Scams, Digital Security
Here are some scams you may encounter on the shopping juggernaut, plus a few simple steps you can take to help safeguard your data while bagging that irresistible deal
17 Jan 2024
5 min. read
If you’re on social media or use Google Shopping, the chances are you’ve been bombarded with adverts for Temu, a Chinese e-commerce marketplace that offers rock-bottom prices compared to equivalents in the West. $6 for a pair of sports shoes? A computer keyboard for $10?
Given the sheer variety of items, estimated in the tens of millions, and the number of price-busting deals on offer, many inflation-weary westerners have been drawn to the site, so much so that Temu is the most-downloaded shopping app worldwide. Meanwhile, others have questioned what Temu’s rise means in terms of environmental impact and product safety and whether the store is actually legit. Let’s explore some of these issues in detail here.
What is Temu?
Temu, the Western-branded arm of Chinese online retail giant Pingduoduo, effectively gives shoppers the opportunity to buy direct from famously low-cost Chinese manufacturers. It also offers users the opportunity to earn credits for money off future purchases, either through spin-the-wheel games or by encouraging others to join the site – more of which later.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and many customer reviews aren’t exactly glowing. As of the time of writing, the site has just a 2.5/5 rating from visitors to the US Better Business Bureau (BBB) while one-third of reviews on Trustpilot are one-star. Users frequently criticize Temu for inbox spam, difficulty receiving refunds, and items arriving in poor condition or not at all. Concerns have also been raised over the use of possible forced labour in product supply chains.
Also, a US government agency has accused Temu and fellow Chinese retailer Shein of potential data risks in what may bring echoes of concerns that have for a while surrounded the data practices of TikTok, another wildly popular Chinese-owned online service.
To be sure, the above doesn’t make Temu a scam site. However, fraudsters will always gravitate to where there are users, and that means latching on to the orange-branded Chinese retailer as a way to trick unwitting consumers.
Top 5 Temu scams
Here are some of the most common tactics that have been spotted on Temu:
1. Nude celeb ‘leaks’
If you want to qualify for cash or rewards that can be redeemed when shopping with Temu, you can do so by enticing others to join up and entering your referral code. However, scammers have taken to social media to trick users into entering these codes. One method is to post salacious photos of a celebrity (e.g., on Twitter, TikTok, etc) with a cryptic message hinting that users can access nudes if they enter the code into Temu. Of course, there are no pics and the scammer simply accrues more referrals.
2. Fortnite/Roblox benefits
Similar to the above tactic, a scammer will post to social media, claiming that users can access a free Roblox Robux gift card, enabling them to purchase upgrades for their avatars or buy special abilities on the site. All they have to do to claim the reward is enter the referral code on Temu. Another popular lure is the offer of rare Fortnite skins. Once again, there is no offer. The scammer is simply taking advantage of the curiosity of social media users and the fact that Temu is still not universally known.
3. Dupe products
Although Temu’s sister company, Pingduoduo, is on the US “Notorious Markets for Counterfeit Products and Piracy” list, there’s no suggestion that Temu lists counterfeit products. But there have been reports of duplicate products which fly close to the boundaries of patent infringement without crossing them. If a user types in a search, say, for an Apple product, they might be presented with lookalike items at a fraction of the price. For the uninitiated, and non-e-commerce savvy shopper, this could result in some serious buyer’s remorse.
4. Celeb merchandise
Another social media scam leveraging the pulling power of Temu involves fake posts from celebrities mocked up to appear as if they have a commercial partnership with the Chinese e-commerce marketplace. The end goal here again is to persuade fans to visit the site and enter the referral code, in order to buy discounted merchandise endorsed by the celeb. Once again, there’s no such deal and the codes simply accrue the scammer more cash/rewards with Temu.
5. 90% off scams
You should also be careful of website advertising and unsolicited emails promising huge discounts on a wide range of Temu-listed products. They will use classic social engineering techniques such as creating a sense of urgency via time-limited offers and amazing deals. But clicking through will take you to a lookalike phishing site, where the scammers will harvest your card information. Now they have your personal and financial details, but there’s no chance you will ever receive your order.
How to stay safe while shopping on Temu
To its credit, Temu is boosting its security by launching a bug bounty program, as well as trying to crack down on scams. It recently won preliminary court injunctions in the US against phishing websites impersonating the site. However, you also need to stay alert and remember these safety tips:
- Never click through on links in unsolicited emails or on ads.
- If you want to check out a Temu deal advertised online, visit the site independently.
- Don’t save your payment details in your account. Also, set up two-factor authentication (2FA) so that your account is protected by more than a password. Temu now offers SMS-based 2FA, which, while nowhere near as secure as hardware security keys or even dedicated mobile authentication apps, is better than nothing.
- Don’t fall for offers requesting you to type in a referral code on Temu – especially ones featuring celebrities.
- Always look closely at what you are buying to avoid disappointment down the line.
- Temu does offer special deals and low prices. But huge discounts across the board could well be a scam. Check online to see if anyone else is mentioning them as such.
More broadly, be careful about how much data you disclose and what kinds of permissions you grant to the Temu app, or any other mobile app for that matter. Here are some easy-to-implement precautions for if you’re concerned about disclosing too much of your personal information to Temu or many other online stores and marketplaces:
While there is no evidence that the site as such is a scam, fraudsters can still try to use it to defraud shoppers. You’re advised to exercise caution there whenever you do your online shopping.
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