The allure of retail therapy from the comfort of your couch and our impulsive need for instant gratification – It all provides the perfect conditions for online shopping scams.
While people have become increasingly more aware of how to avoid falling victim to these crimes, the online fraudsters are creating far more sophisticated platforms to get you to part with your money. A recent incident demonstrates a disturbing new online trend, which may only be the tip of a criminal syndicate iceberg.
A university lecturer, while on holiday in Mossel Bay, Western Cape ordered and paid for an iPhone 6 Plus 64 GB from the www.iphoneshop.co.za (IMART) website. What make this particular incident so unique is that the victim was not coerced or approached by the perpetrators directly. Nor was the victim required to click on any online links connected to unsolicited communications. The fake website was in fact the first result on the Google search page. In addition, the lecturer conducted numerous Google searches relating to the company in an effort to ensure that no prior criminal activity had been reported against the company. He also emailed the company enquiring how soon he could expect delivery, once the purchase had been finalised. He received a very prompt and professional response.
In this case the victim was required to pay an amount of R12 749.80 directly into the bank account number provided, using the order number as a reference. The purchase was followed by a confirmation message and that is where any further communication from this particular “iPhone Store” ended. Becoming increasingly concerned, this individual then attempted to cancel the order and demand his money back. Unfortunately he also then realised that the online store had now disappeared without a trace.
Further examination by the victim into the owners of the website’s registered domain revealed more disturbing information. The domain had only been registered 10 days prior to this incident. The bank details provided for the fake online store did not belong to www.iphoneshop.co.za (IMART) but instead to one individual. Furthermore, an attempt to contact one of the domain’s owners resulted in an email from this individual claiming that they were aware of the fact that this website had been cloned from a legitimate site, and that they were investigating the matter. They also advised that the victim should try and reverse the online payment. However, what was most disturbing was the respondent’s attempt to get the victim to keep the incident under wraps. The email went as far as to warn the respondent that these sophisticated fraudsters do know where the victim lives and that any attempt to make the incident public would also compromise their investigation.
The victim has subsequently found that one of the www.iphoneshop.co.za registered domain owner names is linked to several other websites. These websites all seem to be linked in one way or another to the same American couple who claim to be involved in various forms of charity work here in South Africa. Whether this American couple are actually a legitimate party who have also fallen victim to identity theft themselves – remains to be seen. A case of fraud has now been opened and all of these websites are now under investigation.
Top Tips to Avoid Falling Victim to Online Shopping Scams:
- Beware of suspicious websites: A website that is poorly designed, includes spelling errors, multiple pop-up windows or unconventional payment options – is more than likely the work of a cyber criminal.
- Never click on email hyperlinks: Never click on hyperlinks, or worse enter your banking details.
- Beware of shopping on your mobile phone: Mobile devices often lack anti-virus software and entering your banking information is not recommended.
- Never Share your ID number: You don’t need to provide your ID number when making a regular purchase, so why should this be necessary online? Remember that identity theft is rife in South Africa, so keep your information close to your chest.
- Use your card: As in the case above. The victim was actually able to get his money back. The reason is because credit cards offer additional security checks and balances. If the victim reports the incident quickly, they might still get their money back.
- Use strong passwords: Never repeat the same password across multiple site and platforms. Also remember to change these regularly.