(Topic ID: 295415)

Beware of Scam Game Seller Websites

By ForceFlow

39 days ago


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  • Latest reply 17 days ago by ForceFlow
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    #1 39 days ago

    In the past year or so (within the late 2019 to early 2021 timeframe), a number of stand-alone scam game seller websites have popped up, and several discussion threads have been posted about some of them asking "is that website legit?"

    More often than not, if you feel you need to ask that question, the answer is usually no.

    Most of these sites can be stumbled upon in a google search using search terms related to buying a pinball machine.

    That said, there is a list below of some of the known scam sites (this will probably not be comprehensive), some previous threads that have been posted, and some things to look out for.

    For lists of legitimate retail game dealers, many of them can be found listed on the distributor pages of pinball manufacturers. Some only sell NIB (New-in-box) games, and some also deal with older refurbished games.

    Note that not every retailer will be listed there (since some dealers might only sell used games, and thus wouldn't be on a NIB distributor list), but those lists are fairly comprehensive, especially if you're looking to purchase a brand new game. Beyond that, there are also many private collectors who sell games. They usually list games here in the Pinside marketplace, in various buying/selling groups on Facebook, various other pinball or arcade discussion forums, Craigslist, and and handful of mailing lists.

    Note that all of those platforms do have their own set of scammers present, but this guide will mainly focus on stand-alone scam websites, which have been tricking people who are new to the hobby or inexperienced about buying a new game. This group of individuals are likely the most susceptible to a website scam since they have likely not yet joined any sort of pinball community who might be able to warn them about it and have likely never bough a new game before. They are likely just googling for information on their own about buying a game when they encounter these scam websites.

    If you have a question about a dealer or anyone else, don't hesitate to ask. There will likely be someone who can provide feedback on a seller, or be able to help determine if something is a scam.

    List of known of scam sites:

    • artifexsp.com
    • axmpinballmachines.com
    • buypinballmachine.com
    • homeluxurygames.com
    • kingarupinball.com
    • masterpinball.com
    • pinballbase.com
    • pinballftries.com
    • pinballhem.com
    • pinballgamesales.com
    • pinballmachines.online
    • pinballsarcadegames.com
    • pinballshore.com
    • pinballstores.com
    • pinballtheatre.com
    • officialpinballmachines.com
    • stellarpinballs.com
    • thepinballhouse.com
    • zendohyd.com

    List of questionable/unconfirmed sites:

    • pinballtrader.us
    • pinballflipper.com

    Note that if a suspicious website is reported and they are actually shown to be a legitimate seller/distributor, the posts concerning that site will be removed from this thread so as to not unfairly associate or connect that site with this thread.

    Previous discussions:

    If you spot any additional sites or discussions, please feel free to add them to this thread.

    #2 39 days ago

    Here are some ways to spot a scam site. Not all scam sites will bear all of these identifying attributes, but they generally have one or more of them.

    Prices
    The prices on scam sites tend to be significantly lower than you see anywhere else. This helps attract potential marks thinking they could get a deal, and pressures them to act fast before they miss out on it (aka FOMO--Fear of Missing Out).

    Poor English
    Scam sites usually feature content written by a non-native speaker. Therefore, there may be odd word choices, unusual sentence structure, incorrect verb tenses, and so on. If you read it aloud, it just sounds wrong.

    Stolen Content
    Often times, scam sites will lift content from websites of legitimate pinball distributors. For whatever reason, they seem to favor some of these sites:

    Sometimes if you do a search for a few sentences that you find on the scam site, either on individual product listings or an about page, you will see results of those same sentences found on other (and sometimes legitimate) websites.

    Stolen Images
    Scam sites don't take their own photographs of games. They pretty much always steal them from other sources such as legitimate distributors or private seller ads. Use google's reverse image search or https://tineye.com/ to do a reverse image search on the images. If you see results pop up elsewhere, it's very likely that the images were stolen.

    Note that sometimes you might not get a reverse image result, but that doesn't mean the image hasn't been stolen--just that it hasn't been indexed by the search engine. If a reverse search fails, try searching older ads, restoration guides/threads, game room threads, or various other places where game images may be posted. Sometimes if you search for images just based on the game title, it may show up in search results, especially if the image on the scam site was altered, cropped, recolored, rotated, or otherwise altered in a minor way.

    Domain Name Lookup
    This is a bit more technical than the other red flags, but reveals a lot more information.

    If you are unfamiliar with how domain names work, this is a quick overview: in order to use a domain name, you must buy it from a domain name registrar. Ownership information is then added to the purchased domain name's record, which is called a whois record. This record shows who is in control of a domain name and how to contact them--this is information that is completely public. However, since most people don't want their private contact and billing information made public, you can mask it using private registration information provided by the registrar. So, any information sent to the masked contact information listed in the whois record will be forwarded to your real contact information.

    To check the registration/whois details of a domain, you can visit any number of domain registrar sites, but I prefer to use https://whois.domaintools.com/ because of the additional details that they provide.

    The domain name used for a scam website is generally relatively new. Since these scams started appearing in late 2019, the creation date of the domain may be between late 2019 and early 2021.

    Whois records may also contain contact information for a foreign entity, such as masked private registrar information provided by a company in China.

    The nameservers listed in the record may also be from foreign companies, and may be based in places such as India or Pakistan. Additional technical info: Nameservers hold the routing information for the website domain, which directs the domain name to the server where the website resides. Normally, the nameserver is provided by the domain registrar or website host. If it's instead with a foreign 3rd-party, more often than not there's something fishy going on. A 3rd-party nameserver makes it easier for a scammer to pivot to a new web host if they get booted from an old one.

    The hosting provider/server that is used to host the website might or might not be foreign. More often than not, it is based in the US since this is where the target audience is, and basic web hosting is really cheap here.

    Hosting providers and some domain name registrars make it pretty easy to pay for services using various payment methods, and since they don't mail anything, a scammer can easily provide false contact info. So, a scammer can effectively remain anonymous.

    Contact Information
    If contact information is provided on the website, search for it in google and see what else comes up. Sometimes the same contact info will appear on other scam sites or scam warning sites.

    Sometimes contact information will just be a phone number or whatsapp number. No legitimate retailer uses whatsapp. If it's a phone number, search for it on https://www.freecarrierlookup.com/ to determine what the phone carrier is. Beware of SMS-only carriers and bandwidth.com (aka google voice).

    Location Information
    Sometimes the location information will be a legitimate pinball distributor. Use google maps and the street view feature to see the building at the address. Retail distributors usually have signage on their building, so if the signage doesn't match the name on the website, then the website might not be legit. Also, if the location doesn't have street view available, it may have been purposefully picked so that you can't see the building in street view. A random nondescript warehouse without signage can also be suspicious, especially if the street view image is only a year or two old.

    Automated Scam Site Checking Tool
    https://www.scamdoc.com/ is a tool you can use to check a website for some of the red flags that can help identify a scam site. It uses some of the identifying markers as described above, plus various others (such as other websites or the lack of websites that are linking to the scam site).

    Note that automated tools shouldn't be trusted blindly, as they can be tricked by scammers as they change, update, and use tactics to help avoid detection.

    ------

    Up until this point, this has been about the website itself. If for whatever reason you end up making contact with the scammer, here are couple things that would stand out:

    Seeing a Game
    A scammer will likely come up with all sorts of excuses as to why you (or a friend/family member in the area) can't see a game in person. Excuses could include: it's currently somewhere else (at a different location or warehouse), it's being cleaned, it's on location and inaccessible, the business is closed during any proposed days/times, etc.

    A legitimate seller would invite and encourage you to see and play the game in person.

    Payment Methods
    Most retailers will take just about any legitimate form of payment--credit cards, checks, cash, wire transfers. However, scammers don't want to run the risk of a reversed payment or a payment that can be tracked. So, they will request payment in the form of gift cards, bitcoin, and sometimes venmo/zelle or wire transfers. A legitimate seller will *never* request gift cards, and it's very unlikely they will request any form of crypto currency.

    Pinball Terminology
    Scammers are getting to know our hobby fairly well, and have started to become familiar with the terminology. However, they tend not to be familiar with some simple technical questions, concepts about maintenance, or generally having anything to do with repair or anything that has to do with opening a pinball machine or seeing what is inside of it. Note that this may change as they become more familiar with our hobby. But legitimate retailers generally know their products inside and out, while scammers tend to provide nonsense answers.

    -------

    Be Aware of New or Changing Tactics
    Smarter scammers tend to update, modify, and change some of their tactics as people start to recognize how they operate. So, be aware that they may attempt to minimize some of the red flags identified above.

    #3 39 days ago

    What can you do to help combat these scammers?

    Share the domain name of the scam site so we can add it to the list. When people search for information on the scam site, this thread will likely appear in their search results.

    Report Stolen Content
    If the images were stolen from a retail site, you can contact the owner to let them know about it. Since they would be the copyright holder of the image, they may be able to file a DMCA claim against them website's hosting provider or registrar to try to get the website taken down.

    Note that only the copyright holder or an authorized representative can file these complaints. Since you will likely have no connection with the owner of the stolen content, you will not be able to file a DMCA claim on their behalf.

    Report Scams to Government Agencies
    You can report the scam website to various government agencies here: https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds

    I'm not sure how quick or effective this is, but it can't hurt.

    Report the Scam to the Website Hosting Provider
    Most hosting providers do not want malware or scammers being hosted on their servers. It's bad for business and opens them up to liability. So, what you can do is report the website to them for a "terms of service" violation.

    To check who the hosting provider is, Do a DNS lookup for the domain here: https://mxtoolbox.com/DNSLookup.aspx

    Enter the domain name of the website, click the IP address listed in the search results, and the hosting information will appear. So, for the "PTR" record, look at the domain name listed. This will show the full address of the web server that the website is hosted on. Try visiting the main domain name (if the name is something like b14.core.hostfx.com, just visit hostfx.com). That should bring you to the company that owns the server.

    Then take a look at their "abuse", "terms of service", and/or "acceptable use" pages to see if you can find instructions about reporting scam sites or fraud. Use the instructions to report the site, or you can't find instructions, use the general contact information/form provided on the company's website.

    Note that if you do get the scammer kicked out, they will likely just set up shop at another website hosting provider. But--this will mean some downtime for the scammer, and the more time they have to spend managing their scam website, the less time they will have to actually be running scams on people.

    Report the Scam to the Domain Registrar
    Using the domain whois information, you can determine who the registrar of the domain name is. Visit the registrar's website, and look for an abuse or abuse complaints section. There will usually be instructions on where to file the complaint.

    Report the Facebook Pages
    Some of these scam sites have facebook pages that accompany them, usually populated with the website address and other contact info, as well as posts with stolen images. If you visit the page, click the facebook page's menu options and click "find support or report page". Click the "scams and fake pages" option, then the "fake pages" option.

    #5 39 days ago

    How to spot a scam site:

    - prices are unusually low or funky (no rhyme or reason to the prices)
    - Google search text from the site; it will usually show up as lifted from a legitimate site
    - reverse image search images; they will usually show up as lifted from a legitimate site
    - when in doubt, it's a scam

    Pinball is in high demand right now. No one is going to give these kinds of deals, in the past, or especially now!

    #6 39 days ago

    yup had a customer here in middletown ny , who bought a creature and got ripped off purchased online from California . he was a newbie to the hobby . beware

    #7 39 days ago
    Quoted from dr_nybble:

    How to spot a scam site:
    - prices are unusually low or funky (no rhyme or reason to the prices)
    - Google search text from the site; it will usually show up as lifted from a legitimate site
    - reverse image search images; they will usually show up as lifted from a legitimate site
    - when in doubt, it's a scam
    Pinball is in high demand right now. No one is going to give these kinds of deals, in the past, or especially now!

    Ok ok ok but what if it’s a game I REALLY want at a REALLY good price ?

    #8 39 days ago
    Quoted from CrazyLevi:

    Ok ok ok but what if it’s a game I REALLY want at a REALLY good price ?

    Ask them to do something really easy to fake like a post-it note with today's date on the game.

    #9 39 days ago
    Quoted from roffels:

    Ask them to do something really easy to fake like a post-it note with today's date on the game.

    In all seriousness, it is better to ask for a video, rather than a verification image, since those are so easy to photoshop.

    #10 39 days ago

    This happened in the car market too - full websites with photos, VINs, carfax reports, etc. COVID provided a nice excuse to not meet up to verify whether the seller was real - "We deliver!"

    #11 39 days ago

    Good write up ForceFlow.

    These sites really have proliferated since the pandemic began.

    #12 39 days ago
    Quoted from ForceFlow:

    In all seriousness, it is better to ask for a video, rather than a verification image, since those are so easy to photoshop.

    I wish my friend would let me share a scammer video his business partner had over a Matrix pinball machine. It was so ridiculous - he just used a static image and played dumb when asked to show anything in the game.

    #13 39 days ago
    Quoted from roffels:

    I wish my friend would let me share a scammer video his business partner had over a Matrix pinball machine. It was so ridiculous - he just used a static image and played dumb when asked to show anything in the game.

    I’d love to see that video. Maybe reach out and ask if he’ll share it.

    #14 38 days ago

    On a related note did the stolen NIB Cocktail pins show up for sale?

    Thanks for the comprehensive list Forceflow, luckily I am a inspect/pay/pickup in person buyer. I miss deals but also avoid scams doing this.

    #15 38 days ago
    Quoted from ForceFlow:

    What can you do to help combat these scammers?
    Share the domain name of the scam site so we can add it to the list. When people search for information on the scam site, this thread will likely appear in their search results.
    Report Stolen Content
    If the images were stolen from a retail site, you can contact the owner to let them know about it. Since they would be the copyright holder of the image, they may be able to file a DMCA claim against them website's hosting provider or registrar to try to get the website taken down.
    Note that only the copyright holder or an authorized representative can file these complaints. Since you will likely have no connection with the owner of the stolen content, you will not be able to file a DMCA claim on their behalf.
    Report Scams to Government Agencies
    You can report the scam website to various government agencies here: https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds
    I'm not sure how quick or effective this is, but it can't hurt.
    Report the Scam to the Website Hosting Provider
    Most hosting providers do not want malware or scammers being hosted on their servers. It's bad for business and opens them up to liability. So, what you can do is report the website to them for a "terms of service" violation.
    To check who the hosting provider is, Do a DNS lookup for the domain here: https://mxtoolbox.com/DNSLookup.aspx
    Enter the domain name of the website, click the IP address listed in the search results, and the hosting information will appear. So, for the "PTR" record, look at the domain name listed. This will show the full address of the web server that the website is hosted on. Try visiting the main domain name (if the name is something like b14.core.hostfx.com, just visit hostfx.com). That should bring you to the company that owns the server.
    Then take a look at their "abuse", "terms of service", and/or "acceptable use" pages to see if you can find instructions about reporting scam sites or fraud. Use the instructions to report the site, or you can't find instructions, use the general contact information/form provided on the company's website.
    Note that if you do get the scammer kicked out, they will likely just set up shop at another website hosting provider. But--this will mean some downtime for the scammer, and the more time they have to spend managing their scam website, the less time they will have to actually be running scams on people.
    Report the Scam to the Domain Registrar
    Using the domain whois information, you can determine who the registrar of the domain name is. Visit the registrar's website, and look for an abuse or abuse complaints section. There will usually be instructions on where to file the complaint.

    Dude, seriously, great write up! What an useful set of tools that you provided!

    #17 38 days ago

    No I didn't. As far as I could tell, they did not have a list of distributors displayed on their website. You may also notice that other manufacturers are absent for the same reason.

    #18 38 days ago

    pinballtheatre.com added to the list.

    #20 35 days ago

    Added artifexsp.com, homeluxurygames.com, pinballhem.com, pinballftries.com, officialpinballmachines.com to the list.

    #21 35 days ago

    Added section on reporting the facebook pages that sometimes accompany the scam site.

    #22 33 days ago

    Add masterpinball.com

    Realistic-ish pricing, too.

    #23 33 days ago
    Quoted from alexmogil:

    Add masterpinball.com
    Realistic-ish pricing, too.

    Nice catch. Added. Looks like the domain was created just over a week ago. A lot of other red flags are present too.

    #24 27 days ago

    Added thepinballhouse.com to the list.

    #25 27 days ago

    pinballtrader.us added to the questionable/unconfirmed list. The site uses a lot of stolen photos.

    Relevant discussion: https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/pinballtraderus-legit

    #30 20 days ago

    Added pinballsarcadegames.com to the list.

    #39 17 days ago

    There was a report of a suspicious distributor website yesterday, but it was clear that they were a legitimate distributor. So as to not unfairly associate or connect them with this thread, the posts have been removed.

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