Consumers are increasingly resorting to the internet for their shopping needs. While online shopping can be very convenient, unfortunately not all experiences are positive for the consumer.

It is a fact that EU legislation protects consumers when purchasing goods and services online. However, consumers are still prone to falling victim to online scams. Thus, as consumers, we need to take all the necessary precautions to avoid such bad experiences.

The most common cases of fraud reported to the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-NET) are mostly related to the purchase of electronic goods, online purchases of used cars, counterfeit products, allegedly free trials and sale of tickets online.

Furthermore, new scams emerge on a daily basis. This leads to common threads which make fraudulent approaches easier to spot. To identify whether a site is a scam or not consumers should look out for the following:

a. being told that they won a prize, when they never took part in any competition;

b. the news comes from an unexpected call, letter, e-mail or text;

c. being asked to pay money before actually getting the stated prize;

d. being asked to confirm the prize immediately by giving the bank account or credit card details;

One should look for the small padlock and press on it to check the details of security

e. if the offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.

A secure website would usually have detailed information about the trader, where and how they can be contacted, address of the company, the date when the company was registered and the company’s registration number.

One should be wary of websites that provide little or restricted means of contact, such as only an electronic address. Apart from that, safe and secure websites would include information on how a consumer can lodge a complaint together with the link for the Online Dispute Resolution platform. Together with this information, the trader should also inform the consumer about any cooling-off rights, during which the consumer can cancel his order without incurring any penalty.

It is also advisable that one checks the website’s reliability. One should be aware of websites that have just been set up. It would also be a good idea to read any reviews posted by other consumers to check if the concerned trader can be trusted or not.

Additionally, a consumer should also identify whether a website is actually safe and reliable. Reliable websites have their address starting with ‘https://’ rather than ‘http://’. The letter ‘s’ stands for secure.

One should also look for the small padlock and press on it to check the details of security. It is of utmost importance to make sure that the computer is protected against viruses and spyware.

Before making the final decision and pressing the ‘buy now’ button, consumers must remember that any payment made should be done through secure means, such as through a credit card or Paypal. Unless you know exactly the receiver of the payment, avoid sending payments through bank transfers.

Credit card details should never, in any circumstances be sent by an e-mail. Consumers also need to be aware of the terms and conditions usually presented in smaller fonts. It is advisable to watch out for the usual signs of scam, such as huge rewards and the need for personal information. One should never reply to unsolicited e-mails from people they do not know.

This information has been provided by the European Consumer Centre Malta. The ECC-Net is a European network consisting of 30 European Consumer Centres, representing all EU Member States together with Iceland and Norway. The network is co-funded by the European Commission and the EU Member States. In addition to assisting consumers in case of a complaint or dispute, members of the ECC-Net engage in joint projects in order to investigate specific business sectors. ECC Malta is hosted by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

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