wee small hours of the morning.