Fake tracking numbers on AliExpress?

You finally placed the order for the dinosaur slippers (I have no idea how you lived without them), paid for them; and some time later, the seller has posted the tracking number. But when you try to track the movement, the tracking number does not work.

Did I just get a fake tracking number?


Free Shipping and AliExpress

You found the product you want to buy. You paid. The order was verified, and the seller finally posted the tracking number. But when you try to track it, the status comes up as “number not recognized”.

Did you just get a fake tracking number?

Not necessarily. But maybe.

Of course, stuff happens; but in a vast majority of cases, the tracking number that shows no movement passed China, or none at all, does not necessarily mean that you got swindled.

The scams where you would pay for something and then never receive it are pretty rare nowadays. AliExpress has Purchase Protection that has been fair to me so far; and there is an option to file a chargeback with the credit card provider as a last resort.

As you may have noticed, most items on AliExpress are shipped either free, or suspiciously cheap. How can someone sell something like an iPhone cable (or 43,000 of them) for $0.61, ship the item at no extra charge, and often add free gifts?

Fake tracking number AliExpress
An example of a tracking number that is as useful as a hedgehog in a condom factory

So, how do Chinese sellers afford free shipping?

The way it works, China Post handles the delivery to your country (USA/UK/Botswana), and then your local postal service (USPS/Royal Mail/Botswana Post) finalizes the delivery. In 1969 a treaty was created between countries to manage the charges and duties; but, generally speaking, postal services still charge each other less than what they would otherwise make their citizens pay (if you want to read more about how they manage to make [and lose] a ton of money doing that, check out this article)

But an easy answer to why the shipping from China is so cheap:

  1. Chinese government subsidizes postage costs, allowing exporters to mail very cheaply to overseas buyers.
  2. Government Post agencies pay the portion of the delivery once it reaches your country. 

That is in addition to the already cheap labor costs (in relation to the more developed countries), mass production, and cheap materials.

It is important to note, that the free/subsidizes shipping does not extend to packages larger heavier than 2 kg (about 4.5 lbs).

So the reason why you get tracking number that does not work, or only works inside China; is because most likely it does not cost enough to afford a tracking number service. This, however, becomes more and more rare; and most packages have the tracking number that shows the movement progress from the seller to your doorstep.

Another important moment why some sellers have such cheap prices is simple: people (especially, the more experienced ones) want to buy from sellers with good feedback. An easy way to get good feedback is to make a lot of sales for a cheap product, either without making profit, or even at a small loss. I have seen a lot of listings where the price increases almost by 2x when the listing reaches a number of sales significant enough to be the first product, if sorted by a number of sales.

AliExpress seller feedback
Seller feedback is important

All set? Check out our coolest AliExpress products in the Geeky section.

P.S.: A good postal tracking service that I like to use is 17Track.Net. It shows all tracking status updates, including when it reaches your country; and there is a built-in translator.

P.P.S.: Wondering if it is safe to use your credit card on AliExpress? Read more here.


  1. poetdiary (@poetdiary) September 4, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    And if you paid significant money for TNT and the number won’t show up? My seller originally put in a DHL number for a package that says it was delivered 3 days previously on other side of world with no connection to China and after pointing it out has now reissued a suspected dud TNT number instead that cant be found.

    1. Admin September 5, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      If you paid extra for the shipping, and received it with a different cheaper shipping option, there is an option for that in the dispute in AliExpress order portal. If you didn’t receive it at all, there is another option for the dispute.

      EDIT: Just checked the dispute options. The process has been simplified since the last time I opened a dispute (it was a long time ago). Now you just create it by selecting return goods/refund only, and write an amount of the refund. If you received it with cheaper shipping option, you could ask for the refund for the shipping price. If you didn’t receive it at all, you can ask for the entire order amount.


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