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Online Shopping: the Risk of Scams

Article contributed by: Fawzia Khan, an attorney based in Umhlanga

With the global Covid pandemic still firmly within our midst, and now of talk that South Africans need to brace ourselves for a “fourth wave” of the coronavirus, anticipated in December 2021, many consumers have found it far easier and convenient to do their shopping online, than having to risk becoming infected with the Covid. But with the increase in online shoppers there’s also the danger of becoming a victim of online scams.

There has been a notable increase in the number of people who have fallen victim to some form of online scam. The cybercriminals are able to deceive innocent shoppers with ease. Even though many online sellers are legitimate, there are some scammers who with the use of technology are able to scam unsuspecting shoppers.

To avoid becoming a victim of an online scam, my advice to online shoppers is to be extra vigilant when making an online purchase. Check that the website which you are on is not a fake one. Many scammers with the use the latest technology are able to replicate a genuine retailer website. The fake website would look almost identical to the real genuine online retail stores. A rule of thumb when making online payments, is to look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol. Also check for spelling errors. One way to spot a fake website is a misspelt word in the URL. Many of fake websites will offer unbelievable low prices for the product, such as brands of clothing, jewellery, electronic items etc. If you do receive the item you paid for, it will be fake or you may not receive anything at all.

Remember the cardinal rule is if something appears too good to be true, it probably is. So guard yourself against these fantastical offers. There is also a trend to use social media platforms to set up fake online stores, where a store for a short time, often selling fake branded clothing or jewellery. After a short time, the stores disappear. My advice is not to trust a site just because you have seen it advertised or shared on social media.

Do a review of the store in question before making your purchase. You should also check out the website’s policy on refunds, returns, privacy rules, terms and conditions etc or even how disputes will be dealt with. The website should allow for a secure payment service. You should only part with your money after doing all the proper checks on the online retailer/ trader concerned. It is recommended that you inform others about the scam and spread the word to your friends and family to protect them. It’s also a good idea to ensure your anti-virus, anti-malware and other security software is regularly updated. A good rule of thumb to bear in mind is not to open attachments or click on links from any suspicious emails received as you risk being hijacked or infected with malware. If you have been a victim of a scam, the Financial Intelligence Centre recommends that you send an email to and they would warn other potential victims, on their website. You should also report it to your nearest police station.

Know your rights! The Law Desk of Fawzia Khan & Associates. Giving YOU the Power of Attorney. Email or call 031-5025670 for legal assistance at competitive rates.