The dark underbelly of online shopping - GulfToday

The dark underbelly of online shopping

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.


While online shopping offers convenience, it is likely that one can become prey to different scams.

If you’re anything like me, you won’t like doing anything related to parting with your money for online purchases, especially if the payment is made up front. I don’t mind cash on delivery because then I can check what I paid for. I’m sure you know that once you have parted with your money you don’t know when and if the goods will arrive and what state they will be in when they eventually reach you.

None of this online purchasing scepticism is unfounded. It‘s not fearmongering or negative thinking. Scammers don’t just make crank phone calls anymore or send us emails with suspicious links in the hope we’ll click on them. They don’t just try to hack into our phones or computers. Of course these things are very serious but even if we’re careful with all our devices and careful not to click on an email from someone we don’t know, we can still become prey simply by shopping online.

Online shopping has been the craze for a number of years now; it’s almost hip to do it. Tech experts tout their convenience because all you have to do is specify what and how much you want, where you want it delivered and then enter your credit card details. They’ve made the process that easy; you literally don’t have to get out of bed. Their idea is that not only is it convenient but you don’t have to spend time and energy commuting to the shops and standing in queues. You can buy anything online and that includes food, drinks, medication and household goods without leaving your house. But whilst this was a great idea for some who always hated going shopping, a lot of folks still preferred to go out, meet people, get some air and, most importantly, inspect the goods before paying for them. But a lot has changed in the past 8 months since COVID-19 became the bane of everyone’s lives.

Whether or not we believe that this virus is a real threat to our existence, there’s still that tiny part of us that insists on taking every precaution that we can...just in case. We wear masks, gloves and sanitise at every opportunity we get to keep the virus out of our homes. But one virus we inadvertently let in is the online scammer. The number of shoppers who have become victims to online shopping scams has increased exponentially since the global Covid lockdowns were put in place earlier this year.

Even though the lockdowns allowed people to move for essential grocery and pharmaceutical shopping, many who never shopped online before chose not to go out at all. Many decided for the first time to shop online for food and even medicines. Ordinarily, online shopping has always had its disadvantages because, although there’s no scammer involved, the problem with is that goods can take days to reach you and when they arrive, they can be the wrong items or too close to their expiry dates.

Because of Covid people have now become so used to shopping online for almost everything that, even when their country lifted movement restrictions, they continue to buy things that way and this is where scammers have stepped in.

The number of people buying online has increased dramatically and now so too have the number of scams. Scammers have taken online shopping to a whole new level. Rather than posting picture of their fake goods they now swipe photos of the real deal from legitimate websites and post them on their fake websites. So the person browsing their site for an item will see a photo of the real deal and click on it, thinking that this is what they will receive. Unfortunately that is not the case.

 During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early part of this year, people received fake Covid medicines, fake sanitisers and fake N95 masks. Over the Christmas shopping period, people have received dodgy ornamental Christmas trees and children’s toys, all images being stolen from legitimate but small businesses.

There are two types of victims in this scenario. One is forking out money for fake goods and the others are small business owner because it’s their photos that are frequently stolen and posted on scammers’ fake websites. Small business owners are a good mark for the scammer because they have no real remedy in place for countering this kind of attack, unlike the big business owner who has the resources to do so. Small business owners can do very little to protect themselves especially when victims who’ve been scammed contact them and complain or leave bad online reviews. The only recourse they have is to respond to those reviews explaining that the goods the victim received were not theirs and that their photos had been stolen. The buyer, on the other hand, needs to exercise caution when ads for anything show up on their social media feed.

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