How to avoid getting cheated while shopping online?
Moneylife Digital Team 21 September 2020
When Bengaluru-based Sandhya Vaidyanathan, saw an advertisement on Instagram from @masalabox offering home delivery of Onam sadhya meal, she was instantly sold.  Masalabox had been appearing at the top of  Google pages if you searched for  ‘Onam sadhya in Bengaluru’. Her husband Vinod paid Rs2,400 for six meals four days before Onam, expecting to have a relaxed festival meal. 
 
The evening before Onam she began to see Facebook posts complaining about prepaid orders not being delivered. Masalabox soon deleted all the comments and changed their account settings to stop customers from writing comments. The Onam meal never got delivered instead Sandhya had her work cut out to get a full refund. 
 
A colleague fought a tough battle to get a refund after JioMart of the Reliance group failed to deliver a prepaid order for groceries. On checking online, she discovered thousands of complaints for non-delivery and non-refund against Jiomart over the last three months. 
 
Girish Mallya, ordered an i-ball laptop but received a lower configuration machine on an Amazon fulfilled order. Amazon insists they have delivered the right product so his fight continues. Earlier, he had ordered laptop but received pillows instead. That time, Amazon admitted a mix-up and refunded the money. 
 
If this happens on Amazon despite its “A-to-Z Guarantee” on purchases even from third party sellers, imagine what happens when you are swayed by the classy advertisments put out by a wide range of start ups which blow up with great regularity and take your money with them.  
 
Limeroad.com had an amazing edgy profile, but Shubhangi Parab who ordered some dresses from them ended up getting neither delivery nor refund. A quick look at comments on one of Moneylife’s articles suggests that fashion and garments have the largest number of complaints about wrong products, colour or size, poor quality and often no refunds or returns as promised. Most of the websites listed are unknown to most of us. 
 
Another big chunk of complaints are from people who claim to be cheated by shopping sites offering incredible deals on electronic products and gadgets. 
 
The numbers are huge. In December 2019, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said that there have been 13,993 cases of online shopping fraud since August 2016. A Christmas survey in 2019 by the global cyber-security company McAfee revealed that around 56% of Indians have fallen victim to discount scams and one in four Indians has been conned by fake retail sites.
 
As per government data, the number of fraud cases in the e-commerce sector increased by a whopping 475% between August 2016 and November 2019. Things would only have worsened in 2020, when the Covid pandemic has forced people online. 
 
So how should you protect yourself from falling prey to online shopping fraud?
 
Lessons to learn: 
Due Diligence:
 
In case you are shopping from an unknown/ new website, do your due diligence. Check for seller’s contact details and whether it has valid numbers, website and email ID. Check the product specification, understand the return and refund policy; compare prices on other websites if possible. Rating and reviews are useful; products with many reviews are usually more authentic.  
 
Cash on delivery, used to be a safe option but many websites have stopped it during the Covid pandemic. Also, this only ensures delivery; you cannot open and inspect the product before paying up.
 
Read the fine print: One person bought an expensive gadget at what he thought was a great price, only to discover it was a refurbished product. He had missed reading specification, which mentioned it was second hand or pre-used. Some items are not eligible for return and websites usually mention that.
 
Documentation: Maintain all papers, documents - bills, warranty card, agreement copy, brochures, working manual etc carefully. After a couple of phone calls, start communicating in writing with the service provider or manufacturer of the product. Saving screenshots of the product page and invoice is a good precaution. All these will be important if you eventually go to a consumer court for redress. Remember a consumer forum has to be approached within two years from the date of fraud, deficiency in service or defect in goods has arisen or has been detected. 
 
Red flags to watch out for:  
 
1. If the prices are too good to be true, then chances are that the company could be pulling a fast one. There is no such a thing as a free meal.
 
2. Unclear return and refund policy.
 
3. No manufacturing details or product specifications.
 
4. No contact details of the seller.
 
5. Make sure you understand shipping charges. 
 
6. Approach international online orders with caution.
 
7. Scamsters on the internet create look-alike domain names of established popular e-commerce platforms to cheat vulnerable buyers. So confirm that the URL has ‘https’ (not just ‘http’) and a lock icon, and check the website spelling. You can read more here
 
8. Ensure that the website, seller and payment modes are secure. You can read more about it here
 
9. Buying only from large online retailers with reputation to protect is safer. Even here, products delivered by them (look for tags like Amazon Fullfilled, Flipkart Advantage) or large retailers like Cloudtail lead to lesser disappointment. They also offer faster delivery or additional checks for a price (like Amazon Prime). 
 
10. Good companies blacklist sellers accused of selling fake products based on customer feedback and reviews. This makes it safer to buy from sellers who have been around for a few years rather than newly listed ones. 
 
11. To find out who owns a particular domain name and if it is genuine, log in to https://registry.in/WHOIS , which is a searchable list of all domains currently registered in the world. If the website does not offer any contact details or has a vague exchange or return policy, abandon the website and cancel your idea of shopping with them. 
 
12. You could also check the company’s trust rating on https://www.scamadviser.com/ which gives details about the company and about how safe it is to shop from that website. 
 
13. Opt for payment services like Paypal on eBay, which ensures that the seller is not paid by the site till the product is delivered, protecting your money. Paying through electronic bank transfers/ debit cards makes it difficult to retrieve the money, while credit cards allow you to raise a dispute. Have a separate card with a very low credit limit for online shopping to minimize risk. 
 
14. Some people make a video recording of the delivery and unboxing for expensive gadgets, which is helpful in disputes.  
 
Following these rules often limit your shopping choices online, but it is better to be safe than sorry. 
 
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