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A family member recently fell for a scammy online merchant who was advertising nice-looking goods at reasonable price. They ordered about $150 US worth of merch, then shortly after the order had gone through, they saw site reviews and realised the business was shady.

They emailed to cancel the order, but the merchant ignored that email and they got a shipping notification. The order arrived today, eleven days after it was placed.

As expected, the contents were not as advertised. A couple of items were missing altogether, and most of the rest were shoddy imitations. We'd saved screenshots of the merchant's page showing how they depicted each of the items ordered, and I videoed the unboxing showing contrasts between those screenshots and what was actually delivered.

The one thing that's confusing us here is that they haven't yet debited the credit card [edit: PayPal, I was misinformed] used to place the order. Normally I'd expect a scammer to take the money as soon as they could.

It'd be nice to believe they just failed to process the bill, saving the hassle of disputing a transaction, but that seems a bit too good to be true. Is there a reason why such businesses might deliberately delay billing? Anything more we need to watch out for here?

Update for the curious: they did eventually bill the PayPal, a couple of days after the parcel arrived. No surprises from there: the buyer emailed to complain that they hadn't delivered what was paid for, the vendor replied with an obvious lie about mixing it up with somebody else's order and offered to refund 40% of the purchase price and let them keep the order. Now going to PP's disputes process.

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    This isn't what you asked, but I'd contact the credit card company ASAP, explain the situation (esp that the merchant ignored the cancellation email) and dispute the transaction / pre-block it from being authorised. I had something similar happen a couple of years ago and the credit card company blocked it for me before the charge even went on.
    – Vicky
    Sep 19, 2023 at 11:27
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    What was the timing of the cancellation email and the shipment notification? Particularly if you're dealing with someone running a drop shipping side hustle, it it entirely possible that they're not checking email all that frequently and may not have been able to cancel the order with their supplier in time. At that point, it's better not to charge the card rather than to charge the card and have the buyer dispute it. Sep 19, 2023 at 14:20
  • @Vicky Yes, they called the card company ASAP but for whatever reason they didn't seem willing to pre-block. Sep 20, 2023 at 1:48
  • @JustinCave I think it was about a day between the cancellation email and shipment notification, so it's plausible they didn't see it in time. Sep 20, 2023 at 1:53
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    @GB how would you even tell a credit card company "Block a charge from Joe Blow Ltd."? The merchant name might not even contain the word "Joe" or "Blow". We used to have problems because our events billed as TicketBiscuit LLC, since we didn't want to have our own merchant account for PCI-DSS reasons. Sep 20, 2023 at 20:19

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"How does this scam work?" questions are hard to answer objectively.

I think there are a few likely outcomes:

  1. They will bill you later. Weeks or months later after you forgot about the purchase and might miss seeing it on your statement to dispute it.

  2. They have your card and billing info. They sent you a small amount of crappy goods that cost them less than your credit card info is worth on the dark web.

  3. This is a brushing scam where they ship you goods just to show they are shipping things.

  4. The comment from Justin Cave that says this could be simple laziness or slow response time is also plausible. Never attribute to malice which is better explained by stupidity.

  5. If the seller was drop shipping then it is possible that the seller is getting screwed by the actual shipper.

  6. They got caught scamming or shipping garbage and their payment processor dropped them.

Regardless of the reason, anyone having purchased something from a site that doesn't sit right should go ahead and contact their CC company, get a new card and number, and watch their statements.

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    What they sent was more than would've been required to establish a brushing scam, and I think those usually involve people who hadn't ordered anything at all. The others seem plausible; #2 might not be cost-effective on its own, I gather a stolen CC number goes for about $20 and they wouldn't get much change for what they did send, but no reason it can't be combined with #1. Welp, we've saved the ordered/sent comparison in case it needs to be disputed. Sep 20, 2023 at 2:11
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    7. They received the cancellation, but didn't manage to cancel shipping in time, and simply ignored billing to avoid chargeback.
    – vidarlo
    Sep 20, 2023 at 23:32

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