Online shopping is now an everyday part of our lives, but it’s important to beware of the scammers. That’s the advice from consumer champion Matt Allwright, presenter of Watchdog and Rogue Traders, whose new book Watchdog: The Consumer Survival Guide guides people in the steps they can take to prevent online shopping scams from happening to them.
Top tips for preventing online shopping scams
Here, he highlights scams to look out for and offers tips on how to get the best online deals.
Watch out for fake websites
“Shopping online, it’s very easy to be taken down a blind alley,” Allwright warns. “Fake websites that look very similar to the ones that you know and love are so easy to create.”
Scam artists, he explains, can come up with altered website addresses “which still make it look like a bona fide website when it’s not, and they can siphon your money off”.
To protect yourself, he says: “It’s really important to know the web address of places you shop regularly. You need the source address for the site.”
Ideally the website address should have https (the ‘s’ stands for secure). Better still, the address line will be picked out in green and there will be a closed padlock symbol on it, indicating further security measures are in place, he adds.
Beware of ‘empty sledging’
This is where you’ve ordered an item online and the company has taken your money before they have the stock in hand. It is typical for ‘hot’ Christmas products which the distributor promises to supply but which will not make it to you by December 25, a fact you aren’t told when you pay.
“I would always check it’s in stock before you make the payment,” Allwright advises. “If they say they are out of stock, get your money back straight away and do not shop with them again. There’s nothing worse than people taking money through the front door when the back door’s shut.”
The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 give you the right to cancel an online purchase within 14 days, with the 14 days starting from when you receive your goods, even though you can cancel from the moment you place your order.
“If a company says the item is in stock and you’ve paid for it and the item is not in stock, then you have been misled into making a transactional decision you wouldn’t have made otherwise, so you could take them to Trading Standards,” he adds.
Don’t fall for fake goods
If you’re being asked to pay a ridiculously low price for a high-end item it should give you a clue, although if you’re charged a price close to the standard that doesn’t mean you’re safe, Allwright says.
“It’s stone-cold illegal to sell counterfeit goods. If you suspect you’ve bought a counterfeit item, report it first to the seller, in case they are not aware, and then to the site used by them. After that, put in a call to your local trading standards office,” he advises.
Take advantage of voucher codes
“It’s worth searching for voucher codes for things you would have bought anyway. Again, establish a number of sites which you go to regularly which aren’t scamming, where you can get voucher codes. You can save 10-15% off things you would have bought anyway, just by stopping and looking for voucher codes. There’s a lot of money to be saved, especially on big purchases.”
Don’t be afraid to haggle
“Just because you are buying online shouldn’t mean you can’t haggle,” Allwright says. “Keep jabbing away at the price. Haggle on the price of anything over £100.
“Ring them up and tell them you’ve found the item cheaper somewhere else. If you haven’t found it cheaper elsewhere, say that they’re the first retailer you’ve come to and you don’t want to go anywhere else – is this your best price and what can you do for me?”
Pay by credit card
“Always pay by credit card – you’ll be protected for anything over £100, which means that if the company goes under and fails to honour the purchase, your credit card company takes the liability and will refund you.”
Watchdog: The Consumer Survival Guide by Matt Allwright is published by BBC Books.
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