Five Golden Tips to protect against online shopping scamson November 20, 2023 at 08:00 Tech Advisor


The old saying goes that a dog isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. Unfortunately, the same is true of online shopping scams. 

Fraudsters never give up in their efforts to trick customers, no matter what time of year it is, and no matter what pre-holiday sales season is on the horizon. 

The September 2023 Pulse Report from Norton reveals that over 1000 of these fake online shops are created every day, luring victims with amazing prices and bargains.

It used to be that spotting a fraudulent vendor was a simple case of looking for poor grammar and spelling mistakes in product listings, but now, with the rising popularity of generative AI platforms like ChatGPT – which can create huge chunks of professional-sounding copy in seconds – Norton thinks that it’s going to be much harder in the future to tell a fake online store from the real deal at a first glance.

But despite the increasing threat, there are a number of simple, practical tips at your disposal to help you stay safe.

1. Check out the company

If you’ve found an unbelievable deal on a website you’ve never heard of, such as ‘Get a new iPhone 15 Pro for £200!’, chances are it is too good to be true. 

Scammers are getting better at presenting themselves as legitimate organisations, but a good way to check to see if a business is genuine is to find the company’s details. Have a look on the About Us page to see if there’s any information. Where is the business located? Who is the CEO? When was the company established? Is it registered? Who are the directors? 

If you can’t find answers to any of these questions and the ‘About’ or ‘Contact Us’ page is full of generic copy with no specifics, be suspicious. It’s likely the deal you’ve found isn’t genuine, so close the browser tab and put your credit card away.

2. Avoid sites that only accept bank transfers

Speaking of credit cards, a website may feature the logos of Visa, MasterCard, American Express and others, but when it comes to checkout time, you may find that the merchant only accepts bank transfers. 

At this stage, you should walk away. Why? Because all of those payment processors mentioned earlier offer a degree of fraud protection as standard whereas bank transfers generally do not. 

Although the money is still coming from your bank account, paying with a credit card is the safest option. Even if you use a debit card, you could get your money back if you never receive the goods you paid for, subject to your bank’s terms and conditions.

When you pay for goods via bank transfer, you’re pretty much on your own if something goes wrong. 

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3. Avoid giving sellers any gift card numbers

Similarly, be wary of any online seller who will only accept payments in gift cards. Gift card fraud is very hard to trace, as both Avast and Norton explain on their websites. 

Fraudulent sellers on eBay for example may list an item for sale and ask you for eBay gift card numbers instead of regular payment. You should only enter eBay gift card numbers at the checkout and never share them with anyone else. 

There are a number of common gift card scams, but they all revolve around the same principle of tricking the victim into buying a gift card, and then revealing the gift card’s number which they will then steal. 

4. Be wary of stock images on eBay, Etsy, and Amazon Marketplace

Buying stuff online can often be a lot cheaper than going to bricks-and-mortar stores. However, be aware of when you’re buying from an individual or a marketplace seller and not, say, Amazon itself.

If you are buying from eBay, Etsy or Amazon Marketplace, watch out for any that use stock photos for their products as this could be a red flag. Perhaps the product doesn’t really exist.

You could message the seller and ask them to share photos of the actual product. If they refuse or don’t reply, you should report them to eBay, Etsy, and Amazon, and don’t buy anything from them. 

5. Beware of the ‘photo only’ and ‘box only’ tricks

Norton explains that the ‘photo only’ eBay scam is where sellers list a hot new item but buried somewhere in the listing will be a note about it being only a photograph. The idea is to trick buyers so desperate for a deal that they fail to fully read the listing. 

As the listing is correct you, the buyer, were informed up front that you would receive a photo only, meaning eBay – or any online marketplace – will likely not be able to intervene and refund you.

A similar trick is the ‘empty box’ or ‘box only’ scam, which instead of getting the product you think you’re buying, you get only the packaging.

How security software can help you avoid scams

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As well as using these practical tips, you should also arm yourself with a powerful security suite to thoroughly reinforce your online security. 

From now until 4 December 2023, Avast and Norton are offering big savings on first year subscriptions of their leading security packages. 

Avast Premium Security for one device is discounted to £25.99 first year instead of £39.99, and Avast One is just £29.99 first year for five devices (normally £39.99 first year), or £44.99 for 30 devices (normally £54.99 first year). 

Norton 360 Standard covers one device for £14.99 first year (usually instead of £24.99), and Norton 360 Deluxe for five devices is available for £24.99 first year, a £5 discount. Norton’s 360 Advanced service, which provides protection for up to 10 devices, is available for £24.99 first year (usually £34.99).

These discounted prices apply to the first year of subscription only. Terms and conditions apply.

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