Voice of the Industry

The rise of subscription helpdesk scams

Thursday 4 June 2020 12:28 CET | Editor: Simona Negru | Voice of the industry

Jorij Abraham, Managing Director of the Ecommerce Foundation, talks about what subscription helpdesk scams imply and why they must not be ignored

Scamadviser.com – an online algorithm to identify fraudulent online activities – often gets emails from consumers who ask ‘Why was my credit card charged?’, while many of the 2,5 million monthly visitors report websites which have charged their credit card of which they have never heard before (let alone visited). Lots of complaints refer to websites that offer services named:

  • Billing support and assistance;
  • Cancelling your subscription or membership;
  • Dispute resolution and chargeback prevention.

Everything on these websites is focused on preventing consumers from doing a chargeback but instead ‘help’ them to unsubscribe from an (unknown) subscription. Hence the name ‘subscription helpdesks’.

Who are behind these subscription helpdesks?

The companies behind these websites with weird names as ETPVER.com, UPS873.com, and csmembers.com seem to be billing gateways. They charge credit card for other websites, which may either be owned by their own company or by another enterprises, usually in the adult content, gambling, dating or other industries consumers may not want to see on their credit card transaction slip. 

In most cases, consumers are asked to provide the subscription helpdesk with the first 6 digits and the last 4 digits of their credit card. In some cases, additional information is asked as well in order to ‘unsubscribe’ the consumer from the unknown subscription. 

Are these helpdesks legit or scams?

Well, it depends. The main goal of these websites is to make sure consumers do not do a chargeback on their credit card. If a company has too many chargebacks, they are blocked by their payment service provider or credit card companies like Mastercard, Visa, and American Express.

Looking from this way, these subscription helpdesks may do their customers a favour. If the consumer has used an adult content, dating, gambling or other kind of website, many prefer not to share the name with their spouse.

However, there is a strong suspicion that this kind of websites are also used by scammers. The consumer can not see for which service his credit card was charged. This allows scammers who have been able to get hold of credit card details to take money from the card and simply stop charging if the consumer complaints. 

From the 1st untill 10th of April 2020, Scamadviser.com identified 1.336 different subscription helpdesk sites such as bes64.com, kelloon.com, nyctrol.com, qkakin.com, prk85.com, weppta.com. Together these websites have been queried more than 700.000 times on Scamadviser.com since they were first identified. A significant part of these websites is owned by a few players.  

One company seems to own at least 82 subscription helpdesk sites. They are all hosted on the same server and look nearly identical. Apart from using different domain names, these 82 sites also list different company names such as Binary Ventures, Office Mirror, Muscatel Inventions, and Phony Unicorn. In general, there is hardly any information available online about these companies apart from on-scam report sites such as Scamadviser.com and Better Business Bureau.

Other players run respectively 68, 32 or less sites. 46 companies own at least 2 websites. Scamadviser strongly suspects that the number one and two in the market are the same company as their websites look a lot the same and uses the same chat technologies and, in some cases, company names. 

Should the payment industry care?

Yes! The number of complaints received on Scamadviser.com about subscription helpdesks has grown significantly since December 2019. Consumers do not understand why they are being charged due to the lack of transparency of these websites. 

For both the consumer and the online payment industry, these subscription helpdesks are not the right solution to do anonymous payments. If a consumer wants to remain unanimous there are wallets and cryptocurrencies which offer privacy solutions. 

Subscription helpdesks now harm the online payment industry in several ways:

  • They make the industry less transparent and trustworthy: Allowing companies to use non-active or fake company names on credit card transaction reduces the trust in credit card payments. Consumers should always directly see for which service they were charged by which company.
  • Consumers are asked to provide information they should not give: The payment industry has made huge efforts into educating consumers to never, ever give credit card information to an unknown party. These companies ask for more information than necessary. An email address could be enough to unsubscribe from a service.
  • Subscription helpdesks make it easier for criminals to scam unnoticed: Scammers can ‘hide’ behind a subscription helpdesk and keep operating longer without the industry knowing. 

Maybe it is time for the major credit card companies to take a stand towards payment gateways supporting these subscription helpdesks. 

About Jorij Abraham

Jorij Abraham has been part of the international ecommerce community since 1997. He has been manager ecommerce at Bijenkorf, TUI, online publisher at Sanoma Media, and Director of Consulting as Unic. In parallel to these activities he (co-)founded two companies: eVentures Europe and vZine. From 2013-2017 he has been Director of Research & Advise at Thuiswinkel.org (the Dutch Ecommerce Association) and Ecommerce Europe (the European Ecommerce Association with 25.000+ members in 20 countries). Jorij now is Managing Director of the Ecommerce Foundation, whose mission is to foster global digital trade. He is also ecommerce professor at the University of Applies Sciences, TIO.

About Ecommerce Foundation – Scamadviser

The mission of the Ecommerce Foundation is to foster global digital trade. The company realises its goals amongst others with Scamadviser.com. Scamadviser is an online algorithm to identify online stores not delivering goods, shops selling fake products or sites offering high risk or illegal products and services. Scamadviser has more than 2,5 million unique visitors a month checking their global warning list of over 150 million domain names. Its database is also increasingly used by PSPs, social media, and threat intelligence companies to steer clear of criminal sites.

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Keywords: Jorij Abraham, Ecommerce Foundation, Scamadviser, fraudulent activities, online fraud, chargeback, fraud prevention, subscription helpdesk, scams, credit card, gambling, subscription, payment industry, payment gateways
Categories: Fraud & Financial Crime
Countries: World
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Fraud & Financial Crime

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