How to avoid online shopping scams

The explosion of buying online in Ireland means opportunities for scammers are booming. Here’s how to spot online shopping scams and some great tips to help you shop safely.

What is an online shopping scam?

It’s a deceptive or fraudulent scheme to trick you out of money whilst you’re shopping online. Scammers may try to target you directly via email, phone or text messages or lure you in using:

  • online shopping websites
  • bogus social media posts or ads
  • pop up ads
  • fake classified or auction sites
  • copycat websites

In the last couple of years, there have been reports about Bank of Ireland scam texts, Amazon Prime scam phone calls and numerous Facebook and WhatsApp scams, so it pays to be alert.

How to spot online scams

> So, an ad has popped up for a website offering tempting deals for brand name jeans. You think you recognise the website but can you trust it?

While we’re getting better at spotting online scams, fraudsters are getting more sophisticated in their efforts to convince you to part with your money.

Here’s seven warning signs to look out for:

  1. An offer seems too good to be true: It’s a cliche, but if an offer is unusually good, there’s often a hidden catch. Be wary of overly generous free trials or special offers.
  2. Contact details are vague: A website with no phone number or simply a PO Box number or email contact should raise a red flag.
  3. Unusual payment methods: If the website only accepts a particular payment method, for instance, money transfer or cryptocurrency, then avoid.
  4. You’re pressured to buy or commit: Don’t rush into a purchase and take your time to weigh up pros and cons before parting with your cash.
  5. Spelling mistakes and website errors: Poor spelling, odd wording or links that don’t work should raise an eyebrow so check for other warning signs. If a website is careless, can you trust them with your money?
  6. Junk mail offers: Avoid deals by unsolicited email or texts from companies you’ve had no previous dealings with.
  7. It only appears in Google Ads or pop ups: If you don’t see the shop when you search in Google, the retailer has paid to appear at the top of the page and its position is not based on trustworthiness or quality.

Tips for shopping safely online

When you’re shopping online take time to browse the website; visit the homepage and other pages that tell you about the business. Knowing what to look for and how to spot a scam is the best way to stay safe.

If you have any doubts, move on but if you’re not sure, check for these features.

  • Legitimate contact information: Look for a Contact Us page that includes a telephone number. If the details are vague, test the phone number and don’t provide your personal or banking details without further checks.
  • Genuine branding and logos: Copycat sites can spoof logos or branding to make themselves appear like the real deal. Be alert to small differences and if you have any doubts do further research to ensure you’re on the official website.
  • Recognised payment methods: Always pay with legitimate and secure payment methods like a credit card, Paypal or Klarna so your bank details are safe and you’re protected if things go wrong.
  • A padlock next to the website link: This means the site is encrypted, so your payments details and browsing behaviour are safe and can’t be intercepted. Click on it to make sure it’s not spoofed.
  • Easy to find & understand T&Cs: If you’re signing up for a free trial or money-back promise check the fine print and instructions for cancellation and hidden catches so you don’t end up paying for goods or services you don’t want.
  • Returns and refund details: Before you commit to any purchase, check their returns and refund policy. Online retailers have to comply with certain rules by law and they should be stated on their website.
  • Registration: If you’re buying a financial product, check the foot of the page for information like Terms of Business, Privacy Policy and regulation by the Central Bank of Ireland.
  • Trusted reviews: Websites like Reviews.io and Trustpilot are a good way to find out about other people’s shopping experience with the retailer.

How to pay securely online

The first rule of shopping online is only pay with a secure, trusted payment method, so if your goods don’t arrive, they’re faulty or your bank details are stolen, you’ll be legally protected and won’t lose out.

Here’s the best ways to pay for shopping online:

  • Use a credit or debit card: Always use a secure method of payment such as a credit card or debit card to protect yourself. If things go wrong you can turn to your bank or card issuer to get chargeback or cancel an unauthorised payment.
  • Sign up to PayPal: The most well known online payment system offers PayPal Buyer Protection which means if you need a refund or a transaction goes wrong, your money is protected.
  • Consider a virtual card or single-use card: It works exactly like your physical bank card, but it’s stored on your phone and is secured by encryption. With a One-time virtual card, the details can only be used once.
  • Pay with a prepaid card: They work like a bank card but you can only spend the money that’s pre-loaded on the card. You’ll also benefit from Mastercard’s fraud protection promise.
  • Buy Now Pay Later: Online payment services like Klarna offer the option to pay in instalments at the online checkout, securely and with buyer protection.

How to report an online shopping scam

If you think you’ve fallen victim to an online scam or fraud, contact your bank or card issuer immediately.

They will tell you what to do and if necessary:

  • freeze your account
  • cancel your cards
  • carry out additional security checks

If you want to alert others to a suspected scam or fraudulent activity, you can contact your local Garda station or the company involved, for instance, Facebook or WhatsApp.

The bottom line

Be alert to the warning signs or stick to trusted retailers, choose a payment method that’s secure and make sure you’re protected if things go wrong.

Online shopping scam FAQs

What are my rights when I shop online in Ireland?

When you buy online, you’re fully covered under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980 and have the same protection as when you buy in-store.

You also have some extra rights, for example, online retailers must provide:

  • A description of the goods
  • Contact details & physical address
  • Total price of goods (inc. taxes)
  • The ‘offer’ length
  • Payment methods
  • Delivery arrangements
  • Cancellation procedures

If this information isn’t displayed on the website, do not buy from the retailer.

What is chargeback?

A chargeback is when your credit card provider reverses the transaction after you have paid for goods or services. You can usually claim a chargeback for:

  • Non-delivery or failure to receive goods or services
  • Faulty products
  • Items sold not as described

What is phishing?

They’re emails claiming to come from your bank or other financial institutions, asking you to update or confirm personal, financial details or passwords.

Scammers then use these details to take money from your bank account, borrow money or buy goods and services in your name.

What is smishing?

Smishing is so-called because it’s a mix of “SMS” and “phishing”. Scammers use mobile phone text messages to trick you into opening an attachment or link that can steal your personal details.

Text messages that direct you onto fraudulent websites or invite you to call a premium rate number or download malicious content are also common.