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How To Spot And Prevent Online Shopping Scams?

“The money’s the same, whether you earn it or scam it.”-Bobby Heenan

Christmas, Black Friday, Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday and many other special events are the time for us to go “hunting” for the perfect gift for family, friends or ourselves.

Yet, it’s also hunting season for scammers!

The Internet has shaped the way we shop, with retail apps and social media stores adding to the thousands of online options.

The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website, mobile app or social media ad.

Some fake e-stores are invented from scratch, but many mimic trusted retailers, with familiar logos, slogans and a URL that’s easily mistaken for the real thing.

They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise benefits like free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.

Some of these fake e-stores do deliver merchandise, but they tend to be knockoffs worse less than even the “discount” price advertised as a once-in-a-life-time deal.

However, the danger doesn’t stop there.

Scammers that now have your contact and personal details and credit card may try and steal your identity, sell your details on the black market and send your emails with malware designed to infect your system.

How Do These Attacks Work?

While many online sellers are legitimate, unfortunately, scammers can use the “anonymous” nature of the internet.

Anyone can pretend to be anyone or any online brand.

Scammers use the latest technology to set up fake retailer websites that look like genuine online retail stores.

Many of these websites offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at low prices.

The use of social media platforms to set up fake online stores is growing in popularity. They open the store for a short time, often selling counterfeit branded clothing or jewellery. After making several sales, the stores disappear.

How To Spot Online Scams?

  1. Strange method payments – Scammers will often ask you to pay using a money order, pre-loaded money card, or wire transfer, but if you send your money this way, it’s unlikely you will see it again or receive your purchased item.

  2. Too good to be true deals – These scams often advertise benefits or items at unbelievably low prices.

  3. Strange website address – The link from the advertisement appears genuine, but when you click on it, the link takes you to a different address away from the seller’s website address.

  4. No customer reviews – Online shopping pages that are very new, selling products at very low prices and don’t have any customer reviews. Sometimes the conversation on social media about the company is one-way, and comments are made by the page owner only and not from customers.

  5. No contact details or store policies – Those websites that provide no contact details or information about their privacy and returns policies, or their terms and conditions of use.

Here is an example of a website: This website advertised branded sports shoes and sandals at over 50% off and took credit card payment. 

Rather than list contact details for the business, the website provided an online contact request form. It turns out the website was set up using information stolen from a legitimate business.

How To Protect Yourself Online Shopping Scams?

  1. Don’t pay by wire transfer, money order or gift card. Sellers that demand these types of payments are scammers, and unlike with credit cards or reputable e-pay services, there’s little recourse to recover your money.

  2. Don’t assume a retail website is safe because it is encrypted. Many scam sites use encryption, indicated by a padlock icon or “https://” in front of the URL, to provide a false sense of security.

  3. Don’t provide more information than a retailer needs. That should be only your billing information and the shipping address.

  4. Don’t use sites that require you to download software or enter personal information to access coupons or discount codes.

  5. Don’t buy from sites that are very new. Look for a copyright date and use the WHOIS lookup service to see when a domain was created.

Your Online Cyber Hygiene Vigilance

  1. Do use trusted sites rather than shopping with a search engine. Scammers can game search results to lead you astray.

  2. Do comparison shop. Check prices from multiple retailers to help determine if a deal you’ve seen is too good to be true.

  3. Do research an unfamiliar product or brand reputation. Search for its name with terms like “scam” or “complaint,” or “reputation” and look for reviews.

  4. Do check that phone numbers and addresses on store sites are genuine, so you can contact the seller in case of problems.

  5. Do carefully read delivery, exchange, refund and privacy policies. If they are vague or non-existent, take your business elsewhere.

  6. Do look twice at URL and app names. Misplaced or transposed letters are a scam giveaway but easy to miss.

  7. Do pay by credit card. Some financial providers offer 100% purchase protection. Secondly, use a dedicated credit card for online shopping with a maximum spend. In that way, if your card is found to have experienced fraud transaction, you will minimise the potential loss.

  8. Limit to your public Wi-Fi activities. Think twice before connecting to free public Wi-Fi networks. Cybercriminals like to lurk on public networks and intercept your actions, or even set up rogue hotspots for you to connect to, so never shop or bank online using public Wi-Fi.

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