Online Shopping Scams
The internet has transformed the way consumers around the globe purchase goods and services. From retail apps to social media stores, online shopping has never been easier and more convenient. Unfortunately however, online criminals and scammers are always lurking nearby. Online shopping scams is now regarded as the most common form of scams according to the Better Business Bureau. According to their statistics, it accounts for as much as 38 percent of complaints received in the first seven months of 2020, these numbers are up a staggering 24 percent from 2019.
How Online Shopping Scams Work
The internet is loaded with legitimate online sellers and retail outlets. The anonymity that the internet provides however, allows online scammers to thrive, and ultimately rip off innocent and unsuspecting consumers.
Cybercriminals are using the latest technology to design and create genuine-looking online retail stores. New and creative designs and layouts are used, “borrowed” logos and even “.com” domain names are ripped off. As authentic and professional as these sites look, they are 100 percent fake.
A number of these online websites offer luxury products including fashionable clothing brands, jewellery and electronics at exceptionally low prices. Consumers have complained about receiving goods which turned out to be fake or inferior or not receiving anything at all.
Social media platforms are a popular way for scammers to entice their victims to purchase from their fake online stores. An online store can be opened on a social media platform for a limited period of time. Once a few sales have been made, the store will simply disappear. Social media platforms are also used to advertise fake online retails stores. All it takes is a capturing ad with a not-to-be-missed offer and a few impressionable users for the scammers to start counting their winnings.
- A product is advertised at an unbelievably low price that sounds too good to be true
- The seller insists on immediate payment, via electronic funds transfer or wire service only.
- The website insists on an upfront payment before any vouchers or deals are provided.
- The website or social media based retail store is new, unknown and selling products at very low prices.
- Website has very limited or vague information regarding delivery and return policies.
- There is no information regarding a physical address or contact numbers for consumers to connect with.
- The seller does not allow payment through a secure payment service such as debit or credit cards or online payment processors such as PayPal. or a credit card transaction.
6 Ways to Identify a Fake Online Store
1. Inspect the URL
Oftentimes, at first glance, certain scam websites have URLs that look very similar to legitimate websites. If you are navigating from a search engine, take a look at the address bar and confirm you landed on the page you selected.
A safe method is to manually type in the URL you are wanting to visit and double check the spelling. Scammers will often set up fake websites that are very close to the original, with one or two letters added or left out, a common strategy designed to deceive consumers.
2. Click on the Padlock in the Address Bar
Further to inspecting the URL, the next course of action is to identify a padlock in the address bar. Clicking on it will open a dropdown box that will give you security information about the site. The information confirms whether the certificate is valid, the number of cookies being used and other site settings.
If you see a padlock in the address bar, it’s generally a good sign and confirms that the site has been verified and is secure.
Keep in mind however that this is not 100 percent effective as some scam sites have managed to replicate the padlock icon and add it to their address bar. Bear in mind that safe sites are also vulnerable to being hacked.
Web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Edge have built-in security checks to advise whether a site can be trusted or not.
3. Verify the Website
Online users are able to verify the legitimacy of a website by using an online verification service. One option is to use the website urlvoid.com where you can enter the website’s URL to get all sorts of information on the site. The website also generates a report for you and crosschecks the requested URL against multiple lists to confirm whether any warning signs spring up.
Another option is to use Google’s Transparency Report which checks how safe a particular website is. When on the homepage, enter the URL in the “check site status” box and confirm the results.
4. Browser Security
Using an updated browser with working antivirus software should be an effective way to confirm whether you’ve stumbled upon an unsafe website.
A “not secure” warning that pops up will indicate that the site is unsafe and you should exit as soon as possible.
5.Try and Locate a Trust Seal
A trust seal or trust badge on a website is a good indication that the site has been verified and is safe to use. Trusted websites such as the Better Business Bureau, PayPal and Google provide such indications to confirm that the website and your transactions are safe.
Results of a number of studies indicate that recognizable site seals create an atmosphere of trust among e-commerce shoppers.
It must be noted however that users should never trust a website based only on a verified seal. It’s recommended to use a combination of checks and verifications when dealing with a site you have never visited before.
6. Read the Reviews
An excellent way to confirm whether a website is a scam is to search for online reviews and use multiple trusted review sites to give you an overall impression of what you’re dealing with. Sites such as Trust Pilot and Trust Radius allows you to see what real customers have to say about websites and their products and services.
Online scammers and hackers are continuously looking at new avenues to outwit consumers by creating pop-up fake retail outlets and websites.
It is important to keep up-to-date with news and trends and ensure all due diligence is performed before shopping online and committing to parting with your personal and financial information.
Use the advice, knowledge and tips above to verify whether a website is legitimate and if you do stumble upon a fake website, report it to the authorities to help the fight against online crime.
You can report scam websites to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or raise a complaint with internet providers such as Google, Firefox and Microsoft.
Remember to take note of cybersecurity warnings when shopping online and think twice if you see anything suspicious online.