Suspicious online stores – How not to fall victim of dishonest online sellers?

The past year has shaken the foundations of the retail industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced both entrepreneurs and consumers to change the purchasing status quo.

Much of the market has moved to virtual reality. The e-commerce industry recorded the highest increase in revenues in several years. While e-commerce is booming and consumer vigilance is waning, rogue e-shops aimed at illicit profit are proliferating. Check how to defend yourself against cyber-crooks.

Online shopping in trying times

Online shopping

E-commerce. This rather enigmatic name means simply any kind of action related to the purchase of goods or services – via the Internet. Electronic commerce is gaining more and more followers quickly. Research indicates that, last year, as many as 73% of citizens purchased a product online at least once. This tendency increases systematically every year.

What makes e-commerce such a popular form of shopping? The report prepared for IGE clearly indicates that the main factors determining the purchasing preferences of our citizens are: the fact that online stores are open 24 hours a day, convenience of purchasing, no time limit for decision making, and lower prices.

The events of 2020 gave birth to yet another reason why consumers choose to shop online more than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every area of our way of life. Shopping is no exception.

The impact of the COVID19 pandemic on the rise of threats related to online shopping

There is no doubt that the consequences of the pandemic have left their mark on the modern commercial model, forcing both traders and consumers to change their usual habits. Numerous restrictions and bans have significantly limited stationary sales, which resulted in the market shift to the virtual plane.

For many small and medium-sized companies, this was the only way to avoid huge financial losses. For some industries, such as courier companies and the largest shopping platforms, the market turmoil has turned out to be a positive thing, multiplying their profits. How did the changes in the sales model caused by the pandemic affect the average consumer?

The first months of the epidemic showed how irrational the purchasing behaviours of buyers, faced with unusual circumstances, can be. Confused, driven by the prevailing disinformation, people began to frantically buy goods available in supermarkets. Store shelves became empty. Such a reaction illustrates how easily people can lose common sense and vigilance in an emergency.

Online errands have become the norm. This means that any unhealthy shopping habits and risks have also been transferred to the virtual world. Inattentive shopping in a hurry makes you more susceptible to manipulation of dishonest e-sellers.

The number of dubious online stores is growing in direct proportion to the development of e-commerce. Preying on inattention or haste, such quasi-companies multiply extremely fast. Extortion of money and theft of personal data – these are the biggest threats that e-consumers face. How to defend yourself against cyber-crooks?

What to pay attention to during online shopping?

Smartphone and credit cards in hand with laptop

The threat posed by false online stores cannot be ignored. The victims of cyber-crooks are in danger of not only losing the amount of money they tranferred when ordering the product which doesn’t exist. The bigger threat concerns theft of personal data. By gaining access to the bank account security information, thieves can steal all the funds gathered on it from the naive customer.

How not to fall prey to dishonest online stores? They key to success here is knowing the threat and being careful, which is helped by proper knowledge. Before you decide to put in an order on a given website, make sure it’s safe. What to pay attention to during online shopping? What messages from the seller (or lack of them) should make you wary?

1. Company contact data

Trusted sellers make it possible for the customer to contact the representatives of their company, and provide the necessary data in that contact us tab. If the website doesn’t have or makes it difficult to find the following information: physical address of the store, a phone number or e-mail, chances are that this website is an illicit one.

2. Returns policy

The store terms and conditions should clearly list in what cases and how can an unsatisfied customer return the goods. It’s important to remember that the right to send the order back and the right to a warranty are undeniable, legally required rights of the buyer, and they must be respected by the seller.

3. Personal data protection

The virtual entrepreneur is required to abide all laws concerning securing the personal data of their customer (ex. GDPR). The information about data protection and processing should be included in the store’s privacy policy or terms and conditions.

Data encryption – that’s another meaningful aspect which guarantees safety in the net. How can you check whether the private data you send to a store is encrypted? Take a look at the URL address of the website. If there is a green padlock icon next to it, that’s a sign saying our personal data is probably safe.

4. Methods of payment

Does the e-commerce site open only one form of payment, and it’s a wire transfer? Be careful. That could be a sign that, after transferring money into a fake bank account, you will not receive your order. Best option is shopping only at stores utilizing payment methods which offer buyer protection (ex. PayU).

5. Time of order completion

So the amount of time it takes for the store employees to prepare your order, plus the estimated delivery time. Any online business has a duty to inform you about the wait time for your order. That’s data that has to be provided on their website. Be also careful when the estimated time of delivery is suspiciously long.

6. The look of the website

Any self-respecting seller wanting to form a steady position on the market and to gain more customers, will make sure their website is good looking and functions well. Typos, mistakes in the text, links that don’t work – such signs may point to the website being created in a hurry, meant to earn a quick buck, not necessarily through honest work.

7. Prices of products on offer

It’s important to know that e-commerce sellers are required to provide the price of the product with the VAT tax and to also state the price of delivery. To add to that, if the store offers high quality goods at extremely attractive prices, be especially wary. Remember, we live in a world where high quality goods carry an adequate price. Trying to skirt around that rule might be the camouflage of a scammer.

8. A lot of negative opinions online

The last thing you can do to check whether a given online store is a trusted one is to check what other internet users think about it. By putting the name of the store into the search box of your chosen search engine, you can find opinions from the customers. If you’re bombarded by especially negative reviews abut the store interesting you, it’s safe to steer clear.

Watch out! Checking the reviews might work both ways. The fact that a given brand’s reputation seems spotless doesn’t mean that it’s true. Remember, creating a website showing good, fake reviews for a company is not a challenge for experienced criminals.

Where to seek help if you got scammed?

If you realize that an online transaction that you finalized using a direct transfer was suspicious, you can try to cancel the transfer. It would also be a good idea to block your credit cards, even if you chose a different method of payment. There is a risk that your personal data (including card information) might have gotten stolen by treacherous scripts on the website.

First and foremost though, you should report the case to the police.

The number of fake online stores is growing at a dangerous pace. Currently, the threat of online crooks scamming you is larger than ever. The restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced customers to buy essential goods online, which automatically meant the rise of cybercrime.

Unfortunately, the detectability of fraudulent online activities is not impressive. Tracking down the founders of fictitious e-shops is quite a feat. That’s why it’s so important that we, the customers and potential victims of crime, be vigilant and always check which services we intend to use.

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  1. gonzalo grubbs says:

    About two weeks ago I ordered a wedding dress. It was supposed to get here in a few days. I still don’t have it. Okay, maybe the wedding will be cancelled because of the coronavirus, but you never know. I’d rather know what’s up. Is it possible the store owner scammed me?

  2. davide conrad says:

    There’s a Facebook group, Fake E-Store Victims. If you have such an issue, could be worth it to take a look.

  3. sarena selman says:

    As if that wasn’t enough, those pseudo-stores often have names very similar to well known brand names.

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