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Security & privacy

Four arrested in $19 mil Amazon scheme – 6 ways to protect your account

We hear a good amount of news about fraud on the web, and how criminals behind these scams manage to get away with stealing millions of dollars or multiple terabytes of data. Especially now, during the age of COVID-19, online fraud is more pervasive than ever.

But because we’re being exposed to more fraud than before, we’re starting to get a better understanding of how it works and where it’s coming from. Tap or click here to see what we’ve learned about the 2020 cybercrime wave.

It’s not too often that we hear stories about cybercriminals getting busted for fraud, but a new set of indictments coming from New York state might have scammers feeling a bit more nervous than usual. Four brothers were arrested and charged with scamming Amazon out of millions of dollars, and they got caught red-handed bragging about it!

We’ll show you how they attempted to pull off their scheme. Plus, we’ll give you six tips that can help you secure your Amazon account to protect it from online fraud.

Amazon drops the hammer on scammers

According to a new set of indictments from the Department of Justice, four brothers have been charged by federal authorities for attempting to scam Amazon (yes, that Amazon) out of $19 million dollars.

While that may sound like a drop in the bucket out of Amazon’s total earnings, the fact that these scammers were able to pull off their heist is nothing short of impressive.

Tap or click here to see how scammers are abusing Amazon’s review system by mailing seeds to strangers.

Here’s how they did it: Per allegations in the indictments, Yoel Abraham, Heshl Abraham, Zishe Abraham and Shmuel Abraham ran an alleged “wholesale business” that would send Amazon large quantities of items that were drastically different from their original description (as well as overpriced) with the hopes that the company wouldn’t pay attention.

As an example, one particular order from August 2018, Amazon agreed to purchase 12 canisters of a disinfectant spray for $94.03 per pack. Instead, the brothers allegedly exploited the vendor system and sent 7,000 toothbrushes for $94.03 each instead. They then invoiced the company for nearly $658,210 and kept the profits they made.

After allegedly repeating these tactics several times, the brothers netted around $19 million. At this point, however, investigators were already hot on their trail.

The indictment notably features excerpts from a WhatsApp chat where one brother allegedly said “I’m so in the mood to **** Amazon” and asked his brothers, “Did anyone try to over ship and make a million profit in a week?” That’s about as close to a full-blown admission as you can get.

All four brothers were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy can lead to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, with money laundering carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years.

This move comes as part of Amazon’s aggressive new effort to pursue fraud on its platform, including the activation of the company’s “Counterfeit Crimes Unit.” In a press statement, Amazon said it looked forward to “working with law enforcement agencies to hold these bad actors accountable for their illegal activities.”

With so much fraud on Amazon, is my account at risk?

Amazon carries roughly the same risk of fraud as any online retailer. The fact that it’s one of the largest on the web just makes it a more prominent target. However, there are several ways you can secure your account to protect yourself from malicious fraudsters lurking the platform.

Implementing these changes will keep exploitable aspects of your account private, which can protect you if your account is somehow compromised. You may also be less prone to running into scam sellers that match your interests if you clear out history or tracking data.

1. Delete your public Amazon profile

You have a public-facing Amazon profile that anyone can view by default. This profile includes all your comments, star ratings, public-facing wish lists and other personal information you may have provided to Amazon.

Hiding this profile requires adjusting a few simple settings.

  • Log into your Amazon account and hover over Account & lists. Then, click on Your Account.
  • Scroll down to Ordering and shopping preferences, then click Your Amazon profile to continue.
  • Click the link inside the orange box that reads Edit your profile. Click on the Edit privacy settings tab.

From here, you can pick specific items you want to hide, as well as hide your entire profile by clicking on the checkbox that says Hide all activity on your profile. Click Save when you’re done to keep all changes.

If you want to double-check what information is publicly-facing, click on “View your profile as a visitor.” 

2. Hide your Amazon ordering history

There’s no real way to permanently delete your order history, but you can archive your Amazon orders and hide them from prying eyes.

  • Open Amazon in your web browser and sign in to your account.
  • Click on Orders from the top right part of your screen.
  • On the right of each order, you’ll see a list of actions to choose from. Select Archive order for the items you want to hide from view.
  • A yellow box will pop up asking you to confirm your changes. Click on the yellow Archive order button to hide the item from your orders list.

If you need to get back to any of the items you’ve hidden, you can still find them by visiting your account page and clicking on Archived orders, which can be found under Ordering and shopping preferences.

3. Clear Amazon tracing cookies and browsing history

Amazon uses cookies as part of its recommendation engine, which means the cookie placed on your system pulls data from items you browse. Thankfully, it’s easy to tweak your settings, clear your history and turn off tracking altogether.

  • Visit Amazon.com, and click on browsing history from the menu bar.
  • Choose manage history. When the new menu opens, click the toggle button to turn off tracking.
  • Click remove all items to clear your history.
  • Click the toggle next to Turn browsing history on/off to turn your browsing history off.

4. Make your wish lists private

Public wish lists are just another way for your browsing history and purchase ideas to fall into the wrong hands. For your security, it’s better to keep these lists hidden from view.

  • Go to Amazon and click on the Accounts & List drop-down menu.
  • Select either Shopping List or Wish List. This brings up the Your Lists page. The left side of the screen will show all your lists along with their privacy settings.
  • If you see a public list you want to make private, click the list and then click the three-dot icon. Click Manage List.
  • Adjust the view of the list to Private versus Public.

5. Prevent accidental purchases by disabling voice purchasing with Alexa

Impulse buys are one of the easiest ways for fraudsters to get you — and ordering by voice with Alexa only makes it easier to buy something spur-of-the-moment. Disabling this abusable feature on Alexa will add an additional layer of protection that can save you from making a split-second mistake.

6. Secure your account with two-factor authentication

Amazon now gives you the ability to add two-factor authentication to secure your account. This feature requires you to have your cell phone on hand in order to log in, which can help prevent unauthorized login attempts on your account by scammers.

  • Tap or click the link here to visit Amazon’s Advanced Security Settings page.
  • Click Get Started to start setting-up Two-Step Verification.
  • Type your primary phone number and click Send code. Your phone must be able to receive SMS text messages for this to work.
  • Type in the code that was sent to your phone and click Verify code and continue.
  • Provide a back-up phone number and choose a delivery format (text message or call).

Keep in mind that you won’t be able to turn on Two-Step Verification without adding a back-up number. This is so you don’t get locked out of your account if you lose access to your primary device.

Follow these steps, and your Amazon account should be quite a bit safer and more private. But beyond protecting yourself, take time to report obvious fake listings or reviews if you spot them. It’s a community effort to fight fraud online, after all.

Tap or click here to see how to spot fake reviews on Amazon

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