Top 10 Scams on Alibaba.com!

Every second email I receive from my blog readers is about Alibaba scams! It is that serious, yes. I already debunked the myth that Alibaba itself is a scam in my Alibaba Scams EXPOSED article BUT today I want to talk specifically about the most common scammer tricks and schemes you can run into when searching for a supplier on Alibaba.com.

Remember, these don’t apply solely to Alibaba but to all popular B2B platforms that involve a large number of wholesale suppliers from China. But as Alibaba is the most popular platform, I will use examples from there.

So let’s get started!

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.1 – Sending FAKE branded goods!

This is without a doubt the most popular scam taking place on Alibaba! The saddest thing is that most people who get fake goods from a Chinese supplier don’t even realise it until eBay takes down their listing a while later.

How does this scam work?

Basically the supplier will sell you branded goods which are just copies of real products. This usually involves products like:

  • Clothing (designer clothing)
  • Footwear (especially Nike products, Timberland)
  • Electronics (mobile phone replicas, specialised electronics like Shure microphones)
  • Disney character items (bedding sets, mugs, kid’s clothing, toys)
  • Mobile phone cases with Apple, Samsung logos
  • Sports jerseys with team logos (Manchester United, Arsenal, NBA/NHL teams etc.)
  • DVDs, Software, Blu-rays, Fitness training programs (P90X etc.)
  • Cosmetics, fragrances (Max factor, MAC, Dior etc.)
  • And many others!

This can basically be ANY product with a well known Western brand name/logo/registered trademark on it.

How to avoid this scam?

SIMPLE – DO NOT BUY ANY BRANDED GOODS from Alibaba suppliers! ANY Chinese supplier for that matter!

What is a branded product? It’s a product with a well known name on it, like:

  • Apple
  • Nike
  • Sony
  • Pioneer
  • Gucci
  • Etc.

This also includes ANY kind of band, movie character or kids’ character like:

  • Batman
  • Spiderman
  • Frozen
  • Hulk
  • One Direction
  • U2
  • Etc.

All these are also classed as branded goods as to manufacture such goods, you have to buy a LICENCE from the Intellectual Property (IP) holder and pay royalty fees. Chinese manufacturers selling such products on Alibaba HAVEN’T paid licensing fees and simply use any popular images they can find and put them on these products. These are not genuine, licensed items and you can get into serious trouble selling them online.

While it’s true that most products these days are manufactured in China, it DOESN’T mean that Chinese factories sell them directly to everyone via Alibaba and similar platforms. Far from it! Brand owners monitor the entire manufacturing process very strictly and they do not allow any of their products to be sold outside their own distribution channels.

Genuine branded goods in China are actually more expensive than they are here in the Western world due to the high taxes the Chinese government has put in place (to support local business). So contrary to popular believe, an iPhone actually costs a lot more in China than in the UK or US.

Just to clarify, by China I mean Mainland China and I am not referring to Hong Kong based suppliers here. Yes, in HK you can get genuine branded goods BUT you still have to be extremely careful as there are also many types of scams associated with HK based suppliers, which we’ll cover later on in this post.

So if you’re looking for ANY KIND of branded goods, Alibaba is NOT the place to go! You want to look for US, UK or EU based official distributors/wholesalers for such goods, NOT China.

The only exception to this rule is IF the brand itself is a Chinese brand. There are some groups of products where Chinese brands actually lead the market, for example electronic cigarettes. In niches like these, yes, you can get genuine CHINESE BRAND products from Alibaba.

But even then be very careful as guess what? YES! Chinese scammers do also copy even the Chinese brands!! So you always want to get in touch with the brand owner first and ask whether the company you’re dealing with is an authorised re-seller of their goods.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.2 – Selling BRANDED goods but delivering nothing!

How does this scam work?

This is a very similar scam operation to the first one we covered but with one major difference; in this case once you send your money to the supplier and you never hear from them again. Yep, that’s right – you receive NOTHING in return for your money.

How to avoid this scam?

By following the same, simple rule – DO NOT buy branded goods from suppliers listed on Alibaba.com or from any supplier based in Mainland China!

Scammers are very smart and are always on the lookout for the newest hot product coming out, so they can build an entire website ‘selling’ that product. Even when the iPhone 6 was not yet released, there were already dozens of Chinese wholesale iPhone 6 websites up and running selling it for $300-$400. Or even better – buy 5 and get one free, plus free shipping! What an amazing deal to miss out on!

On Alibaba itself it is very easy – just stick with the rule of NOT buying branded goods and you have protected yourself from these 2 most common scams. But what if you have found a website selling branded stock? Here are few simple rules to follow:

1. If it looks too good to be true, it is. iPhones for $300, MacBooks for $600 – these are typical scammer prices. They’re UNREAL! They want people to believe that they have found a superb deal while in reality it’s a very cheap scam.

2. Check the domain name in the WHO IS database. If registration shows China, you know for sure it’s a scammer’s operation.

3. Check payment methods – if credit card or PayPal is not an option AND only Western Union or Money Gram is accepted, it’s a scam.

4. Check shipping methods – if they say shipping is via EMS, it’s a scam! (As EMS is a Chinese courier company).

5. Product variety – very often scammers sell a huge number of unrelated items, all on one website. With experience you can easily spot such scammers by taking a quick look at the product categories offered. If you see products like these selling on one website with too good to be true prices, it’s a 100% definite SCAM:

  • iPhones
  • Pioneer DJ Decks
  • Designer Handbags
  • Nike Air shoes
  • MacBooks

Usually genuine wholesalers selling designer handbags won’t also deal with iPhones, so this is a clear sign that you have found a scam.

To sum it up – branded goods and China just don’t go together. Just stay away from Alibaba and Chinese suppliers altogether if you’re looking for branded goods as you have an extremely high chance of getting scammed and receiving fake goods (or none at all).

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.3 – Unverified Alibaba profile for a UK or US company!

How does this scam work?

Chinese scammers open a FREE Alibaba profile using the details of a legitimate UK/US/EU based company. They pretend to be that legit company to sell branded goods (any goods for that matter, even unbranded) and basically just take your money and never send you anything. These free accounts are NOT verified so there’s no guarantee that you’re dealing with the company whose name is on that particular profile.

How to avoid this scam?

NEVER deal with FREE/unverified suppliers on Alibaba! Simple!

I have said this many times before, you only want to deal with Gold Suppliers on Alibaba and the more established they are, the better. I personally try to stick with 3rd year + Gold suppliers and if you manage to find a 7th or 8th year supplier then the chances of you being scammed are incredibly small, provided you follow the other rules of course.

This isn’t as common but another trick scammers try is to clone the website of a genuine company, but change the contact details and try to scam people this way. The easiest way to spot these scammers is by doing a Google search for that company’s name as usually the genuine website will show up first.

Secondly, they will usually use Gmail or another free email service. Thirdly, when it comes to paying for goods, they will only accept payment via bank transfer to some weird bank account or the same old Western Union or Money Gram only.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.4 – Sending money to the boss’ bank account

How does this scam work?

When it’s time to make payment for your order, your supplier informs you that there’s a problem with their bank account and asks you to send money to the boss’ account, which is of course a personal account. You may get lucky and receive your order but in most cases they will simply scam you and send nothing.

How to avoid this scam?

This scam can happen even with legit suppliers sometimes when they try to avoid taxes by funnelling money to personal bank accounts. Either way, you DON’T WANT TO DO THIS so simply never send money to a personal account!

And even if there was a slight chance they are still legitimate, if any supplier offered this to me I would instantly stop communicating with them as the likelihood of getting scammed is just too high.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.5 – Asking for additional payment for customs clearance

How does this scam work?

A few days after you have paid for your order, your supplier will contact you and ask for additional payment to cover customs fees. If you don’t agree to pay, they say that they can’t get the goods out of China. Quite often they may also provide you with fake courier tracking numbers that have fake information about your goods being held in customs.

How to avoid this scam?

There are no such customs fees to pay when exporting goods from China so if you receive an email like this from your supplier, you have already been scammed and can say goodbye to the money you have already paid. Just accept the loss and move on. DO NOT pay anything extra as it won’t make any difference.

Very often these scammers go even further – once you pay that first additional payment, a few days later they will come up with another excuse that requires yet more money from you. They know that you’ve been played twice by them and they’ll try to milk you for everything they can!

As I said, as sad as it is, if you get emails like these, you have already been scammed and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from accept the loss and move on, and just try to learn from what happened.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.6 – Selling fake DVDs, software, video games, Blu-rays

How does this scam work?

Suppliers list DVDs, software, video games and similar media products. When you receive them, you find out that they’re cheap, pirated bootleg copies, which are illegal to re-sell.

How to avoid this scam?

DO NOT buy such items from Alibaba suppliers or any Chinese supplier for that matter. You can’t get genuine DVDs, software, video games or Blu-rays from China – they will all be pirated copies, nothing else.

This also includes specialised DVDs like Baby Einstein sets, P90X training programs and similar.

Alibaba has done a good job on filtering out such items over the last few years but chances are you can still find some listed there.

And the same rule applies to any China-based websites, of which there are tons online! Just use your common sense and do the same checks we covered in Alibaba scam 2.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.7 – Refusing to send samples.

How does this scam work?

When you contact a supplier to ask for sample availability and they say that they don’t do samples and only deal with bulk orders.

How to avoid this scam?

While this may not be a 100% sure sign it’s a scam, I would personally stay away from any such company that doesn’t offer samples.

Getting a sample is the first thing you want to do when you have found a new supplier – just to test the quality of the product and in general verify that this supplier is the real deal and can provide you with products you’re interested in. If they don’t provide samples, something dodgy is going on and it’s really not worth taking any extra risk in situations like these!

With most legit suppliers, they will happily send you a sample of their product if you cover the shipping fee. If the product is very cheap, they often won’t even charge for the product. If the product is more expensive, they may charge a premium price on the sample + shipping, which is understandable as they don’t want retail customers to simply purchase ONE item from them at the wholesale price.

Either way, a genuine supplier will have no problem sending samples over to you and if they don’t want to, for whatever reason, look for another supplier!

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.8 – Only accepting payment via Western Union!

How does this scam work?

When you receive the Proforma Invoice, it says Western Union under payment terms, with information on who to send money to. This is a CLEAR sign that something dodgy is going on!

How to avoid this scam?

Do not send money via Western Union to a Chinese supplier!!! Period.

When you send money via Western Union, you send money to an individual, NOT a company, so you don’t really know where your money is going to end up. It could even be that a sales person working in a legit company is trying to scam you or simply that the supplier is a scam altogether.

Either way, the only payment methods you should be using when dealing with Alibaba suppliers are:

  • PayPal (ideal)
  • Alibaba Escrow
  • Bank transfer (wire transfer) to a company bank account (not a personal one).

The only exception to this rule is when you pay for samples. For samples, if the company looks totally legit to you and you’re not dealing with high risk items, you can use WU, yes, as it’s cheaper and quicker than bank transfer.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.9 – Selling FAKE memory products!

How does this scam work?

A supplier sells storage products (memory cards, USB sticks and similar) for great prices but when you receive them, you find the capacity is actually much smaller than advertised. For example, you buy 64GB USB drives and receive 8GB ones instead.

How to avoid this scam?

You have to be extremely careful when buying memory products from China as this scam is very, very popular. Everyone knows that the more GBs you get in the product, the higher the price is. But not everyone checks the REAL size of these products! Often, with this scam, the first people realise what has happened is when they get negative feedback from their customers on eBay!

To minimise the risk of getting scammed in this way, here are a few rules to follow:

1) Deal only with established, 5 year + Gold Suppliers.
2) Order samples and check the memory size for each product.
3) Make your first order as small as possible, check the size for all products and only if everything is fine, increase your orders gradually.

As for testing the actual capacity/memory size – it’s not enough that you put the card/USB in your computer and see that it shows 64GB. Scammers are smarter than that – they modify the electronic chips within the product so that it shows the inflated/fake memory size when it’s plugged into your computer!

What you need to do is use specialised software to check the actual memory size OR simply attempt to transfer the maximum capacity to see if it fits or not. So for example if you have 64GB USB sticks, transfer a 63GB file to it – and yes, this would take a LOT of time so if you’re serious about buying and reselling such products, I strongly suggest you invest in some decent diagnostics software.

Lastly – the same NO BRANDED GOODS rule still applies here! Don’t buy SanDisk, Sony and similar branded memory products from China, they will all be fakes! You can only buy unbranded memory products or your own brand memory products from China.

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Alibaba SCAM Nr.10 – Invoice made to a personal bank account.

How does this scam work?

Very similar to the boss’ bank account scam – on the proforma invoice you’ll find that the bank account you need to send money to is a personal one and not the company’s account.

How to avoid this scam?

NEVER send money to a personal bank account!

If wire transfer is the only payment method available, make sure that it’s the company’s bank account ONLY and ensure that the company’s details matches what you see on their Alibaba profile.

Sometimes it can be different though – when a manufacturer uses a sister company, registered as a Trading Company, to deal with all export orders. In such cases, you should still be able to verify this information on their Alibaba profile or company website.

Conclusions

Well there you go – The 10 Most Popular Alibaba Scams! There are of course many more, smaller scams going on, but if you learn these 10 and stick with the rules published in this guide, you’ll reduce your chances of getting scammed to an absolute minimum.

Here are some final, general guidelines to follow when dealing with suppliers on Alibaba:

1) Do your homework. Follow my Alibaba SCAMS Exposed guide to filter out only the BEST suppliers. Cross check your supplier with all 10 scams listed in this post. Communicate with them, ask as many questions as you need to, order samples first and only when you’re 100% sure that this is the real deal and a genuine company; place your first real order.

2) If it looks too good to be true, it IS! I wish more people would follow this simple rule. Too often people get distracted by these impossibly low prices and the thought of the amazing profit they’ll make clouds their judgement… and the result is they’re easy pickings for the scammers out there.

As a general rule of thumb – you WON’T see miracle low prices on Alibaba unless you’re working with massive buying power (like ordering 10,000 units of the same product). In most cases you’re looking at an ROI of 20%-50% when re-selling these imported items. Sure, there are always exceptions but IF the price offered to you is ten times lower than what that item is selling for on eBay, then that’s a clear sign that something dodgy is going on.

3) If you don’t know what you’re doing, just don’t do it, seriously. I know that we all want to be successful and we all want to make good profits BUT some people forget that it takes some time and education to make the right decisions in business. If you’re totally new to this, don’t rush things by placing orders in your first few days. Take your time and gain some experience, even if it’s just via communication with your suppliers.

4) Any business comes with some sort of risk and importing is not an exception. You can follow all the guides in the world and still get scammed. That’s the sad reality and it’s something you have to accept when doing business of any kind. So please don’t use money that you can’t afford to lose (I’m talking about loans, credit cards etc. here).

5) Make informed decisions. Do not let your emotions rule any decision! I know how tempting it may be sometimes to just go ahead with the order, even if some things don’t quite add up. Don’t do it! Stick with my guides and do not make exceptions on your own! It’s better to let a potentially good deal go, than to be sorry later on when you get scammed.

Alright, that’s it for today! I really hope this post will be valuable for many people starting an importing business. If you have any questions or want to share your personal experience when dealing with Alibaba suppliers, please leave your thoughts in the comment box below this post.

Good luck with your importing deals!

Stay alert and safe.

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