‘Mystery boxes’: beware of scam

In early May, accounting assistant Telcio Germano da Silva, 40, bought a product called a “mystery box” on the Amazon website. The expectation generated by the ad, which promises iPhones, video games or even smart watches, proved to be a frustration.

Upon opening the package, three weeks after ordering, Telcio saw a gold-painted steel watch with an illustration of a dragon. He paid R$158 for an item that came without an invoice—and which, he later discovered, costs R$20 on Chinese sites like AliExpress and Shopee.

“I bought it thinking about my son, I wanted to give him a gift. It could be a drone, a mouse or even a headphone”, says he, who made the purchase after a suggestion from a coworker. They received the same watch.

He observed shortly after that the product declared to customs cost US$ 20 – R$ 95.80 at the current price –, that is, a value below what he paid for the purchase. “I felt injured at the time”, he adds.

Mystery boxes, also called surprise boxes, are sold on several e-commerce sites in Brazil. The item description follows a pattern: it suggests that the products are packed at random, that the buyer will receive one or more products and that the exchange is only possible in the event of a defect, which is contrary to the CDC (Consumer Defense Code).

Advertisers usually make the product available on platforms such as Amazon and Mercado Livre. The order comes from China for a price from R$100, without additional import fees.

This practice has been accompanied by an increase in user complaints, according to Instituto Reclame Aqui, from the website of the same name. In the first five months of this year, the page had 4,490 complaints from consumers who were dissatisfied with the mystery box purchase. In January, Reclame Aqui recorded 535 complaints; in May, it jumped to 2,740.

Telcio received a watch that costs US$ 20, according to a statement to Brazilian customs

Image: Personal archive

Mystery boxes are ‘false advertising’ and ‘scam’, experts say

The report analyzed in recent days some offers of this commodity and observed companies identified with random names (a sequence of several letters without forming a name) or without CNPJ. There are also those who sell the boxes exclusively in their site.

For the director of Proteste, Henrique Lian, the announcement of these products in the way they are made exploits the good faith of a possible buyer due to the lack of information. He claims that the lack of details about the goods delivered, such as make and model, is a case of false advertising.

“The consumer has the right to clear and adequate information. The image of a box from which televisions, speakers and headphones come out leads the consumer to believe that these are the items that make up the package”, he says.

Even if the sale is made by third parties, the marketplaces that make these products available on their shelf are also responsible for the damage to the buyer, says Idec (Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection) legal advisor David Douglas Guedes.

Amazon website displays more than one mystery box option - Play/Amazon - Play/Amazon

Amazon website displayed more than one mystery box option on Wednesday (1)

Image: Reproduction/Amazon

The Consumer Defense Code understands that the concept of joint and several liability includes the manufacturer and reseller for being part of the consumption chain. Customers can demand, for example, a refund or replacement of the product with an identical one.

Guedes also states that the coup characteristic is amplified if the user tries to contact the parties involved and does not have any response.

The director of studies and research at Procon-SP, Marcus Vinicius Pujol, adds that the impossibility of exchange in cases of consumer dissatisfaction hurts the CDC. The law guarantees users the right to withdraw from online purchases within a period of seven days from the date of delivery.

“It is a classic coup that awakens the greed of those who want to have a good. It is an abusive and misleading advertising, without a doubt”, he says.

Tips to avoid a scam

Hofferta company claims that its products are well evaluated, but apologizes to customers - Reproduction/Instagram - Reproduction/Instagram

Hofferta company apologizes to customers on social media for delays in delivery

Image: Playback/Instagram

In addition to advertising on platforms, there are companies that use social networks to communicate what consumers can receive when making a purchase. This is the case of Hofferta, who published on a TikTok account some videos that “unveil” the contents of the boxes.

In about 30 seconds, a person who doesn’t show his face opens a package and shows packages of what would be an iPhone 12, an Apple tablet and a headset. He, however, does not reveal what is inside the boxes. “I broke it, I took a wave. I’m very happy”, says a voice in the background.

On its own website, Hofferta sells boxes priced from R$117.90 to R$397.90. The page registers 19 consumer reviews, all of them positive. On Instagram, the discourse is different: the company published a series of stories in which it apologizes to its customers for the delay in sending the boxes.

For the experts heard by the UOL, the promise of offering an expensive product at a price below the market should be observed with great caution. They recommend that the consumer inform himself before the purchase, see the reviews and talk to friends who eventually purchased the box.

Another tip is to check the company’s reputation on websites dedicated to consumer complaints, such as Reclame Aqui. It is also possible to check the status of the supplier’s CNPJ on the Federal Revenue website.

If the consumer purchased the item and did not resolve the problem with the store, the alternative is to file a complaint with the Procon of his state or on the website Consumidor.gov.br. If the situation persists, it is possible to file a lawsuit in a JEC (Special Civil Court), also known as a small claims court.

In these cases, there is no need to represent a lawyer, as it is a lawsuit worth up to 20 minimum wages (R$ 24,240).

What companies say

Mercado Livre also allows the sale of mystery boxes - Reproduction/Mercado Livre - Reproduction/Mercado Livre

Mercado Livre also allows the sale of mystery boxes on its platform

Image: Reproduction/Free Market

O UOL contacted Amazon, which states in a note that partner sellers must follow its guidelines and policies when offering products for sale on its website. “Those who fail to do so will be subject to sanctions, including possible removal from their account.”

After contacting the report, Amazon said on Friday (3) that it deleted all products identified as a mystery box from its page. However, a search for the item reveals new boxes priced at R$1,135.93.

Mercado Livre says, also in a note, that it prohibits the sale of items without a complete description of their composition, which violates its registration policies. “The company informs that it proactively fights the misuse of its platform, which has technology and dedicated teams to identify and moderate content.”

Until Friday afternoon (3), the mystery boxes were still available for sale on the Mercado Livre website.

The report also tried to contact the company Hofferta by email, social networks, WhatsApp and phone, but had no response until the publication of this article.

After the loss, Telcio Germano da Silva contacted Amazon to ask for the money back before the seven-day period ended. According to him, an attendant said that the return might not happen, which is contrary to the Consumer Protection Code.