Stolen images and fraudulent websites mimic top fashion brands to scam consumers

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Thousands of stolen images and fraudulent websites mimicking top fashion brands scammed consumers out of more than $1.4 billion in a single year. As we head into the last shopping weekend before Christmas and Hanukkah, here's what you need to know to protect yourself.

It may look like a legitimate Ray-Ban website, but the luxury sunglasses company says 'think again.'

Overland Sheepskin Co. tells 7 On Your Side other copycat sites are fraudulent too saying thieves are stealing their photos off their company's homepage and then posting them on their own stores.

"There's a very organized group of people that are taking pictures from not just our site, but many others and then iterating through literally hundreds of websites, posting those pictures up and completely scamming customers." says Gabriel Openshaw of Overland Sheepskin Co.

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Openshaw said he knows of consumers who paid for orders on these fake stores, but got nothing in return. In other instances, he says customers receive counterfeit merchandise.

In just the month of November, Overland Sheepskin Co. believes it found 506 websites doing this.

Openshaw says 91% of those images are hosted on Shopify, an e-commerce site that allows anyone to set up an online store.

"They have this bank of images that they've stolen and they just iterate through new websites, new domain names faster than we can play whack-a-mole trying to get them taken down," Openshaw said.

To be clear, he believes it's the companies hosted on Shopify, and not Shopify itself that is stealing the images. But he says Shopify isn't moving fast enough to take the sites down.

Shopify told us it's removed a number of merchants and will continue to investigate.

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It said in a statement: "We have multiple teams who handle potential violations of Shopify's Acceptable Use Policy."

Shashi Prakash is with an online fraud prevention company based on Los Altos, Red Marlin. He says there are thousands of website mimicking the sites of legitimate name brands.

"Just last month in November we found close to 15,000 websites just targeting one brand: Ray-Ban," Prakash said.

He said Dyson and Nike are two other big names that are a hit on fake sites.

To avoid getting scammed, look for this a lock symbol next to the URL, meaning the site is secure with a "Secure Sockets Layer" certificate. Other browsers will simply warn you about unsafe websites.

Consumers should also beware of any site that doesn't charge sales tax.

And finally, avoid sites that only accept Bitcoin or other single source of payment.

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The last thing you want is to give your credit card information to a scammer.

"Yeah, which is pretty dangerous and it's out there and people can use it for other nefarious purposes," Prakash warned. "So you want to stay away."

Both people we talked to warned about incredible bargains. Luxury brands don't offer 90% discounts -- so be wary when you see that.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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