ECONOMY

Online commerce fraud has turned viral

online-commerce-fraud-has-turned-viral

This year has not finished yet and complaints to the Consumer Ombudsman regarding electronic commerce have already almost doubled compared to 2019.

The phenomenon is obviously related to the soaring of online purchases since the spring lockdown. E-commerce actually maintained its momentum even after restrictions were lifted in May, while online sales are now expected to reach unprecedented levels due to the latest government-ordered shutdown of brick-and-mortar retail stores. It is against this backdrop that fraudsters have discerned an opportunity to deceive consumers.

The data that the office of the Consumer Ombudsman released on Wednesday showed that complaints filed regarding e-commerce in the first 10 months of the year numbered 2,770, while in the whole of 2019 there were 1,396 and in 2018 just 814. The complaints concerning online sales so far this year account for more than a quarter (25.8%) of all cases referred to the Consumer Ombudsman in the January-October 2020 period, compared to 12.3% for the whole of 2019.

The most common type of fraud recorded is for consumers to have paid for their order online at e-shops, but to neither receive the items ordered nor get their money back. In many cases, according to the Consumer Ombudsman, after the payment is made, many e-stores stop all communication with their customers, who are therefore unable to obtain any information regarding their purchases or the return of their money.

As the second lockdown has now started, the office of the Consumer Ombudsman has issued a series of guidelines for consumers. They should first opt to do their e-shopping at reliable and established online stores; two significant signs of reliability are their longevity and the existence of a physical address.

Consumers are also advised to examine the basic information supplied about the e-store that they want to shop from; through its website they should seek the full name of the company and the complete contact details, including a postal address. The existence of an email address alone or a cellphone number does not suffice and often is a warning sign for potential fraud.

The Consumer Ombudsman also recommends picking e-stores that offer the alternative option of paying on delivery too.