Protect Yourself From Online Gardening Scams

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I get it, it’s spring, and we’re all in a gardening frenzy. You want something new to grow, something unique, and instead of finding something special, you encounter an online scam. Maybe the scam is fake seeds or a deal that is too good to be true, or you find gardening scams targeting you and your love of gardening to get your personal information.

It sounds scary, and it is.

Online scams are a billion-dollar industry, and every year at this time, scammers come after gardeners. But don’t worry! We will walk you through all their sneaky tricks and arm you with the information you need to help you weed out these pesky scammers.

Side by side images of a strawberry  in unnatural colors such as violet purple, neon pink, bright teal and chocolate brown.
It’s sickening that someone would spend time in front of a computer editing images for the sole purpose of ripping people off.

Common Online Gardening Scams To Watch Out For

Online gardening scams can take many forms, but the goal is usually to trick people into giving away money or personal information for products or services that don’t exist or aren’t as advertised. Here are some common online gardening scams to avoid:

  • Seed scams: Some scammers sell seeds that are not what they claim to be. They may promise rare or exotic plants but send you common, low-quality seeds. Others may sell seeds that won’t grow at all.
  • Fake gardening stores: Scammers create fake online stores that look legitimate. They often offer products at very low prices and ask for payment upfront. Once you pay, they disappear, and you never receive your order.
  • Fake reviews: Scammers create fake reviews for gardening products or services to make them seem more legitimate. They may use fake names or paid reviewers to write positive reviews.
  • Phishing scams: Scammers may send you emails or messages that look like they come from a legitimate gardening store but are trying to get your personal information or payment details.
  • Fake gardening courses or certifications: Some scammers may offer online courses or certifications for gardening, but they need to be accredited or legitimate. They may ask for payment upfront and provide little to no value. If you buy a gardener course online, find one that is relatively inexpensive and hosted by a reputable company or well-established online site.

It’s essential to do your research before making any purchases online. Check the reviews of the store or seller, look for accreditation or certifications, and be cautious of any deals that seem too good to be true. It’s also a good idea to pay with a credit card, which offers more protection in case of fraud.

SCAM red stamp text on white background.

Seed Scams

Fake seed scams can take different forms, but some examples include the following:

Selling seeds that are not what they claim to be: 

Scammers may sell seeds labeled as rare or exotic plants, but when you receive them, they are standard or low-quality. Rainbow seeds, off-color fruits like blue strawberries, or rainbow tomatoes are common offers with images that are altered using software like photoshop.

Some images of fake seeds look convincing.

Some images of fake seeds look very real, while others are poorly photoshopped. With the rise of AI, images can be generated to be any color of the rainbow, so a picture that even looks real can be fake.

If a site uses fake images for any of its products, EVERYTHING on that site is suspect.

While researching this article, we ran into a site with so many fake seeds (14.99 a pop) that we were SHOCKED. The site has been in business since 2017. That means this site has been ripping off gardeners for 6 years. The site has what appears to be legitimate photos of real products, with a heavy load of fake seeds. My favorites were neon pink carrots, yellow hydrangea seeds, and a venus fly trap resembling a Piranha plant from Super Mario Brothers (I cannot make this stuff up).

Fake colored roses in blues, greens rainbow and black.

Selling seeds that won’t grow:

Some scammers sell already dead or poor-quality seeds, meaning they won’t grow. Or they try to sell you seeds that are notoriously difficult or impossible to grow from seeds like orchids or fruit trees.

Fake seed banks:

Scammers create fake online seed banks that offer a wide range of seeds, but once you make a purchase, they disappear, and you never receive your order. Always buy from reputable seed companies or established companies with no complaints.

Free seeds: 

Scammers may offer free seeds to get your personal information or payment details. Once you provide this information, they may charge you for additional products or services. Look for long-standing reputable seed exchange groups in your area, or try to find seeds from your local library or exchange.

Counterfeit seeds: 

Scammers may create fake copies of popular seed brands or varieties, which can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. These counterfeit seeds are often of poor quality and may not grow or produce the desired plants.

To avoid fake seed scams, it’s essential to buy seeds from reputable sellers and nurseries and to be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Look for seed packets that are correctly labeled with information such as the plant variety, the date of production, and the expected germination rate.

There are so many scams out there right now, but here are a few of the most popular ones:

  • Purple, neon pink, rainbow, black, or blue strawberries
  • Rainbow chrysanthemums, rainbow sunflowers (rainbow anything! rainbows do not show up in flowers, vegetables, or herbs in nature)
  • Venus fly trap seeds
  • Fruit tree seeds
  • Orchid seeds
  • Bright blue roses, neon purple roses, rainbow roses
  • Seeds that look like one fruit but, when cut, are something entirely different, like a strawberry that is a kiwi on the inside. Or a potato that is a tomato.
  • Purple-fleshed watermelons (although yellow flesh watermelons are real!)
An orange with the insides of a kiwi.  The image is used as an illustration of how good fake images can be these days.

A Few More Tips for Weeding out the Fakes

You can also watch how their seeds are presented or marketed to you – often, labels are not included, or the seeds have exaggerated claims. If you suspect a seed is fake, scrutinize the advertisement by looking for the following:

  • Exaggerated claims: Scammers may use excessive terms like “very rare” or “exotic” to describe their seeds, even if they are not rare or unique in any way.
  • Misleading labels: Some scammers may label their seeds as “organic” or “non-GMO” to make them appear more desirable, even if they are inaccurate.
  • False planting instructions: Scammers may provide false or misleading instructions to make it seem like their seeds are more likely to grow successfully.
  • Inaccurate seed counts: Some sellers may list the number of seeds as “pcs” (pieces) instead of giving the actual number or weight of the seeds, which can be misleading.

A note about Etsy and Amazon – Most fake sellers are on big platforms like Etsy and Amazon, so don’t let that fool you. Although there are reputable sellers on both platforms, there are far too many scam sellers. Amazon and Etsy must do better to remove these fake sellers from their platforms.

If you spot a scam seller, report them!

An avacado with the insides of a watermelon.  The image is used as an illustration of how good fake images can be these days.

Fake Gardening Stores:

Every year new fake gardening stores pop up online. You can protect yourself from counterfeit online stores by looking for red flags such as:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Poor website design, spelling or grammatical errors, and slow loading times can be suspicious.
  • Lack of contact information or customer support <- BIG red flag.
  • No SSL encryption for online transactions. <- even BIGGER red flag
  • Claims that bright blue strawberries or neon purple-fleshed apples have been genetically modified. Nope!
  • Negative reviews or complaints from previous customers.
  • No return policy is posted, or the policy states no returns and exchanges. Or, the return policy is intentionally long and confusing. Only buy from companies with a clear and fair return policy. If you buy your seeds from a reputable company, they usually come with a full-year return policy.

It’s always a good idea to research the seller or store before purchasing by looking for reviews or recommendations from trusted sources.

We will keep saying it because it’s the BEST way to avoid scammers – Buy your seeds and gardening supplies from well-known and reputable online stores or nurseries.

A fake image of a syringe labelled "GMO" turning a red strawberry blue.
This image is misleading, untrue, and completely fake. Images like this trick you into believing fake items like blue strawberries are possible.

What is SSL, and How do I Check if a Site is Secure?

To check if a website is SSL encrypted, look for the padlock icon in the address bar of your web browser. Here are the steps to check if a site is SSL encrypted:

  • Open your web browser and go to the website you want to check.
  • Look for the padlock icon in the address bar of your browser. If the website is SSL encrypted, you should see a padlock icon next to the URL.
  • Click the padlock icon for more information about the website’s SSL certificate. This will display a pop-up window with information about the website’s security certificate.
  • Check that the website URL starts with “https://” rather than “http://”. The “s” in “https” stands for “secure” and indicates that the website is using SSL encryption to protect your information.

If you do not see a padlock icon or the website URL does not start with “https://”, it’s possible that the website is not SSL encrypted. In this case, you should be cautious about providing personal or financial information on the website, as your data may be vulnerable to interception or theft.

Image shows https with a magnifying glass over the S.  The image is intended to be used as a warning against online gardening scams.
Two lines., the first line shows a secure site with the "HTTPS://" in green and an unsecure site with "HTTP://" in red.

Fake Reviews:

Fake reviews are a common tactic scammers use to make their products or services appear more legitimate and trustworthy. Here’s how they work and how you can protect yourself from them:

  • Scammers create fake user accounts or pay people to write positive reviews for their products or services, even if they have not used them. These reviews are often very positive and may use similar language or talking points.
  • The fake reviews may be posted on multiple websites or platforms to create a more widespread impression of popularity or legitimacy.
  • Some scammers may also use negative reviews to discredit their competitors or make their products appear better by comparison. (jerks!)

How to Protect Yourself from Fake Reviews

To protect yourself from fake reviews, it’s important to be skeptical of overly positive or negative reviews and to look for patterns in the language or content of reviews. Here are some tips:

  • Check the date of the review. If many positive reviews were posted within a short time frame, it might be a sign of fake reviews.
  • Look for reviews that provide specific details about the product or service rather than general or vague comments.
  • Check multiple sources for reviews, including independent review websites, social media, and forums, to get a more comprehensive picture.
  • Be wary of overly positive or negative reviews or use similar language or phrasing.
  • Look for reviews from verified purchasers or users, as these are more likely to be legitimate.

Overall, it’s important to research before making any purchases online and to be cautious of any deals or promotions that seem too good to be true. By taking these precautions, you can help protect yourself from scams and fake reviews.

Phishing Scams:

Gardening phishing scams work similarly to other phishing scams but specifically target gardeners or people interested in gardening. Here’s how they typically work:

  • You receive an email or message that appears to be from a legitimate gardening store or nursery or a gardening expert or organization. The message may ask you to click a link or download an attachment.
  • The link or attachment may take you to a fake website resembling a legitimate gardening store or organization. Alternatively, it may install malware on your device to steal your personal information, such as your passwords or credit card details.
  • The message may also ask you to provide personal information, such as your name, address, or payment details, under the guise of needing this information to complete a purchase or for other legitimate reasons.

Phishing scams require you to provide personal information or click the link or attachment. The scammers can use this information to commit fraud or identity theft or to make unauthorized purchases using your payment details.

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing Gardening Scams:

To protect yourself from gardening phishing scams, be cautious of emails or messages that ask for personal information or include links or attachments from unknown or suspicious sources.

Always check the sender’s email address and verify it is from a legitimate source before clicking on any links or downloading attachments. Using up-to-date antivirus software on your device and regularly reviewing your credit card and bank statements for unauthorized transactions is also a good idea.

A computer screen with a warning that it's an internet scam and if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.  The image is intended to be used as a warning against online gardening scams.

Fake Gardening Courses

Fake gardening courses can be challenging to spot, as scammers may use convincing marketing tactics and offer some legitimate gardening information or resources.

Online courses are big money now, and everyone and their zucchini are creating one. I’ve taken my fair share of courses, and they have run the gamut of “this-was-incredibly-worth-it” to “where-did-my money-go?”

Here are some warning signs that can help you identify a potential fake gardening course:

No accreditation, certification, or experience: 

A legitimate gardening course should have some accreditation or certificate from a recognized organization or institution. At the very least, the course developer should have lots of hands-on experience with the subject.

It may be a red flag if the course lacks information about its credentials or certification.

Lack of course content or structure:

A legitimate gardening course should have a clear structure and provide detailed information on the topics covered. If the course description is vague or doesn’t clearly outline what you will learn, it may be a sign of a fake course.

Exaggerated or unrealistic claims: 

Scammers may make exaggerated or unrealistic claims about the benefits of their course, such as promising that you can become a gardening expert in a short time or guaranteeing success in gardening. Be cautious of any promises that seem too good to be true.

High fees or upfront payments:

Fake gardening courses may charge high fees or require upfront payments before you can access the course outline. Be wary of any courses that ask for payment before you’ve had a chance to review the course content and what you will learn to make sure it’s a good fit for your needs.

And be wary of gardening sites that are not fake but still ripping you off with HIGH prices for simple courses – it’s just as bad. Growing fruits and vegetables at home shouldn’t cost you a car payment to learn how.

Lack of reviews or testimonials: 

Legitimate gardening courses should have reviews or testimonials from previous students or users. If the course has no reviews or testimonials, it may be a sign that it’s a new or fake course.

A large image with fake, scam, fraud, and rip off in bold stamp like letters against a bright red background.  The image is intended to be used as a warning against online gardening scams.

Creating Buying Urgency

Fake courses may try to create buying urgency by implementing marketing strategies like “only for the next 24 hours”. Yet 24 hours later, that offer is still available. That offer is likely available every day for that sale price. In Canada, I can tell you that such sales tactics are illegal and can result in hefty fines.

Sale prices on brand-new Courses

A sale price cannot exist without an established price.

Be suspicious when a course claims it is “worth thousands of dollars” and is now 90% off. With no baseline for a price, the value is overinflated to appear like you’re getting a good deal. Unfortunately, I see this all the time, even with reputable companies. It’s a made-up price and a made-up claim. The practice of inflating prices before a sale is also illegal in some states and entirely illegal in Canada. Buyer beware.

Overall, it’s essential to research before enrolling in any online gardening courses. Also, look for courses with credible credentials, clear course content, and positive reviews from previous students.

Online Gardening Scams – Protect Yourself

Beating online gardening scams requires a bit of caution, skepticism, and research, but protecting your garden and finances from scammers is worth it. By being aware of common scams such as fake gardening stores, seed scams, phishing scams, and fake gardening courses, you can avoid falling victim to them. Also, remember to check reviews, look for accreditation, use secure payment methods, and be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. 

By staying informed and taking these precautions, you can enjoy the benefits of online gardening stores and resources without being taken for a ride by scammers. So keep growing, and stay safe!

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