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Belgian government warns against fake online timber websites
As the price of both building materials and energy has risen dramatically recently, so has the number of online scammers claiming to sell wood products, warns Belgium’s FPS Economy.
The federal agency received at least 126 reports of fake online sale sites for timber in July alone, with victims reporting an average loss of €750. One person lost €2,972.
“Scammers are taking advantage of the current situation and are creating fake sales sites for wood products,” a press release explained, reports RTBF.
“Citizens who want to use an alternative heating method or are looking for cheap wood products, order and pay for goods that they do not receive.”
The economic inspectorate of FPS Economy analyses victim reports and then decides whether or not to launch an investigation. If caught, scammers risk a prison sentence of one month to five years or a fine of €208 to €24,000.
It also issues a warning to the public. “Internet fraud is a growing problem. You should therefore be vigilant in order to shop online safely,” Pierre-Yves Dermagne, minister for the economy said in a statement.
Victims invited to report fraud
“The Federal Public Service Economy is raising awareness of this problem as much as possible, for example via webshopsecurise.be. Anyone who notices a fraudulent web shop or who is a victim of a scam can report it via the FPS Economy contact point.”
Scammers hoping to take advantage of the sharp price increases for timber, set up websites selling various wood products, including wood pellets and firewood that can be used as an alternative heating source amid the ongoing energy crisis.
The scammers lure victims with attractive prices, which they also promote with advertisements, especially on social media.
But after a customer pays, the ordered goods are not sent, because they never existed in the first place. Most fraudsters stop replying to any attempts to contact them, or if they do reply, they attempt to extort more money from the victim.
“Unfortunately, there are no limits to the creativity and deviousness of scammers,” said Eva De Bleeker, state secretary for consumer protection.
“It’s therefore important that we react quickly as soon as a new form of fraud appears. I would also like to advise consumers to always think critically: does something seem too good to be true? Then it probably is.”
In addition to filing a report with FPS Economy, victims are encouraged to contact their bank and file a report with local police.
Tips for detecting and avoiding such scammers, and verifying the legitimacy of online webshops, can be found at webshopsecurise.be.
Photo: © FPS Economy site