Online shoppers warned against fraud
If the deal sounds too good to be true, it just might be.
Amid the growing popularity of online retail, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has reminded consumers to take extra care in transacting internet purchases, citing incidents of fraud, false advertising and suspicious practices in the still largely unregulated industry.
In an advisory issued this week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima urged the public to proceed with caution when shopping online, citing the DOJ Office of Cybercrime’s (OOC) “mandate to educate the public and ensure that the near limitless potential of cyberspace is safeguarded from malicious individuals, and from the abusive, fraudulent, or harmful corrupt business practices as well.”
“As citizens enjoy the convenience and choice in online shopping platforms, fraud and abuses are happening. These include false advertising and sale of counterfeit goods as forms of deceptive sales practices,” De Lima said in a statement.
“Existing laws to protect consumers apply with equal force to the internet,” she added.
In its Advisory Opinion No. 2, the DOJ-OOC cited how “risks, trade malpractices, and operational challenges exist in online shopping in view of the anonymity being offered by the internet.”
“Consumers must remain vigilant and proactive in protecting their welfare rights. Like traditional markets, customers should keep in mind the principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware) in their online dealings. It is highly important to be wary of online fraud to avoid the arduous process and inconvenience of recovering any damage,” read the 12-page advisory released Thursday.
The DOJ-OOC said these online dangers include “frauds and scams, misleading or deceptive product advertisements, difficulty in returns and replacements, unexpected customs dues, transaction costs, and surcharges, privacy breaches and abuse of user information, including financial details, and chaotic delivery procedures.”
For instance, online offers would advertise product packages that, in reality, feature items sold separately, or promote medical products that purportedly have healing or slimming benefits that “are rarely properly tested and can even be harmful.”
Other sites deceptively promote gadgets of “a particular standard, quality, grade, style, or model” when the actual available items are of older versions.
Some say their products are new, “but upon confirmation of the order, the supplier replaces the contents of the brand-new packaging with a refurbished or second-hand model, re-seals it, and then ships it to the unsuspecting customer.”
Other sites also show fake discounts on their sites or sell outright knock-offs.
For the protection of consumers, the DOJ-OOC said consumers should do a background check of sellers, avoid responding to unsolicited emails from strangers, and take extra care in sharing financial information, especially in unsecure websites.
“Don’t believe everything you read. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is false!,” read the advisory.
The DOJ-OOC recommended that shoppers keep their computer’s security software and firewalls updated and to avoid shopping online using public computers as much as possible.
It also advised consumers to use strong passwords for online accounts- preferably containing both letters and numbers- and to change these keys regularly. All records of online transactions- whether correspondence or digital receipts- must also be kept.
The justice department also warned of other “red flags” that could indicate fraudulent sellers, including sites that do not show any contact details, or those that require payment by money transfer or direct bank deposit.
The DOJ-OOC encouraged the public to report incidents of online fraud to the appropriate government agency, depending on the product involved: food, drug, cosmetics items and health devices are under the Food and Drug Administration, while agricultural products and goods such as fertilizers and feeds are under the Department of Agriculture’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Office.
Complaints against sellers registered at the Department of Trade and Industry or the Securities and Exchange Commission may be reported directly to these agencies.
General cases of online fraud may also be reported to the DOJ-OOC, the National Bureau of Investigation’s Cybercrime Division or the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group.
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