Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more consumers have been shopping online, often on a tighter budget.
It can be tempting to click on a social media advert or unfamiliar website offering deals on big brands or in-demand items. However, more people have also fallen victim to online scammers who set up fake websites or stores on online marketplaces in an attempt to steal their personal and financial details.
We want to help consumers recognise and avoid online shopping scams while supporting legitimate businesses.
Top Tips for Shopping Safely Online
Pay by credit card or a secure online payment system for stronger protection.
Be suspicious if a seller will only accept payment via bank transfer.
Check independent reviews of the seller/store on official websites rather than relying on reviews hosted on the website itself.
Make sure you have contact information for the seller in case something goes wrong.
The website should list a valid return address and contact details – be suspicious if a UK website has a returns address overseas and check that the address is listed with Companies House.
During the summer, two Scottish consumers purchased hot tubs from an unfamiliar website which were never delivered. They discovered that the official address listed on the website actually belonged to an empty shop.
Check the site’s return policy and terms and conditions
Your consumer rights are generally the same whether you’re shopping on the high street or online. When shopping online, you also have the right to a 14-day cooling off period for most purchases.
Look out for spelling or grammatical mistakes and poor-quality images
These could mean that a website is a scam.
Check the web address carefully if you have clicked on a social media advert for a brand’s online store.
Earlier this year, Facebook took down scam adverts for Clarks shoes which used addresses such as clarkseushop.com rather than the genuine .co.uk address. If in doubt, check the brand’s official social media channels.
If you see your favourite brand at a discount price online, check that the seller has been authorised by the official brand and is listed on their website
Be Cyber Aware.
The National Cyber Security Centre advise that you make sure that your virus protection is up to date and that you use strong passwords.
If you’re buying pre-owned items through online marketplaces such as Depop, remember that you don’t have the same protection as you do with retailers. Online marketplaces aren’t responsible for checking that products being sold through their site aren’t counterfeit or dangerous.
Check seller reviews before buying and use secure online payment systems or credit cards so that you have more protection if something goes wrong and to prevent scammers from obtaining your payment details.
Always check the site’s terms and conditions and advice section to find out what to do if items are faulty or not delivered.
Consumer body Which? recently found counterfeit phones,headphones and earbuds for sale on online marketplaces at a fraction of the normal price. They were all made with poor quality materials and were potentially dangerous. If a bargain looks too good to be true it probably is. Find out more here
When shopping online, offers of ‘free delivery’ can be restricted to certain areas of the UK, with additional charges being applied at the checkout for those living in rural or remote areas.
You can report instances of unfair delivery charges to Advice Direct Scotland using their online form .
The Scottish Government also have an online delivery pricing map to help you find the best deal: just enter your postcode to find out how much delivery companies charge to ship to your address.
If something does goes wrong with a purchase you’ve made online, there is advice and support available to you. If the product is faulty, doesn’t match the description on the website or if there are issues with delivery, seek advice from Advice Direct Scotland. If you have been the victim of online fraud, report this to Police Scotland on 101.
Pamela, a nurse from Stirling, recently bought a new set of dining room furniture and decided to sell her old set on Facebook Marketplace. Within a few minutes after posting the advert, she got a message from a man asking if it was still available. He offered to pay full price for the furniture, which Pamela thought was a bit odd as he hadn’t asked any questions about it or asked to see it in person.
The buyer then asked Pamela if he could arrange to have the furniture picked up by a courier service, saying that the courier would pass on the cash. Pamela agreed, but the man then asked her to pay £100 to the courier service in advance as insurance in case the furniture was damaged in transit. He said she would get the £100 back once it had been safely delivered. She then received an email which appeared to have been sent by a legitimate courier firm which included a link to pay the insurance fee. She clicked on the link and was taken to a website with the firm’s branding, where she was asked to enter her contact and bank details.
Before entering her details, Pamela noticed that there were some spelling mistakes on the website and became suspicious. She looked through her message chain with the buyer again and realised that some of the messages looked like they had been translated into English from another language, with strange phrasing. She looked online and discovered that several other sellers on online marketplaces had had similar experiences, being asked to pay an ‘insurance’ fee to a delivery company before parting with their goods.
She ended the transaction with the man and readvertised the furniture. A couple of hours later, she received a message from another man who eventually asked for the same insurance payment to be made. She immediately stopped that transaction too and reported both buyers to Facebook.
Avoid Similar Scams
Be suspicious if a buyer on any online marketplace offers to pay for an item using an unusual method or if they ask you to pay any kind of insurance/delivery costs. If a buyer becomes aggressive, stop communicating with them.
Don’t click on any links in suspicious emails. If you do click on a link, do not provide bank or security details and never download software on to your device.
Report any suspicious behaviour to the site you are using. If you have lost money, report this to Police Scotland on 101.