How to avoid online shopping scams
1. Elusive web traders
Being able to buy fashion online and across borders is of great benefit to consumers in the majority of cases, but unfortunately there are situations where it hasn’t turned out so good and they have been the victim of a dodgy fashion website.
ECC Ireland receives reports, on an almost weekly basis, about certain online fashion traders who rip off consumers by sending clothes/shoes that are either of inferior quality, the wrong colour/size or product altogether. Not only this, but when consumers try to complain they often find out that the trader is not actually based in the EU/EEA but further afield like China, then struggle to get a response or adequate refund or replacement. Some have even returned the offending item, at their own expense, never to hear from the trader again, and obviously lost the money too.
There is another problem that we’ve noticed. Even when there are bad reviews on handy resources such as Trustpilot or negative ratings on Scamadviser that’s not to say that suddenly the fraudsters’ dodgy dealings are scuppered. Some of these traders get around this little hiccup by just changing their names – they sometimes don’t even bother changing the look of the site, just the domain name and anywhere the company name is mentioned.
Some of these reincarnations are not even that clever. The new not-so-genious domain name may not even have anything whatsoever to do with clothes or shoes, for example the domain name may contain something like landscaping and yet on the site it sells shoes. This should be an alarm bell but alas, consumers have bought products from these types of websites but inevitably end up paying the price. How does this happen? Well, a domain name from another business may become available and so the dodgy trader can buy them quite cheaply and use it to trade online for a short time, but time enough to scam a few people before the site disappears and the trader scarpers off again, to probably set up yet another website, and so, it goes on and on.
2. Advert pops-ups on social media
Many consumers are buying more and more online by responding to adverts, clicking on pop-ups and following through on that purchase via social media. Most of this is fine as social media is by now a well-established marketing tool used by countless online retailers all over the world. However, just like anything else, there are the few bad seeds who will try to use this medium to con you.
ECC Ireland has received numerous reports from consumers who have been blindsided by dodgy social media pop-ups and other similar advertising.
The modus operandi is that consumers are attracted by this shiny enticing pop-up ad, which maybe promotes a ‘special offer’ or ‘free trial’ for a limited time. The consumer is interested, clicks to find out more, might enter details such as a name, email, and address but then doesn’t continue on with the purchase and has not entered into a contract. However, some time later unsolicited goods may arrive on the doorstep along with a demand for payment and often a threat of debt collectors if this is not paid. Some consumers have not even provided the trader with a postal address, only an email, and then they receive an email with an invoice claiming that a contract had been entered into and that payment needs to be made. You do not have to pay for or return a package that you have not ordered.
3. Romance scams that will be break your heart and empty your wallet
From time to time ECC Ireland is contacted by consumers who have been caught out by romance scams. This is one of the worst kinds of scams as it results in the victim being not only financially at a loss but also feeling heartbroken and betrayed. It is also under-reported, mainly because people feel embarrassed and maybe don’t know where to go with their complaint.
These types of scams typically start on a dating website, social media or other online forums. Trust is built up over time, even years, during which the scammer dupes the victim into believing that it is a real relationship – marriage proposals are not uncommon.All of a sudden though, there is a crisis of some kind and the scammer needs money – it could be to pay off a credit card, save their business, or something outlandish. If this is all sorted, then they can be together. Happy ever after, right? Wrong!
These scammers pray on the vulnerable and the lonely, take what they can get, before their true intentions have been revealed and the victim, or perhaps a friend/family member, raises the alarm.
4. Fake accommodation or non-existent holiday rentals
There are also the mysterious cases of the elusive accommodation owners, disappearing rental properties, and your vanishing money. These scams usually start out with the consumer searching for a property to rent for a holiday. They may do their research on a well-known legitimate accommodation website but when it comes to sealing the deal with the property owner they are encouraged to go off the platform, where there is a secure payment system, and deal with the owner directly. This often leads to the owner telling the consumer that the payment needs to be made by bank transfer. The consumer may then turn up to the property only to find out that they have not been dealing with the real owner but an imposter and therefore have no booking. There have been cases where the consumer has found online what looks like a beautiful villa to rent, pay the money, only to find out that the property doesn’t even exist.
This type of scam can happen even on a legitimate rental accommodation platform, so watch out for something that seems too good to be true – great price, fab pictures, immediate availability, etc. If you’re using a legitimate holiday accommodation website that uses its own secure payment system then stay on that platform and do not go off the platform to pay the owner directly. You should always use a credit/debit card to make the payment. Never ever send money via bank transfer as this is difficult to trace and cannot be retrieved, meaning if it’s taken by a scammer then it’s gone.
Some rental property sites have a report ad button so if you see an ad that’s suspicious then report it.
5. Refurbished phones causing trouble
There is a big market out there now for cheaper, refurbished phones. These are available directly through manufacturers and perfectly legitimate new and second-hand phone sellers/marketplaces, but ECC Ireland has received reports from consumers who have bought refurbished phones from dodgy online traders only to encounter significant problems with their purchases later.
There are instances where the consumer purchased from an online trader with a domain name that looks like it is based in Ireland or UK but in fact is based in the US or somewhere else outside the EU/EEA. This means that if there is a problem with the purchase, it is difficult to avail of EU consumer legislation.
Even when the trader is based in the EU, there may be another obstacle – the manufacturer does not recognise the consumer as the owner of the phone and therefore refuses to give assistance when there is a fault. The manufacturer will not fix a problem if the handset has been fitted with unapproved refurbishment parts.
Sometimes the phone has been blacklisted because it has been reported stolen. In some cases, consumers have bought these phones only to find that after just one month they have stopped working because they have been blocked.
Tips to avoid scams
- Do your research thoroughly before hitting the purchase button or agreeing to anything. When you’re shopping online for any kind of product or service it’s vitally important that you know who the trader is and where they are based. Remember, if they are based within the EU/EEA then you have better protection under EU consumer legislation. However, watch out for traders who claim to be based within the EU/EEA but when you dig a little further (in the terms and conditions, doing a ‘whois domain’ search online, or a review search) it turns out that they are based elsewhere or for traders who have no contact information at all other than a contact form.
- Other research resources to find out about the trustworthiness of a website and information about scams include: The Wayback Machine, Scamadviser, Trustpilot, gov, Action Fraud UK and the scams section on the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s website.
- Know what you’re signing up for. A lot of online purchases that may involve a ‘free trial’ or special offer. Make sure you read the terms and conditions fully to find out what this free or special offer entails – when do you start to pay, is there an automatic renewal/rolling contract, how do you cancel?
- Always use a debit/credit card in case things go wrong. Never do a money transfer as once it’s gone, it’s gone. By using your card, you have the option to go to your bank/credit card provider to see if you can avail of chargeback and/or cancel an unauthorised payment. Other payment methods such as PayPal are also secure to use as they have protections in place.
- What to do when you’ve been scammed: If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of a scam then it is treated as a criminal matter and therefore these cases should be reported to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.
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