Sunday, 5 December 2021

Tips to Spot Scam Wildlife Shopping Sites

Scams are all around especially online and it is often hard to tell scam websites from genuine ones. Scams relating to wildlife have increased dramatically recently as opportunistic scammers realise they can predate on the goodwill of people who are desperate to help the planet. In my last blog post I highlighted one such scam that is particularly active at the moment but this is far from the only one so I wanted to use this blog to help you identify other similar scam websites.

 


 

How to spot a scam wildlife shopping site

If you want to make sure that whatever you are buying is both genuine and helping the planet via the charity or methods talked about on the website you need to do a bit of research before hitting the buy button. Any or all of the following points could indicate that all is not well with the website:

Identify Scam Websites

The scammers use classic tactics of focussing on a current issue in the knowledge that people will happily part with money if they think they are helping - ocean plastic, endangered wildlife, forest replanting etc are all favoured hooks.  They then make spurious claims about how you can help with your purchases and your money will help clean up plastic, save wildlife and replant trees. Some vaguely imply they undertake the conservation work themselves but often they say they donate to genuine charities so always check this out. Visit the websites of the linked to charities and ask them if the association is genuine.

The scammers make so much money from you by selling cheap mass produced jewellery and clothes that are made in the Far East.  You can easily search for items by using the images by taking a screenshot of the product then using a reverse image site to look for identical images on other websites. You'll see how cheap and poor quality they really are.

The scammers often use the illusion of an even better deal by offering apparently huge reductions but you would still be paying way too much for the product. Another tactic is to use pressure selling techniques to push you into a quick purchase without taking due care:  "only 5 left" / "offer only available today" / "buy now to avoid disappointment" / "offer ends very soon" / "we're closing our shop x% off all stock whilst stocks last".

The website may make false claims. These can include how much money they have donated, plastic cleared or trees planted etc or claims that their products are environmentally friendly because they are recycled, organic, made by hand etc (all great buzz words to lure in the shopper). Such claims cannot be verified. They may also use fake endorsements and certifications. Check if they exist before parting with your money.

Check that the website has a Cookie Policy and a Privacy Policy. Check the latter is not simply a cut and paste from another site and that it actually related to the website in question. 

Check their email address and be wary of generic gmail/hotmail etc addresses. You will find the website has no names on it, no faces with whom you can interact directly.

Scam websites often do not allow you to right click on them. This makes it harder for you to take screenshots or copy and paste information into a search engine.

The scam websites use the platform Shopify to sell their fake goods. Shopify itself is not a scam but it is another alert that should sound alarm bells if other points above are also seen.

Identify Scam Social Media Accounts

Most scam sites promote themselves on Facebook and Instagram. Be cautious of any company you first learn about via a sponsored advert and look beyond the advert for more information.  Check on Facebook groups such as Sponsored Ads Exposed.

Look at their Facebook page and see when the page was created. Scam social media pages are often very new. 

On their Facebook page look at the comment numbers. The scammers will remove negative comments but these will still show in the number of comments. A Facebook post that says it has 20 comments but shows only 6 indicates 14 comments have been removed.

The scam sites often don't have a Twitter account. It is not possible to remove comments on a Tweet or quote Retweets that call them out as a scam so Twitter is not a useful tool for scammers.

Try and find the company elsewhere both on the internet and beyond. If there's nothing else out there about them be suspicious.

If you are unsure about a company then ask them some questions on their social media sites. A genuine company will answer your questions where-as a scam one will, at best, ignore you and at worst remove your comment and either stop you commenting or totally block you. No genuine company would do this.  Pertinent questions might include:

- which organisations do you support?
- where are your products made?
- what are they made from?
- where are they shipped from?
- what percentage of each sale goes to the charity?
- who manages the trees after they have been planted?
- what happens to the plastic you remove from the sea?

Use Scam-checking websites

 
Use a website like WHOIS to check the age of the website. Scam websites will be very new and WHOIS will also show if they have changed their name recently. Several name changes in a short period of time should alert you to a potential scam.

Check for reviews on websites using Trustpilot.  Scam sites may have a lot of positive reviews (which are probably false reviews) but they will also have a lot of genuine negative ones.

If the website isn't on Trustpilot do an online search with the name of the company and the word SCAM or REVIEWS and see what results emerge.

Go directly to sites such as Scam-detector or Scam Tracker (US) and use their website checkers.

In many countries companies need to be correctly registered so check them out. In the UK check on Companies House and in France they must have a siret number

You can also install browser extensions that detect scam websites.


What to do if you have been scammed

If you have paid by credit card or Paypal you may find they can recoup your money in the case of non-delivery or substandard goods.

The scam websites are usually set up using the Shopify platform. Report scam websites to them: https://help.shopify.com/en/questions#/contact/email

Report scam adverts and pages/accounts to Facebook and Instagram.

Report scam websites to official organisations such as Action Fraud or The Citizen's Advice Bureau in the UK, Europol in Europe and Report Fraud in the US. Other countries will have similar organisations. 

Alert your friends to scam websites to prevent them being scammed.


Scam Wildlife Shopping Sites

These are just a few of the scam companies purporting to support the planet that I have found - some are currently active whilst others are not but could easily start up again with or without a rebrand:

- Planete Vivante (French)
- 4Amazonia
- Save Koalas - Active on Facebook in 2020 but nothing since then
- Turtle's Journey.co
- Wildlife Team
- Club Ocean
- Ocean Project
- Treehuggersbracelets
- Renew Bracelets 

Remember that this scam is not limited to wildlife charities and innumerable other scam websites exist. In the last couple of days I have seen similar websites offering to support mental health charities and an advert for fake jewellery saying they are due to close and placing a 3 hour timer on their website (that amazingly resets back to 3 hours when you log in again) and states limited number of items are available that has been 10, 11 and 15 each time I checked (in that order!).

It is often not easy to identify online scams like these and scammers are becoming ever more sophisticated. My advice would be to never make a rash decision. Take the time to do your research and if you have the slightest doubt about a company, walk away and don't part with any money

If you really want to help the planet buying stuff you don't actually need is never going to be the answer.  Just stop and think of the environmental damage you are buying into.  It is impossible to track how far the materials and product have travelled to get to you and how much plastic was used or pollution and carbon emitted along the way?

A more effective strategy is to search out genuine charities and donate directly to them.  These scams work because people feel that their purchase has done some good for the planet where-as, in fact, the complete opposite is true. 

Please pin me so together we can stop other people getting scammed. And do let me know of you come across any other such scam wildlife websites and I will add them to the list above.


Sunday, 21 November 2021

Turtle Tracking Jewellery - Legit or Rip-off?

My Facebook and Instagram feeds have recently been inundated with sponsored posts from companies selling ocean-themed jewellery, especially turtles, each purporting to support ocean conservation and removal of plastic from the oceans.  Each post is full of glowing reviews from happy customers but their websites all lack details on exactly how they are helping the world's oceans or how much they are funding conservation projects. Something about them didn't feel right and I needed to investigate further so I focussed on one company that recently appeared in my Facebook feed: Ocean Project.co.



From their Facebook page (and yes, that is a copy and paste, not my typing errors):

"Ocean Project is a company with a vision to make a difference in our oceans ecosystems. We've donate to Ocean Cleanup Organization around the world. The amazing impact our brand has wouldn't be possible without YOU!"

I'm not at all sure what their vision is or what their amazing impact is but they are clear (it would seem) that YOU are helping them to achieve what-ever it is they have a vision about.  

Time to head to their website ... 

From there I can see they sell a range of jewellery items and clothes and that "Every purchase cleans our oceans."  In fact under their MISSION they claim: 

Elsewhere this is quoted as:

Interesting use of words: "pledged ocean-bound plastic cleanup" and I'm not even sure what that means but let's assume it means that they have removed that much plastic from the ocean.  55,156 pounds is the equivalent of just over 25 tonnes.  Now their Facebook page was set up in January 2021 and I am writing this 10 months later and by the magic of a bit of maths that means that they have, on average pulled some 83kgs of plastic from the ocean each day or the weight of a 13 stone person. Not bad you might think?  Hmmm ... 

Let's put this in perspective. It is estimated that around 10 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the sea each year, or over 27,400 tonnes per DAY ... or approx 604,000,000 pound per DAY yet this company, Ocean Project.co has only cleared 55,156 pounds. And that is assuming the company was created in Jan 2021. In fact there is evidence online that it was created before then and is probably a rebranding of an older company that changed its name to try and evade the negativity around its claims and business model.

But I'm feeling generous and clearing some plastic is better than nothing, I suppose. However, I rather imagine the people who have paid out for jewellery and clothes might have expected a bit more plastic clearance.  Now, talking about the items they sell it seems they might just be overcharging their customers:

Right now their website shows this Save the Turtle Necklace at the currently "discounted" price of €22.14 (or somewhat bizarrely 4 interest free payments in dollars):



I did a little searching and it took very little time at all to find the exact same necklace on sale on a website called Aliexpress for discounted price of $0.01 (Normal price $4.87-$5.52)


 

I also found a Keep Our Sea Plastic Free T-shirt on Ocean Project.co's website for €26.57 (at a whopping 50% off!!) and the exact same T-shirt on Aliexpress for around €5.

That's one heck of a mark up and with large numbers of items being sold in the name of reducing plastic it would appear Ocean Project.co is making a lot on money whilst clearing a pitifully small amount of plastic.  But I'm afraid there's more.  On Ocean Project.co you can simply PAY to have a certain amount of plastic removed from the ocean through their Pull Plastic Project:

 

For $4.95 (approx €4.30 or £3.60) you can PAY someone to pull 2.2 pounds or 1 kilo of plastic from the ocean and you can even track where it is being removed from although I am intrigued to know how you track plastic clearance.

With the jewellery you are also supposed to get a tracking code that enables you to track what-ever animal item you have bought.  Comments online, though, show that these tracking codes are often missing or just one code is sent out time and time again. And it gets worse when you learn that you can actually track turtles for FREE via the Sea Turtle Conservancy who are also quite clear about the fact that Ocean Project.co and a raft of other similar companies have taken THEIR tracking codes without their permission.


Apparently I am not the only person who is unhappy with this company and on Facebook several Ocean Project.co posts have angry "likes" and one lady asked why this was. I replied but within a few hours my reply was deleted and I was blocked from being able to add a like/wow/angry etc or comment/reply. You'll also often see that a post has x number of comments but the actual number is lower. That is because comments are still counted even when the page has removed them.

 


It seems they did not like me pointing out that people search out some facts or suggesting they go and check reviews on Trustpilot (or other review sites).  Well over half the reviews are one star and talk about everything from goods not arriving, tracking codes not working or being duplicates and the fact that the items are shipped from China, where they are made, and are of very poor quality. One review I saw also talked about how much plastic packaging the jewellery arrived in.
 
Such merchandising of jewellery and clothes is not only restricted to turtles. In the last couple of days I have seen several adverts for similar companies relating to coral, elephants and bees. All of them claim to fund conservation in some way but are all vague in how they do this and their reviews on places like Trustpilot all tell a different story: non-delivery, poor quality, terrible customer service etc and that's without touching on their terrible environmental track record.  Oh and also be very wary of a company that will ship products worldwide. Even a sustainably made product that funds genuine conservation projects loses so much of its green value if it is shipped across the world to get to you.

Since first publishing this post another sponsored post from an obviously fake profile (which I have reported) came up on my feed and that led me to find a bit more information. The Facebook page Ocean Project .co is a SCAM also exposes the company's malpractice and has a link to a genuine turtle tracking charity and Ocean Project.co also features on the Facebook page Sponsored Ads Exposed, a page dedicated to exposing Facebook Sponsored Ads scams.

These types of company really make me angry. They exploit the emotions people feel when they see pictures of  sea creatures swimming through plastic-filled waters or worse still killed by plastic yet feel powerless to help. They take advantage of people's goodwill for their own financial gain.  Sadly all their customers really end up doing is buying some very overpriced products whose overblown profit margins line the pockets of whoever is behind these companies.  

If you genuinely want to help sea creatures then my advice would be to look for legitimate charities, the ones that are completely transparent about what they do with your money.  And before you part with any cash either to a charity or a company, do your research. Check out reviews on independent sites, search for any articles written about the companies and if in doubt don't buy from or support them. Why not have a read on this blog post I have written outlining the many ways to identify scam sites. 

Finally, how about doing your own litter clearing when you are next at the beach. I don't imagine it would take that long to get to a kilo on a badly littered beach.