About 30% of South Africans shop online these days. We enjoy the convenience, the variety at our fingertips and the great deals. But we should also be aware of the scams and crooks.
One of the big impacts Covid-19 had on our country, is the explosion of e-commerce, or online shopping. In 2018, only 3% of South Africans shopped online, and almost all of them where between 24 and 35 years old. These days, between 27% and 30% of the population are online shoppers, and the age distinction has largely disappeared.
As more people shop online, however, e-commerce scammers and fraudsters have also increased. Statistics from the latest annual report of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) show that a quarter of all complaints the CGSO received, were from consumers who paid for products advertised online but never received them. While some were service issues from legitimate providers, the vast majority were for rogue online operators who were running a scam.
According to the Ombudsman Magauta Mphahlele, the main products involved were clothing, electronics and hair extensions offered through platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Because these rogue operations are not registered with the CSGO, they cannot be investigated and there is no help for consumers to get their money back. The best the CSGO can do, is to issue warnings against these operations.
Scams, fake loans and rogue retailers are a growing part of social media and currently there is little the regulators are doing about it. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your money:
Check before you pay.
Sometimes all you have to do is read the comments below a post to see that an offer is not legit. Always Google the name of the company to see if there are any warnings against it.
Never pay cash into the company’s bank account.
Legitimate ecommerce sites have secure payment gateways.
Compare the website of the company with websites of well-known online retailers,
such as Takealot or Faithful to Nature, to see if it has similar security. There should be an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate or an image of a lock to show that the site is secure. It may also have a logo “secured by thawte”. You should be able to click on these to see that they are valid. If the certificate is not valid, an error will come up when performing a transaction. Some sites may not show the security features on the home page, but as soon as you move onto the payments page these security features will show and the website address should open with https: If none of this occurs, stop the transaction immediately.
Never open a website via a link in an email you receive.
Fraudsters often send fake emails pretending to be from large online retailers asking you to click on a link to confirm your product or provide your banking details. Instead of clicking on a link, always type in the address yourself.
Warning signs for scam online loan offers
include demands for upfront payments and huge loan amounts at low interest rates.
Fraudulent emails are often badly written
with spelling and grammar mistakes and come from email addresses that are clearly fake.
As the festive season approaches, we can be sure that there will be an increase in online scams. While you enjoy the convenience of shopping online for gifts and household necessities, always put safety first.