‘Be aware: The unforeseen traps when shopping online’

May 04, 2021
There are some pitfalls to shopping online. Don't become a victim. Source: Getty Images

I do most of my shopping online. I don’t have my own transport (other than ‘Boris’ my mobility scooter, and he doesn’t go far). Recently, I ordered a product through a Facebook advertisement from what I thought was a company established 27 years ago in Australia, who I knew to be reputable. I ordered and paid for my goods via PayPal, on March 3.

After a couple of weeks, I contacted PayPal to advise that I’d not received the product. PayPal instructed me to communicate with the ‘seller’. I did this, receiving a variety of reasons for why I hadn’t received the product ordered. I started to lose patience.

On April 9, I contacted the company I had ordered the product through. It was revealed that they had no record of my order (or me) in their system. I became alarmed.

After numerous emails and phone calls, it appeared I had been tricked by scammers. Increasingly, there are scammers who will mimic a company’s website (through Facebook) to scam payment for a product they have no intention of sending (one might question if they even have it in the first place).

I’m aware of companies that act as ‘go-betweens’, marketing a product that comes from the United States, China, Korea, India etc. The majority of my purchases through these companies have been without problem. (My advice here to to ensure you do the currency conversion to be sure you’re getting the best deal in your local currency, which in my case is Australian dollars.)

What angered me most was that there are many, just like me, who rely on online purchasing. I suspect there are also those people who don’t realise they have been taken for a ride until they haven’t received the goods, but have had money withdrawn from their funds to pay for the item. Usually, by this time, getting any recompense is too late.

Without online shopping, I probably wouldn’t have enough food in my fridge, freezer or pantry. I use online shopping to purchase clothes too. Without online shopping, I would be in quite a pickle, so there are a few tips I’ve employed to ensure I don’t get caught out again.

Sue’s tips for avoiding online shopping scams

  1. Shop with trusted websites. I’ve learned my lesson and will be on the lookout for shady operators popping up with fake online stores designed to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers. I now go directly to the online store in my browser, avoiding the links that appear in emails or on social media. I also recommend:
    1. reading the comments on a store’s social media ad to see what people have to say about them
    2. searching for the merchant, its online store and its products to check reviews
    3. checking for any groups on Facebook that have been created by unhappy customers.
  2. Know how to check for a secure payment. If the shopping website’s URL (address) begins with ‘https’ and has a closed padlock icon in the address window then this is an indication the transaction you are about to make will be encrypted. Encryption makes it hard to be intercepted or read by third parties. I also recommend:
    1. reconsidering storing any personal and/or credit card details in an online store account — this will better protect you if the store does get breached by cyber criminals.
  3. Lock down your accounts. If you do need to create an account with an online store, be sure to use strong and unique passwords. Avoid reusing your internet banking, social media or even your email passwords. Consider using two-factor authentication if it’s offered. This is an additional way of securing your account and requires something like a unique code sent to you via SMS or some other means.
  4. Consider limiting the amount of personal information you have on social media. Cyber criminals love opportunities to pull your personal information. They use it to guess passwords, craft phishing messages of specific interest to you and create other cyber scams you could be prey for. Use privacy controls to restruct who can see your information if you have to.


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