BBB Scam Alert: Tracking code trick costs online shoppers

BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports about shipping tricks that scammers use to steal from online shoppers. The con artists are exploiting PayPal’s polices by delivering incorrect items and using stolen tracking numbers.

How the Scam Works:

People are shopping online and are finding amazing deals, often brand name goods at a significant discount. Often, the items are large – such as pieces of furniture or a vacuum cleaner. The website and the products look legitimate, so consumers are deciding to take a chance and make a purchase. The site directs them to pay through PayPal, which leads many to believe it’s safe. 

After checkout, a confirmation email arrives that contains a tracking number from UPS, FedEx, or another shipping service. After a few weeks, the package arrives, but it’s not what was expected. For example, one shopper ordered a six-foot artificial Christmas tree, but “received a bottle brush Christmas tree no bigger than my hand.” Another shopper told BBB that they ordered “a pressured machine washer for $78…” and received “a yellow shirt that’s not worth $2.” In another common version of this scam, the package is delivered… but to the wrong address.

When consumers try to correct the mistake, they are finding that the ecommerce site is either unresponsive or unhelpful. In some cases, the site doesn’t provide contact information, or no one responds to emails or calls.

Some scam victims report filing claims with PayPal in order to get a refund. PayPal’s protection promise says customers can open a dispute if the package never arrives, if the item received is counterfeit or differs significantly from what was ordered. However, not all claims are resolved to the buyer’s satisfaction. Take one shopper’s experience, for instance, who ordered a desk online they never received. Upon further investigation, the shopper discovered the tracking number indicated the order was shipped to a fictitious address. The shopper filed a dispute though PayPal, but the seller insisted they delivered the package, so PayPal dropped the dispute. “PayPal did not give me any option to discuss their decision,” the consumer reported. “They just closed the case.”

BBB contacted PayPal about the BBB Scam Tracker reports. After looking into the stolen tracking code issue, they replied: “We notified various shipping carriers of this issue allowing tracking data to be stolen and we believe it has been closed. In addition, we made enhancements to our algorithms to identify and disable these fraudulent bad actors. In fact, we are stopping a significant majority of these fraudulent sellers at first transaction through our detection program and have refunded customers impacted by this fraud scheme even if they did not appeal our decision.”

Protect Yourself from a Package Delivery Scam:

Before paying, know your rights and responsibilities. In everything from check cashing scams to cons involving new peer-to-peer payment systems, scammers often take advantage of what consumers don’t know when it comes to processing payments. Don’t make a purchase from a shady seller assuming the purchase will be protected no matter what.

Before buying online, confirm the site has real contact information. Make sure the seller has a working phone number and address on the website, so you can contact them in case of problems.

Don’t wait too long to file a dispute. Scammers know that PayPal and credit cards have time limits for disputes. They often try to delay the process long enough so that shoppers miss the window.

If the price seems too good to be true, there’s probably something wrong. Be wary if the item is selling for significantly lower than what’s been advertised elsewhere.

Review BBB online shopping tips. Many online purchase scams use similar tactics. See BBB’s online shopping tips for more advice and visit our for more.

For More Information

Learn more about spotting and reporting PayPal fraud. For more resources on shipping fraud, see FedEx’s website and UPS’s online resource center. To learn more about scams, go to

If you’ve been targeted by this scam, help others avoid the same problem by reporting your experience at

NOTE: PayPal Inc., FedEx Corporation and United Parcel Service are BBB Accredited Businesses.

ABOUT BBB SERVING CENTRAL INDIANA: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB serving Central Indiana, which was founded in 1916 and serves 46 counties.