Online shopping is undoubtedly an easy and fuss-free way to get what you want, from groceries and decor items, to apparels and equipment. However, it also comes with a risk.
In 2015, cheating cases involving e-commerce went up by 30.5 per cent in Singapore compared with 2014, according to Singapore Police Force (SPF) statistics. But with the rise of e-marketplaces via websites and apps, online shopping hasn’t waned. Here’s how to deal with scams and other scenarios that could arise.
Your item never arrived
It’s been weeks since you ordered and paid for your item but there’s still no sign of it. “Contact the seller immediately if you do not receive your package after the promised delivery date,” says Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
“Keep clear documentation of the order and payment process, such as e-mails, SMS alerts or even screenshots of the payment made to facilitate dispute resolution,” says Seng Choon. He also advises using a postal service that offers parcel tracking, especially if you are buying a high-value item.
The SPF says you should buy only from reputable online sellers and check that the site is physically located where it claims to be. You should also check the seller’s track record with its previous customers.
Goods look different from the description or pictures
Sometimes, the item you receive may look drastically different from what was advertised online. Protect yourself from such a situation by checking the site’s refund or exchange policy before you buy.
“Most e-commerce platforms have terms and conditions for refund or exchange of goods, such as the consumer having to report the incident within a certain number of days, together with clear documentation and pictures of the item,” says Seng Choon.
There’s something wrong with your item
Under the Lemon Law in Singapore, which falls under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, buyers can make a claim for a defective product within six months of purchase.
Consumers can request for repair, replacement, reduction in price or a refund, says Seng Choon, adding that the law applies to goods and services sold online by a registered Singapore company.
“For incidents where the seller is based overseas, the laws that are applicable in other countries may differ from those in Singapore and achieving recourse is time-consuming, expensive and difficult,” says Seng Choon.
There are also some exceptions to the law. For example, it does not cover consumer-to-consumer transactions, and does not apply if the damage was caused by wear and tear instead of an inherent defect.
The seller asks you for a deposit
With consumer-to-consumer shopping apps such as Carousell, say no to paying in full before you receive the item. This is to prevent you from losing your money to scammers or having your credit card details used for unscrupulous purposes.
“If you’re required to pay a deposit for the item, always negotiate to pay a small amount,” says Seng Choon. “Arrange to pay the full amount only after the goods are in your hands and in good order.”
The SPF also warns that some scammers may use a local bank account for the transaction to enhance their credibility, but the owner of the bank account may not be the person communicating with you.
It advises against providing information that isn’t necessary to make the purchase, and to never give your bank account and credit card numbers to anyone you have not checked out. If advance payments are necessary, insist on getting a contact number so the seller’s identity can be verified.
You’re asked to pay extra
Be wary of retailers who request for further payment. “Consumers may be informed that their parcel is lost or delayed and in order to have it delivered promptly, they need to pay a fee. After sending the money, the parcel never arrives and the contact person vanishes into thin air,” says Seng Choon.
The SPF says this is known as a Multiple Payment Online Purchase scam, where sellers typically post ads selling goods at impossibly low prices. Victims are told they need to make advance payments to have the goods delivered to them. In some cases, they are told they need to make further payments for various reasons, including mistaken delivery orders, but victims never receive the items in the end.
If you have any information related to such a scam, call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000.
You have problems returning the product
Certain e-commerce platforms will cover the shipment cost for returns or offer a replacement if there is a valid reason, such as damaged or defective goods, says Seng Choon. However, this is not always the case, so read the fine print before buying.
Some retailers may state that goods can only be refunded or exchanged within a certain period of time, and that the seller is responsible for shipping charges. Or, they may have a “no exchange, no refund” policy.
“If consumers are not satisfied with the return or exchange policy, they may wish to buy from a different seller instead,” says Seng Choon.
It’s a fake retail site
David Freer, vice-president of Consumer Asia Pacific at Intel Security, says to look out for site links with brand names that are misspelled, or which have additional terms affixed to it, as most brands use simple URLs.
He adds that details like low-resolution logos, requests for excessive amounts of personal information, prices that are unbelievably low, and a lack of comprehensive contact details should all send alarm bells ringing.
Avoid buying from sites advertised in spam e-mails. “Always use a credible search engine to locate legitimate e-tailer sites,” says David.
And if a web address starts with http:// rather than https://, it means it lacks proper encryption that could safeguard your personal data or billing information. Antivirus software and security seals such as the McAfee Secure mark could help identify whether a website is verified or not.
You can also check with Case Trust, the accreditation arm of Case, which recognises companies with fair business practices. “Case Trust accredited sites are assessed to comply with security requirements and are committed to fair trading,” says Seng Choon.
This article was first published on Simply Her.