I moved to LA in the middle of the pandemic and set up my apartment almost exclusively via the Facebook Marketplace, a luxurious garden with inexpensive goods that exploits all my weak points: offers, online shopping, haggling with strangers on the Internet.
One of the first things I bought was a table and four chairs, which weren't cheap by my standards ($ 225!) But looked unique compared to the myriad IKEA offerings.
When I picked it up, however, it was clear that it was indeed an IKEA listing – one poorly hand-painted by the avid acting student who sold it to me. I didn't want to buy it anymore (why spend $ 225 on old furniture that is $ 120 on new?), And I probably should have just told the guy that I made a mistake and apologized for wasting his time but instead I thanked him extensively and compliments him on the paintwork.
I've been crippled by 28 years of socialization that taught me that handing over all of your money is better than making a total stranger feel uncomfortable – which leads me to the thesis of this article: the patriarchy is the ultimate scam!
The paint has now peeled off and one of the chairs is broken, but honestly I respect this man's rush. He may not have been a real cheater, but he knew his audience, which is important to any cheater (and any acting student, by the way). I'll probably be reselling it on the Facebook marketplace in a few months, ideally to someone also trapped in a self-made prison of courtesy.
How does that fit in with Instagram? In recent years, scammers have attracted consumers and used Instagram ads to sell clothing, accessories, and housewares. Products look great online, but when they arrive they are often of poor quality. When customers complain, companies – many based in China – give them the detour, which essentially boils down to never getting your money back for reasons completely beyond our control.
I first read this on the Better Business Bureau's scam tracker which, despite its DMV forward aesthetic, has become one of my favorite places to hang out while in quarantine. Type "Instagram" in the search bar and you will see pages and pages of complaints from people who bought misleading products on the platform.
There's one complaint from someone who spent $ 400 on a rare pair of sneakers that they never received, another from someone who tried to buy a "Recliner Luxury Camp Chair" and instead got a " Junky Stool ”and one from someone (hopefully a parent!) Who tried to buy“ a reborn weighted, lifelike baby doll ”and received a“ cheap product that is NOTHING as described ”and“ out of the delivery window for a long time " arrived.
My friend Jessamyn experienced this firsthand when she bought a pair of boots that she saw in an Instagram ad, only to receive shoes that were a different size, color, and material than those originally advertised. She emailed the company thinking it would be an easy fix. This is the era of responsive, 24/7 customer service where companies continually exploit 23 year olds to get you cashmere sweaters by Christmas.
But not all companies.
Here is the email Jessamyn received after trying to return the boots:
We are so sorry that you are not satisfied with the items.
Will it be possible to give it as a gift to one of your friends? Or how about a discount to make up for this?
With your return you have to pay the expensive shipping fee. How about a great coupon code or a 40% refund to make up for it?
– Missgaki customer service
This tactic – explaining that it is too expensive to return the item and offering a discount instead – is common with this type of scam. I'm not sure how many people the company is taking on their offer, but it's bold to say that the solution could be to get another one after fretting over a shitty item.
Jessamyn stated that she didn't want a discount, she wanted a full refund. This time the company said:
We are so sorry that you are not satisfied with the items.
When you return, you will bear the expensive $ 20 shipping fee. Will it be possible to give it as a gift to others? Or how about a big coupon code or a 20% partial refund to make up for it?
Just a suggestion, if you'd rather go back let's move on to the next step.
I am looking forward to your answer.
This took a while, and Jessamyn stated that she wanted a refund and the company politely asked if she would consider a discount instead. Reading the email chain feels like listening to an automated voice message that is in an endless loop.
After sending 30 emails, including side-by-side photos of the shoes in the ad and the shoes she received, she got $ 40 back – roughly half of what she originally spent. The company also gave a 20 percent discount on their next purchase.
How does this violate Instagram Community Guidelines? It's difficult to say. The platform has a policy against listings that misrepresent what is being sold. However, it is unclear how different an item can be from the original photo for it to be considered a misrepresentation. (The company also bans ads showing "a person wearing too tight clothes" or selling human blood, but that's a story for another day.)
Even if a seller breaks Instagram's guidelines, there isn't much the company will do other than remove the ad in question and potentially close their account. Once that's done, it's pretty easy for the scammer to create a new profile and try again.
The Instagram scam is taking advantage of our own consumption
A company spokesperson asked for a comment, saying, “We want everyone on Instagram to have a positive ad experience. Counterfeit goods and fraudulent activity harm our entire community and have no place on Instagram. "
At its core, fraud takes advantage of our own consumerism – the idea that anything we want should be available immediately, cheap, and delivered within days. The ads appear alongside photos of friends and celebrities, giving them an aura of authenticity that they may not have on other platforms. We see something we want, we click. By the time we realize we should do more research, it will be too late.
It is also true that the scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated. They hide their identities through social media and use payment methods that are difficult to track. As platforms like Instagram evolve and consumer behavior changes, scammers adapt and find new ways to gain people's trust. It's a game of cat and mouse with no clear ending. However, if we are careful, it may tell us more about ourselves than it does about the impostors.