Every year, 780 000 people in France buy a product or service that is not delivered, does not meet expected quality standards, or leads to hidden costs. Most of these scams occur in online retail environments, where fraudsters use malicious ‘dark patterns’ to encourage impulsive purchases. To help protect consumers from online shopping scams before they occur, BIT created and promoted a ‘fake’ online coffee machine shopping site full of scams and tricks and ran a three-armed randomised control trial which scammed consumers in a safe environment to prevent future victimisation. Being ‘ripped off’ then serves to create a ‘teachable moment’, during which consumers are more likely to be receptive to a prevention message. Facebook advertising was used to direct real consumers onto a fake marketplace containing multiple dark patterns.
The campaign proved to be highly successful, demonstrating just how vulnerable consumers are to this type of scam. In total, 2,542 consumers “bought” the coffee machine. Had this been a genuine scam, the damage suffered by consumers would have been considerable: the fake offer would have generated more than €150,000 in revenue in less than four weeks.
The results of this report are encouraging: a fake offer in a secure environment, followed by an awareness-raising and message, can mobilise a large number of consumers, is perceived as acceptable and useful by the respondents, and could potentially reduce consumers’ vulnerability to online fraud.