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How to Make Your Online Shopping Secure
Recently someone in my extended family decided to buy a saree from a renowned brand having its outlet in all major cities in India. She needed a saree in a specific colour for an office event. Being a working woman with an infant to take care of, she couldn’t take out time to visit the physical store of the brand. Instead, she opted to purchase it from their online store. To find the website, she simply googled the name of the brand and visited the very first link she noticed having a domain name similar to the brand name. She is quite used to shopping online and usually uses her credit card to make the payments. For some reason, she sensed something fishy, so she opted for cash-on-delivery (COD) to make the purchase. During a casual chit-chat with me after a few days, she mentioned the brand and the cost of the saree which is unbelievably low for that brand. After hanging the phone, the first thing I did is to pull out the website and see what kind of saree they are selling at that low cost. Initially, I could not find any saree as per her description on the website. Then I googled and came across a similarly named domain for a website. First look into the website and I knew it’s a fraud. I quickly informed my relative. After about a month, when I tried to open the website again, it was gone. From my relative I got to know that surprisingly all the order related emails that she had received from the website also disappeared from her inbox.
Does this sound familiar? Do you dread shopping online to avoid such an experience? Is that the reason you restrict your online shopping to only a handful of e-commerce websites even when you come across fantastic products elsewhere? Fear no more! It’s not that hard to avoid scammers and detect fake websites. When you are equipped with the right knowledge, it just needs you to be a little aware and vigilant to detect such scammers. After all, online shopping has its benefits for sure. From the convenience of being able to shop at your fingertips to getting fantastic deals and a mind-boggling selection of products to easy delivery and return options, shopping has never been so consumer-friendly.
Here are some basic guidelines that you can use while shopping online with confidence:
- Stop, Think and Buy- It’s quite tempting when you see a product on great offer. Before you know, you might have already hit that “Buy” button. No matter how lucrative the product/deal looks like, always resist the urge to seal the deal quickly. Instead, go and browse the entire website and try to look for any visible sign of fraud. Only once you have thought through, go for the actual purchase.
- Beware of Website Pharming Scams- You should always be careful of pharming scams where fraudsters run a fake version of the website of a renowned online store. Be on the lookout for strange-looking website addresses wherein the name of the domain differs only in the spelling. The name may have a prefix or suffix added to the original domain name to confuse you. For e.g. in the above narrative, the name of the domain was so similar that my relative didn’t even realize that she was checking out a fake website. Make sure when you google a specific online store or brand, you pay attention to other links that google brings up as well.
Look for Website Security- Now that you know that it is important to look for any visible sign of fraud, the first and foremost thing is to check for the basic security parameters of the website. To begin with, check if the website is running on SSL. If a website is running on SSL, then the website address should start from https://, where ‘s’ stands for secure. You should also notice a padlock symbol in the address bar of your browser next to the website address. You can also click the padlock symbol to view the information on the site certificate. If you notice a warning about the certificate you should avoid the website.
- Check the Website Design, Products on Display and Picture Quality- Another way to know whether it’s a fake website is to look for the quality of the website design. Remember, genuine businesses always focus on having a good website design in their set budget. Irrespective of whether you like the design or not, a genuine business definitely takes care that the uniformity of the design and content is maintained. Also, check if the products on display are organized well and have uniformity in terms of categorization. A retailer may or may not have a wide range of products. However, the way they are organized and presented to you tells a lot about the business. Similarly, the quality and uniformity of product pictures also speak volumes about the business. Generally, scammers don’t invest much in pictures. Often they use images from other competitors’ websites. To give you an example, when I opened the fake website (as referred to in the above narrative), I noticed that the website was full of product pictures from various competing websites. That took me a couple of seconds to know that it’s fake.
- Check Seller’s Contact Info - Before placing an order, it is crucial that you do a bit of research about the seller. To begin with, go through the ‘About’ and ‘Contact’ pages. This would give you an idea about the background of the seller. It is important to check for the physical presence of the seller in terms of a business address. You can use google map to validate the address. Similarly, check for a working phone number and email address. If need be, you can call them before you place the order. Also, look for any other mode of contact that they may have provided- a support chat or a WhatsApp number. Be alarmed, if you don’t find any contact information about the seller.
- Read Shipping, Returns and Refund Policies- Besides the contact information, it is also important to go through the seller’s shipping and return policies. Make a note of the promised delivery time and location from where the product is being shipped. If it takes longer than usual, you need to be careful. It is fairly important to understand their return and refund policies so that you know how to deal with it in case things go wrong. If they don’t have any such policy available, you should be suspicious.
- Look for Seller’s Social Presence- These days, almost all genuine brands have their social presence. Look for the seller’s social presence and its customer engagement practices. Also, check for online reviews posted by other customers. See if you come across any customer complaints. Be careful while reading the reviews as posting a fake review is quite a common practice. However, if the business is a new one, it is very much possible that you might not find any substantial reviews online. In that case, the frequency of their social media posts and generic handling of their social profiles can give you a basic idea about the seller’s reputation.
- Use Safe Payment Options- Once you have gone through all the above mentioned steps and you are assured of the genuineness of the business, you can finally make a move to purchase. This final step of placing your order is however, the most crucial one as far as your safety is concerned. Be sure to check the presence of padlock on the address bar when you are on the payment page. Remember making payment using a credit card is one of the safest options as they allow you to seek a credit from the issuer. The issuing payment companies usually extend the best liability protection. These days most of the credit card issuing companies also provide an extra level of security by providing two-factor authentication (2FA) in the form of a one-off code that is sent to you as a text message on your registered phone number. Besides credit cards, you can also opt for alternate e-money services like PayPal, PayTM, Google Pay etc. In case, you find it difficult to trust a new seller, you can also go with the cash-on-delivery (COD) option for initial few purchases if the seller provides this facility. Most sellers charge a separate COD handling fee (it is charged by the logistics company and is not part of the seller’s revenue) in case of COD orders. To avoid paying the extra money, it is always better to opt for other payment options once you are assured of the seller.
- Mind the After-Purchase Info- After you have made the purchase, make sure that you keep the order confirmation email, shipment tracking emails etc. safe. If you face any problem with your order, these emails would be of much help. Do not forget about your order after you made the purchase. Keep close track of the shipment till it gets delivered to you.
- Pay Attention to your Basic Safety- Following the above mentioned tips would always prove helpful while shopping online. However, just following these tips are not sufficient enough. You should also follow general safety rules related to network usage, protecting your devices, safeguarding your passwords etc. the moment you are on the cloud. To read more about these basic safety rules, you can read our blog- How to Keep Your Online Transactions Safe and Secure.
What to do if something goes wrong- Even after taking all sorts of precautions and following the above guidelines, if you still get duped by any online shop, then take appropriate actions.
- The very first step that you can take is to reach out to the online shop through all its available official channels. Remember, at this step, emails related to your order and pictures of the product(s) received will play an important role. The higher authorities of most companies are very sensitive towards such complaints and ensure that such issues are resolved amicably.
- If contacting the online store doesn’t help, then you can take your issue to social media. These days’ social media is a very powerful tool to reach out. Companies, being reputation-conscious, usually cannot afford to ignore complaints voiced in social media.
- If none of the above actions work, then reach out to the consumer forum in your city. There are various consumer rights organizations across the country that work with consumers and government agencies. You can reach out to them as well.
Remember any business thrives on trust; be it between the business and its customers, the business and its vendors or the business and its employees. Any genuine business would not like to lose its hard-earned reputation for just a few bucks. So be vigilant, show your trust and be happy shopping online!