Shopping online is generally safe and secure as long as you pay attention to certain red flags and follow best practices.
What are the most common problems? There are many potential pitfalls and every year there are shoppers informing us about various problems that they have encountered. Here’s a list of issues in no particular order:
- Product differences. The delivered product is different or perceived to be different compared to what’s advertised online.
- The delivered product isn’t in a fully new condition. Sometimes the item is scratched, used or possibly the freight company has caused some issues during delivery.
- Parts not compatible with NZ standards. For example, the manual isn’t in English if item drop shipped from overseas or purchased overseas or the socket doesn’t fit.
- Warranty issues. The warranty might not be fully honoured or the shopper needs to pay for the return of the goods.
- Slow delivery or wrong item delivered.
- No product delivered – liquidation. This is the most serious issue. The online store that you ordered from is in liquidation, and there are many creditors, which means that you’re unlikely to.receive your cash back. It’s worthwhile checking the company status on the Companies Office website (refer to best practise #5 below).
- No product delivered – scam. The second reason is outright fraud. A scammer set up a simple site with the sole purpose of scamming shoppers.
Best practices for online shopping
- Check the browser lock. The browser is your friend and has the capability to indicate whether a page employs the secure https protocol (secure http). Ensure that the browser icon displays a lock without a warning on it on all the pages where you enter payment details.
- Check the payment gateway. Which payment processor does the site use?
- Shop from trusted and familiar sites. The risk of getting scammed increases when you shop from unfamiliar sites. This is not to say that you can’t shop from new and unfamiliar sites, but that you need to be more cautious. Is the store listed on Trade Me or shopping comparison sites like PriceMe? This is a good sign since stores that list on these sites have gone through some basic vetting process and would have likely been caught if there were too many issues.
- Check store reviews. Do consumers have a positive impression of the store? Note that even good and reputable stores sometimes have a few poor reviews, but there’s a red flag if the majority of the reviews are negative.
- View company registration details (NZ only). New Zealand’s government lists all registered companies on its Companies Office site. Search for the company name or the reregistration number if you have it. Please note that the trading name is sometimes different from the officially registered name. PriceMe links to this data when available.
- Don’t provide too much personal information. Don’t enter your birthdate and id number. This information could be easily be misused when combined with your credit card number.
- Check domain name registration details. This gets a bit technical, but it’s often very informative to check who registered the website domain and when. Search for the domain name in the WhoIs database.
- Pay by credit card. VISA and Mastercard both offer a payment insurance in case there are any issues with the purchase.
Red flags for online shopping
There are a few red flags when it comes to online shopping. One or two red flags in isolation don’t mean that the site isn’t legitimate. The problem usually arises when there are multiple red flags.
- New domain name.
- Web site based overseas. Anyone can register a co.nz domain, so check for other clues about the lack of local support. Are the prices listed in New Zealand dollars? PriceMe lists some reputable overseas sites like Strawberry.net, Value Basket, Amazon etc in case you decide to purchase from overseas.
- Lack of phone number. It’s usually a good sign if the phone number is clearly visible on the site.
- Company registration details not posted online.
- Prices are too good to be true. There’s often a reason why prices are extremely low. The item might be refurbished or isn’t brand new or it’s fake.
- Web site looks unprofessional. Either the design or the content itself (product descriptions and names).