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Fraud Alert: 8 Critical Warning Signs of Shipping Container Scams

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As a customer, you’re trying to find an affordable container for the right price. But something can get between you and your ideal container: shipping container scams. You think you’ve found the perfect container. Maybe you discovered an incredible deal on Facebook, and while you were initially hesitant to trust a private seller, they provided a picture of your container, and it looks to be in excellent condition! You quickly input your payment information, and they send you a professional-looking invoice stating that you’ll receive your container in a few days.

You think you’ve just saved a ton of time and money. Instead, you’ve become a victim of fraud. You’ll never receive a message back from the fraudsters, and they’ll move to find another mark. The container you saw was never in the seller’s possession, and they might not even be in the same country as you. Still, they can disappear with your money, leaving you with nothing.

A Southwest Mobile Storage shipping container rests on the back of a flatbed truck.
Here are some warning signs to be aware of when purchasing a container, and how to protect yourself from being a victim of container fraud.

This story has been repeated worldwide, from Australia to the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. People from all walks of life have had their hard-earned money disappear in seconds to con artists and fraudsters. In this article, we’ll talk about how these scams happen, some common warning signs to be aware of when purchasing a container, and how to protect yourself from being a victim of container fraud.


Shipping Container Scams: A Global Fraud

On Facebook, eBay, and across the internet, scammers disguise themselves as legitimate shipping container businesses. They write fake websites, incorporate stolen logos from established sellers, and promise to sell containers for incredibly low rates compared to the rest of the market. The scams have been going on for at least two years, and they’re growing due to price fluctuations in the container market.

These scammers appeal to customers looking for a discounted container. They use tactics to pressure buyers to act quickly, even if they don’t have all the information they need to make an informed decision.


8 Common Warning Signs for Shipping Container Scams

Southwest Mobile Storage’s logo and brand have never been used for fraudulent operations. Still, it’s essential to know some red flags that might appear when interacting with a scammer. Always be careful about who you give financial information to online and ensure that you speak with an actual container seller. Below, we highlight a few common shipping container scams that you should look out for:

A graphic showcasing how shipping container scams work.

1. Must Buy Online

Scammers often don’t physically have containers, so they rip photos from the web or take pictures of other companies’ containers. They make it appear like they have a large inventory of containers like legitimate sellers. Ask if you could see the container in person before purchasing. Then, you can verify that you’re interacting with someone with a container to sell and not a scammer.

2. Questionable or Missing Photos

You can tell it might be a scam if there are no shipping container images to view. If they do provide images, they will be ripped from other sellers. Reverse image search sites like TinEye can help reveal if the image has been used on the web before, indicating that the seller isn’t as legit as they seem. This isn’t foolproof, so don’t let down your guard just because the container image hasn’t been used elsewhere.

3. Required Payment Through Crypto or Pre-Paid Cards

A container company will rarely request payment in cryptocurrency, but crypto is commonly used as a payment method for scammers online. The FTC says that crypto accounts for one in every four dollars lost to fraud. Transactions using cryptocurrencies are pseudo-anonymous. That makes it challenging to catch bad actors who use crypto for shipping container scams.

Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) are the most used cryptocurrencies. If a seller requests that you pay with either of those or something else that doesn’t sound like fiat, it’s a bright red flag that you’re interacting with a scammer. While less common in container scams, fraudsters can use other payment methods like pre-paid visa cards to avoid detection from law enforcement.

4. A Shady Website

Most scammers set up a website quickly, bringing in customers and dumping the entire operation when they’ve cashed out. The websites they design aren’t set up for legitimate purposes and will likely be thin in non-sales content. Does it seem like it’s from a legitimate business that wants to retain customers, or does it look like the site is designed to lead only to one page?

Check the website domain, located at the top of the page. Is the domain suffix something like .com or .net? Or is it a more unusual suffix like .shop or .biz? Does the domain name match the company’s name, or is it off by a letter or two? These can provide a good idea if the company you’re dealing with is legitimate.

Shipping containers at Southwest Mobile Storage's storage yard.
Scam websites are set up quickly and have limited information. At Southwest Mobile Storage, you can browse container sizes and speak directly with our knowledgeable sales staff.

You can click around and look for a blog or an about us page. Does it look like someone has put care into it, or was it an afterthought? Shipping container scam sites will be heavily weighted toward sales content and won’t have much else of substance.

5. A General Lack of Knowledge About Containers

Scammers don’t know the industry and don’t care about providing specifications to customers. Shipping container scam sites might have basic container information, providing use cases and container benefits. However, most will lack the substantive content that legitimate companies have built up over years of marketing efforts. If your sales representative doesn’t seem to know things like container rain or gets frustrated with your attempts to gather more information, hit the road!

6. No Contact Info

Scammers might not have contact information outside of a phone number, lack a physical location, or falsely list a legitimate location. The phone numbers between the scammer and the legit website they rip content from will differ. Google the name of the company you’re interacting with to see if they have a not-so-familiar twin.

7. Spelling Errors and Odd Language

Scammer websites are put together quickly but are not made to last. There are often common errors and sentences that don’t make sense. Take a deep look at your container seller’s website and see if anything doesn’t look right. A professional company will hire skilled marketers to write content for them, but shipping container scammers don’t care about attracting an audience over time. Their content will likely reflect that. Pay attention to spelling mistakes and odd grammar usage.

8. High-Pressure Sales Tactics of Shipping Container Scams

Previous red flags can, unfortunately, be ignored if scammers offer an unbeatable price. While alarm bells might be ringing in a buyer’s head, the scammer on the other line is doing everything possible to close the deal, like pressure tactics, including deadlines and false competition. For example, a scammer might lie about the demand for the container and try to elicit the buyer’s fear of missing an opportunity.

“You’re not sure if you can get me an answer today? There are a lot of people that have been asking about this container. I’m not sure it will be here tomorrow. If you want it, you need to act now.”
The scammer will do whatever they can to take your money and prey on your desire for a good deal. Unfortunately, the bargain isn’t real, and no company would remain profitable if they continued to sell containers at that price. The best advice for those looking to avoid getting scammed is the age-old adage: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stay safe, and make sure you know who’s selling your container!

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