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By Hanniz

You’re excitedly looking at the items on sale as your search for the perfect Christmas gifts. You’re now being targeted by online ads who have access to your browser history. Suddenly you see an FB ad by your favourite Bookstore offering free books with a clause stating that one book will be sent one person only. All you have to do is WhatsApp them at the number provided. FREE books? Who can resist!

I almost fell for this trick then quickly caught myself and decided to do a search on the Facebook page placing the ad. Sure enough, the page was initially posting about some fashion show awards in the Philippines before posting about books in the recent days and this Free book offer.

The About section seemed legit stating the actual bookstore’s name and physical address but aha! the website there was different from the official store’s. The number of followers were also waaaay less than the one on the authentic page.

So what can you learn from this? 

Do not fall for FREE things!

“Why?” You yell. “Why are people so evil?”

The goal of the online shopping scam is to get sensitive personal information, such as credit card details or identity documents.

Once thieves obtain your private information, they can make fraudulent online transactions with your stolen credit card information, attempt to access your bank accounts, or commit identity theft.

Christmas is a busy time of year, making it the ideal season for con artists to prey on unsuspecting consumers.

“But this item is free” you say. Yes, this is the bait, my friend.

Almost 72,000 online scams in Malaysia caused victims to lose a whopping RM5.2 billion in the past two years.

Meta Malaysia country director Nicole Tan said the top five most prevalent online scams were e-commerce, illegal loans, jobs, investment schemes and money muling.

E-commerce scams recorded 5,851 cases in 2020, 9,569 cases last year and 3,833 cases up to May this year.

Types of Christmas Scams To Know About

Online shopping scams appear in several different forms. Here are the most pervasive scams to watch out for this year:

  1. Look-alike websites
  2. Gift-giving pyramid schemes
  3. Gift card scams

1. Look-alike websites
We’ve all made typos when entering a website address. Typically, a mistyped address leads to a blank webpage or sometimes a simple error message.

But these spelling mistakes can lead you to a scam website, where bad people (they’re getting coal in their Christmas stocking and a lifetime in jail soon, I hope) have set up look-alike versions of popular online stores that use similar (but incorrect) website URLs.

Look-alike holiday scams use professional web designs to closely mirror the appearance and feel of a standard retailer’s site, but are often filled with errors like typos, grammar mistakes, suspicious URLs, or incorrect customer service phone numbers. Since these sites are almost exact copies of official websites, it can be difficult to recognize this type of online fraud.

Online scammers tend to create fake sites and run ads on Facebook, tricking unsuspecting victims into sharing their details with a fake “online store.”

Fake charities are another type of scam to watch out for during the holidays. Con artists will create replica sites to copy the appearance of a legitimate charity’s website, and leverage fake social media campaigns to trick people with generous hearts into making “donations”.

Unfortunately, those donations will go directly into the pockets of cybercriminals. Soon after, the fake charity website will disappear.

2. Gift-giving pyramid schemes

Buy one gift and receive several in return? It sounds enticing. However, gift-trading Christmas scams are actually illegal pyramid schemes.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) labels these social media gift exchanges as “Secret Sister” exchanges. The thief sends you phishing emails, e-cards, or social media messages with an attractive invitation — send just one gift and receive up to 36 gifts back.

The scam comes alive when you realize that you won’t actually receive any gifts, and your personal information is now in the hands of a laughing criminal enjoying his steaks and potatoes and perhaps the latest gaming product.

Gift card scams

With gift card scams, an online vendor requests that you purchase gift cards to pay for an item instead of using a credit card or payment app like PayPal. The FTC states that one in four fraud victims have paid with a gift card, making it a popular vehicle for scammers to steal money from consumers.

For example, let’s say you find a great Christmas gift on eBay or Facebook Marketplace. Rather than paying with a credit card through a secure platform, the seller requests that you pay for your purchase with a gift card. Once the card is activated, it’s no longer trackable.

Another type of scam offers free gift cards over unsolicited emails, phone calls, or text messages. Victims may be duped into sharing personal information in order to claim these fictitious cards.

RELATED: AVOID BEING A FINANCIAL SCAM VICTIM

What if you fall for the trap? Yes, smart people get scammed too

Here are some actionable tips for what to do after you have been scammed online.

Call your bank or Credit Card Company immediately.

If you have been erroneously charged, call your bank or credit card company immediately. Let them know what happened, so they can take the necessary actions to protect your future finances.

Your bank can put a hold on your account, your debit card, and any checks. Your credit card company can freeze your card. Many finance companies also offer fraud protection, which covers certain charges made without your consent, but you have to report the errors promptly.

File a complaint (if you bought from a marketplace).

Next, file a complaint if you made the purchase in a marketplace, such as Lazada or Shopee. Most of the online marketplaces are reputable, so they’ll help you to investigate the culprit and retrieve your stolen money or receive the product accordingly.

Get your money back.

Some online shoppers completely lose hope, thinking that they’ll never get their money back after they have been scammed. While it is difficult to get your money returned to you after you’ve been ripped off online, there are some chances to get your money back.

For example, if you ordered a product from an e-commerce retail store using your PayPal account and your order hasn’t been delivered, PayPal Buyer Protection can cover you. However, there are limits to what they can do. If a scammer set up a convincing clone of the PayPal payment form that just extracted your bank details, you will not enjoy the PayPal Buyer Protection. Keep this in mind anytime you’re shopping online.

One more thing to remember is a benefit of using credit cards versus debit cards. As mentioned earlier, both banks and credit card companies have certain protections in place against fraud. However, if the fraud occurred in your bank account, it’s likely the funds will be withdrawn from your account when the order goes through and you will have to wait to be reimbursed. A credit card can act a little like a buffer – an extra step between the fraudulent charge and you actually having to pay – and many cards offer some type of purchase protection for situations like this.  

File a police report.

Above all of these, you should also consider filing a police report if you have been scammed while shopping online. You need to file a police report for several reasons:

  • You’re increasing your chances of getting your money back. Involving security personnel in the search to uncover the thief who stole your money, assuming the money was stolen from your bank account, is good for you. You’ve just been robbed online. Reporting the case to the authorities will intensify the search for the culprits, which will increase your chances of getting your stolen money back.  

  • Your bank or credit card company will likely need a copy of the police report. In some instances, your bank and/or credit card agency will request a copy of the police report you’ve filed. So don’t wait. Call your local police immediately with the non-emergency number, not 999, and report the case to the computer-related crimes division.

As of Oct 2022, members of the public in Malaysia can now call National Scam Response Centre (NSRC) at 997 to report online financial scams. The NSRC focuses on online financial scams including phishing scams, Macau scams, malware attack scams, package delivery or parcel scams and love scams.

It’s about taking decisive action.

Conclusion

It’s exciting to order stuff online as you recline comfortably on your couch or in bed, but the experience can be devastating when a fake seller steals your money.

You can help avoid getting scammed by performing the basic checks mentioned above, like looking for HTTPS and other identifying information about the vendor or checking reviews other buyers’ reviews. As mentioned throughout this piece though, none of these actions is foolproof, so if you find yourself a victim of online shopping fraud, take immediate action by calling your bank/credit card company immediately and filing a police report.

With these tips, you can stress less as you shop online, but remember there is no way to stay 100 percent safe from scams. Fortunately, the more careful you are, the more likely you will be to spot and avoid these scams.

RELATED: ONLINE BANKING SAFETY TIPS YOU SHOULD KNOW 

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