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What are mystery box scams and how can you protect against them?


April 10, 2024

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What are mystery box scams and how can you protect against them?

Mystery boxes that promise high-value surprise items have flooded the internet in recent years. You’ve probably seen related unboxing videos on YouTube or ads on your social media feed.

They include surprise items that individuals can buy or win online and come in a variety of selections, allegedly from online retailers such as Amazon, Apple, Sephora AliExpress, Shein, Temu and many others.

Are they legit, or just another online swindle?

Mystery box offerings that allow you to purchase or win high-end items at meager prices should always trigger your Spidey senses, because they are scams.

Ask yourself, “Who would sell or give out merchandise worth thousands for just a few bucks?”

Here’s how these mystery box scams reach potential buyers (victims):

  • Receive an email stating that you can win a mystery box filled with  smart devices or gadgets by simply completing a survey and paying a small delivery fee (usually $5 to $10)
  • You see an ad on a website or e-commerce platform
  • You are targeted by ads that show videos of mystery box pallets and unboxing on your social media feed (Facebook, Instagram and others)

These mystery box scams have taken the internet by storm, targeting millions of individuals worldwide through email, social media and other channels.

Bitdefender Labs issued an alert regarding the proliferation of these scams via paid ads on social platforms such as Facebook. Our month-long investigation into these fraudulent online dealings began with the analysis of scam ads on Facebook that promised users the chance to either participate in an online raffle or purchase a mystery box containing expensive merchandise from Apple, Samsung and Dyson.

Check out our in-depth research in this dedicated article.

The UK’s National Reporting Centre for Fraud and Cybercrime (Action Fraud) also warned consumers to watch out for mystery box scams after receiving over 7,900 reports about fraudulent emails that impersonated well-known retailers and promised recipients free mystery boxes.

What are the leading tell-tale signs of a mystery box scam?

  • You receive an unsolicited and enticing message that promises a unique and limited opportunity to win a Mystery Box scam from a popular online retailer
  • Some fraudsters create deepfake videos of famous influencers or celebrities to add legitimacy to their claims.
  • You are targeted by ads describing clearance or sales events of unclaimed packages on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and other social media platforms
  • You see a video or an advertisement that leads you to a page with too-good-to-be-true descriptions of potential mystery box items
  • Some of the fraudulent mystery box listings only ask you to pay a small shipping fee
  • The names of the social media profiles that serve online ads include words such as “mystery box pallets,” “liquidation,” and “clearance”
  • The e-commerce platform promoting the sale of mystery boxes is of poor quality
  • Online listings or messages offer unbelievably low prices on overstock items or yearly sales of electronics, cosmetics, designer bags, and clothing.
  • The promotion or offer is not available on any of the official retailer websites
  • The message says you can win a mystery box for completing an online survey, but need to pay for shipping
  • The domain of the website is very new and usually has hundreds of positive reviews from so-called happy customers
  • You can’t contact the seller after a purchase
  • Payment methods may include wire transfers, gift cards or cryptocurrency – untraceable payment methods that mean you can’t get your money back

What are the risks of interacting with this type of scam correspondence?

Most individuals believe that such a scam will only cost them money. Unfortunately, users can lose much more than money, becoming repeat victims of scammers and identity thieves.

Here’s what can happen:

  • In the best-case scenario, the shopper receives a box filled with fakes or poor-quality merchandise and loses a small amount of money
  • The scammers bait recipients into filling out their credit card information but send no mystery box
  • The scammers steal your personally identifiable information and financial data to conduct identity theft crimes and better target you with other fraudulent schemes

How to protect against online mystery box scams

  • Ignore all social media ads and posts that say you can win free mystery boxes. If something sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.
  • Scrutinize all spam emails regarding mystery boxes that you see in your inbox. If the message says you can win a mystery Apple box for completing a 2-minute survey and get free tech by only paying for shipping, it’s 100% a scam!
  • Conduct your shopping on websites you already know and trust
  • Independently check for reviews about the seller or platform before you commit to any purchase
  • Inspect all URLs and websites for phishing signs, including poor grammar, typos, and stolen official logos
  • Read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service of the e-commerce platforms selling the mystery boxes
  • Beware of accepted payment methods. Use a credit card to dispute fraudulent charges or cancel compromised cards.
  • Monitor your financial accounts. If you fall victim, immediately call your bank to stop any recurrent payments, dispute fraudulent charges, and cancel credit cards.
  • Use a security solution on your devices that detects phishing and fraudulent websites. Bitdefender security solutions have multiple layers of security that can protect your devices and data and alert you whenever you access websites that are trying to scam you.
  • Chat with Scamio, our AI-powered scam detector, online or via Facebook Messenger. To receive recommendations and thwart security threats, you only need to describe the details of a possible scam, copy-paste links, or upload screenshots and QR codes.




Alina is a history buff passionate about cybersecurity and anything sci-fi, advocating Bitdefender technologies and solutions. She spends most of her time between her two feline friends and traveling.

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