Online Fraud Advice for 2021
‘Buy now or regret it’, they say. However, we say, ‘Buy straight away without thinking and you may very well regret it’.
We are bombarded with so many tempting advertisements when browsing online or connecting with our friends on social media. Even when you’re not looking to buy anything a pop-up ad flashes before you, encouraging an impulse buy before the deal runs out. We’re all shopping more on our mobiles and tablets which is great for the increase in e-commerce but perhaps not so fantastic for consumer rights protection and security. ECC Ireland is calling for consumers to think first before hitting the purchase button, especially in 2021.
The European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights latest report reveals that consumer fraud affects 1 in 4 (26%) Europeans, who are either misled into making a purchase or experience payment fraud. That encompasses being cheated or misled in terms of the quantity, quality, pricing or delivery of goods, items or services purchased. Young people and those with higher levels of education experienced more online fraud as they shop more frequently online.
So what can we all do to avoid online fraud in 2021? Here are a few handy tips:
Make sure you know who you are buying from
Try to avoid buying from unfamiliar sites and choose instead a trader with a proven reputation. Consumers should always check that the site provides full name and contact details, including a postal address. A reputable trader should ensure that contact details are easy to find so if the search is proving difficult then this should give you second thoughts about the purchase. Consider shopping elsewhere if traders do not provide their identity and contact details.
Misleading adverting and unproven claims
Fraudulent sites often pop up for a short period of time, enticing consumers with attractive offers only to disappear without a trace when money has been handed over.
The European Commission’s latest advice urges consumers to avoid falling into a trap and be aware of pressure selling techniques such as: products advertised as a “unique opportunity”; claims that a product is the “only product offering effective protection”, the “only testing kit for home use” or sold at “the lowest price on the market”; scarcity claims such as “only available today” or “sell out fast”.
If you encounter these, report unsupported claims or dubious offers. Use the reporting tools provided by the platform operator or contact the competent national authorities or consumer organisations in your country.
Check the website thoroughly
One way to check the bona fides of a website is to carry out a ‘whois’ lookup using a search engine. A few ‘whois’ websites will come up. When you’re on one of these websites you can then type the web address of the site you want to research, so that you can see, for instance, the details provided by the registrant and the date of registration. You may have to scroll down a bit for this information so read it thoroughly.
Read web addresses (URLs) and page titles carefully, and watch out for frequent and systematic misspellings. These are frequently used to avoid detection by website operators’ algorithms.
Check if the products have precise and understandable text descriptions.
Ensure the site is secure
Look for a padlock symbol in the right of the browser window or in the web address bar, and make sure the website has a secure connection (the address bar should show https://) when making a purchase. For example, if a consumer was thinking of picking up a snazzy dress from a reputable online trader then once she has selected the item and gone to the payment page to complete the transaction then this is when the padlock symbol and https:// should be found.
Not all .ie websites are based in Ireland
Remember, the website address could end with .ie, but don’t let that fool you (read all about it here). There have been many cases where it could seem that the online trader is based the Ireland, the UK or somewhere else in the EU but is actually based outside the EU or EEA (European Economic Area). You should also bear in mind that your EU consumer rights may not apply if you buy from a trader based outside the EU/EEA so doing your research about the trader’s actual location is very important.
Always read the small print
Make sure you know your consumer rights. Before you make any purchase, whether it is online or offline, always read the terms and conditions. As well as looking for the address of the trader, you should also pay particular attention to the trader’s policies in relation to cancellation and returns. Under EU legislation, a trader is obligated to give certain information in a clear manner, including how the contract may be cancelled (when such a right exists), the minimum duration of the contract, and how the goods are to be delivered or the service performed.
Check the reviews
Another good way to find out about a trader is to search for reviews. If people have had very bad experiences then they will certainly let others know about it. A simple search on the internet should reveal comments from other customers. ECC Ireland has seen cases where people have done the review search after making payment only to find out, to their horror, that they have handed over their hard-earned cash to a trader that exhibited less than desirable retail habits. So, make sure to do this before completing payment, especially if the offer seems too good to be true. However, also be aware that there are fake reviews out there so don’t rely on just one source.
Use a secure method of payment
It is much more secure to pay by credit card or with PayPal when purchasing a good or service online than means of payment that offer no chargeback mechanism. Avoid paying in cash, or by bank transfer or money wiring service, as it may not be possible to trace the money once it reaches the beneficiary. Paying by card allows the customer to seek redress from the credit card company/bank if something goes wrong. Beware any trader that will only accept payment in cash or by bank transfer/money wiring service.
Be cautious when shopping on your smartphone
Smartphones may be less secure than ordinary desktop computers and can be vulnerable to malware. Be wary of clicking on links in message or emails. If in doubt – leave it alone. Consumers are also advised to avoid storing sensitive data such as passwords or financial information on their phones or accessing/using this information while using unsecure public Wi-Fi.
Watch the online safety video from the European Commission here:
Check the Garda Siochana’s latest consumer advice on online fraud here: