Making an online store in minutes has never been easier. The upside of this is that it is a boon for genuine sellers and small businesses who cannot afford to hire website developers. The downside is that fraudsters use such set-ups to scam unsuspecting people. Online shopping scams decrease trust and also creates a lasting impression on the customer’s mind. Because of such online shopping scams, customers look at every new website with suspicion.
Covid-19 and the lockdowns forced many businesses to go online and many consumers to shop online. This also gave fraudsters space and a golden opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting, less tech-savvy customers.
According to government sources, online shopping scams has increased by six times in the last two years. The actual data could be way more than reported as many times customers have no idea how or where to file a complaint.
A few days ago, a friend’s father came across an irresistible deal. The store was selling a deluxe chair only for Rs 599 ($8.25). To make the price believable, the seller added “Wholesale” to the title. For most people, anything wholesale means it should be way cheaper than retail price. In this case, a fancy chair worth Rs 599 was a steal. No prizes for guessing that this store was a fake store.
The store asked for online payment upfront, and there was no way to contact the store. The contact page had a very flimsy email address. A *kewl* username that we would have chosen when we were kids. The seller provided no customer care number. There is no doubt that none of the customers will get their money back.
A quick google search with the store’s name revealed that all the links except the store’s were review websites or websites that flag scam stores. It was clear that many people had fallen for this. The sad part is that this is not the only store that does this; you can find thousands of such stores on Instagram, Telegram, Facebook, and other e-commerce platforms.
The worse part of this is that on Instagram and Facebook, you can delete replies. Even if someone wants to warn other customers, they cannot. In Telegram, scamsters use telegram channels, which is one-way communication using broadcast messages.
I am not a law expert; therefore won’t discuss the redressal mechanism. If you have been a victim of such a crime, you can go through these blogs/articles/videos-
- For Indian Shoppers – https://www.moneylife.in/article/cheated-while-shopping-online-heres-how-to-get-your-money-back/61586.html
- For U.S. Shoppers – https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0020-shopping-online
- For U.K. Shoppers – https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/shopping-fraud
Scams do not mean that one should stop buying from online stores; it is the most convenient way to shop. Online stores give you a lot of options that brick-and-mortar stores do not provide. Few precautions and checking for red flags can help you save your hard-earned money. You need to channel your inner Sherlock holmes. Fret not, you don’t need a forensics team to detect an online shopping scam. But, only a basic understanding of how to use the internet.
Let’s go through some tips on how you can avoid online shopping scams
1. Go through the website
The first thing to do is go through the website, the website I mentioned in the intro was selling a chair, but they had only listed apparel on the homepage. There was no page available where I could buy a chair. This is a clear red flag.
If a store sells multiple items, they will have a good collection page of each category. Fraud online stores generally do not bother to have an organised page as their only interest is to shoot and scoot. This is a dead giveaway that the store is nothing but an online shopping scam.
See the screenshot below
You can see no demarcated collection of products; they have just randomly uploaded pictures of a few products and of a few customers, probably uploaded all the appealing images they could find. Even a small store will not keep detergent with spices.
2. Search the store on Facebook
There is a good chance that you may have landed on a store through the Facebook page. You can find a few reviews of the store. However, anyone can buy reviews on Facebook still negative reviews can help you find out if the store is legitimate.
3. Check reviews on sites like Mouthshut
There are several websites that list genuine reviews of websites. Before buying from a lesser-known store, search reviews of the store on the sites mentioned below.
4. Don’t fall for too good to be true deals.
“A deluxe chair in just 599.”
“Iphone 10 in 9999.”
“50 inch Flat screen Tv in Rs 5000.”
All the above products are ridiculously underpriced, even if they are wholesale. Such offers are a clear sign that the seller is a fraud. Falling for such ads is tempting, but you should always listen to your gut feeling and never go for such deals.
Groups named “Custom shop” have swarmed Telegram channels, where the seller claims to be working in the Customs department. He cites this as a reason to justify the low prices of products. Do not fall for such Nigerian prince-level claims.
5. Test the store’s reliability by buying an inexpensive product; if it passes, you can buy another product.
When it comes to online marketplaces, many different sellers list multiple products on the website. There is no way to find out their store’s website, check reviews on review sites, or find their Facebook page in such cases.
If there is a temptation to buy, try to buy an inexpensive product, precisely of an amount you won’t regret losing. This can help establish the reliability of the seller. If the product you receive is fake or you never receive you will have your answer.
If you receive the product and it is up-to the mark, you can buy the product you wanted to buy initially. It’s not an ideal practice but works in cases where you cannot resist the temptation. Also customers should give small businesses a chance who may not have a fancy website and other tools to win your trust.
These are a few steps consumers can take to prevent getting duped. Businesses also need to work on how they can improve trust among the customers. The E-commerce industry also needs to establish specific standards and rules to ascertain the trustworthiness of a website. We will continue this blog with tips and advice on how merchants can establish trust in consumers.