Be mindful when shopping online

The year 2017 was not short of challenges, least of all the state of the Namibian economy which cascaded downwards causing a major tightening of the belt by businesses in every industry. Employees felt this in their pockets.

Looking for bargains and the convenience thereof, many consumers will be doing their festive shopping for Christmas presents online. The last thing they can afford is to being scammed out of their money by fraudsters.  Fraudsters are becoming very good at exploiting consumer behaviour online as buyers become more relaxed this time of the year.

It is therefore important to look at the risks involved in transacting with businesses on the internet. Most important is to establish the legitimacy of the website. A quick internet search to verify the history and credibility of the business can provide comfort that the site has not been reported previously for fraudulent activities. A tip here is to combine the name of the website with words like fraud, online fraud, theft, poor service, etc. when doing to research.

A technique used by fraudsters is to create imposter websites. This website looks exactly similar to another legitimate website but is actually a fake. Fraudsters use it to steal personal identification information and banking details like bank account numbers, PIN numbers, card numbers, expiry dates and CVV numbers. Fraudsters exploit this information to do card-not-present online transactions.

Fake websites may lure shoppers with promises of free vouchers, free gifts, add-ons like discounts on other products, and create a sense of urgency with soon to be expired special low prices or low stocks on very popular, high in demand and flavour-of-the-season items like toys.

Always make sure that the website shows “https” and a little padlock in the address bar as opposed to only “http”. A website without these may not be safe and fraudsters find it difficult to create “https” websites with the padlock. At the point of payment, again make sure that the padlock is there, if not, the website may not be safe. Always check on the payment system used and that it is a reputable one like MasterCard, Visa, etc.

It is always good to do some research on the product you want to buy, know the brand and the average price thereof. This may prevent you from falling for a scam by buying at very low bargain prices. If a price is too good to be true, it most probably is. Make sure what you are paying for and what is included and not included in the price. Additional hidden costs may be VAT, shipping, customs, clearance fees, etc. which can change a bargain into a very expensive item. Always check out the warranty and if it will be honoured by local authorized dealers in Namibia. If not, what will be your options? Therefor it is important to look at the website’s return policy in case the item is short of expectations and fell short of what was promised. Some may choose not to take back a product if it is not defective. The costs to return an item to a foreign country may be prohibitively expensive.

Finally, make sure that the limits on your cards are acceptable for your needs and if it is too high, rather lower it. This may limit your losses in the case of fraud on your card.

Remember, safe festive online transacting, but always caveat emptor, the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.

Johnny Truter: Head of Forensic Services at Bank Windhoek