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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Nigerians recount tales of scams in online transactions

By Adedotun Ajayi

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On July 22, 2022, Shola needed a few casual outfits and decided to shop online. She settled for one online vendor and that was the beginning of her woes.

 Prior to this, she had initiated a transaction with an online shopper and when it did not work out, the vendor was very quick to refund her money. She thought every vendor online was normal like the previous one that refunded her money, until she met this new one.

 She made orders via her (the vendor’s) website that evening. When her 24-48 hours delivery time had elapsed and she heard nothing from the vendor, she reached out. Surprisingly, the vendor said the item was out of stock and promised to replace it with another one, which she sent out that same day. Once again,  Shola the buyer got nothing.

 One week later, nothing still. By this time, the vendor had blocked Shola’s number on WhatsApp and had stopped responding to her messages.  Shola told the vendor it was beginning to look like fraud and that she would make enquiries on how to retrieve her money. She made a report at the police station but nothing happened afterwards. Up till now, she has not been able to get the good and no refund was made.

 According to her: “My experience with that online vendor was traumatic and painful. I doubt if I can ever shop online again, especially with those Instagram vendors.”

 Online shopping is a form of electronic commerce which allows consumers to directly buy goods or services from a seller over the internet, using a web browser or a mobile app. 

According to Bigcommerce, the first inklings of online shopping began in England, back in the late 1970s.

 In 1979, English inventor, Michael Aldrich, invented a system that allowed consumers to connect with businesses electronically. He did this by connecting a consumer’s TV to a retailer’s computer via a telephone line.

 His invention was one of the first communication tools that allowed interactive mass communication, but it was costly and did not make sense financially for most businesses, until the Internet became more widespread.

 Online shopping became possible when the internet was opened to the public in 1991. Amazon was one of the first ecommerce sites in the US to start selling products online, and thousands of businesses have followed since.

 In Nigeria today, traders have discovered the benefits of making their businesses global and easily accessible. Therefore, the cyberspace has seen an upsurge of online businesses.

 Consumers find a product of interest by visiting the website of the retailer directly or by searching among alternative vendors, using a shopping search engine which displays the same product’s availability and pricing at different e-retailers.

 Online shopping is increasing each day. Now, people prefer online shopping to offline shopping, because of the ease and convenience it offers, availability of a wide variety of products on a single platform, together with offers and discounts. While online shopping has many advantages, it has also got its own drawbacks.

 Fraud is the biggest drawback of online shopping. Many people are attracted by great offers which seem too good to be true. Fake online shopping portals display some great products on the website and attract customers to buy the products. Usually, websites which sell fake products, instead of the genuine ones that are displayed, do not accept cash on delivery. Instead, they request customers to make an online payment. In the end, customers will either receive the fake product or they will not receive the product at all. There are many cases of cybercrime where customers’ debit or credit cards details are misused to make fraudulent transactions.

There have been several scenarios where people ordered for products from online vendors, but instead of getting what they ordered for, they got something else. This situation gave rise to the cliché “what I ordered versus what I got.” 

Investigations by The Hope revealed that many individuals have fallen victims of online shopping scams.

 According to an ICT expert who pleaded anonymity, said it is difficult to pinpoint when online scam started in Nigeria. He added that once there is an innovation, people will definitely make attempts to bastardise it, no matter what the advantages of that innovation may be, and online shopping is not an exception.

 According to Ruth Effiong, a business developer, there is nothing more frustrating than spending your hard earned money on a bad product.

 She said technology has made it possible to shop for almost anything you want, right from the comfort of your home. While some folks have enjoyed shopping online, there are others whose shopping experience can only be likened to a nightmare or horror movie.

 “Shopping online is good because it gives you more options and freedom to choose from a variety of products, sometimes cheaper than buying from retail stores. But it’s not all that rosy, as a lot of buyers have had bad experiences while shopping online. Personally, I learned the hard way that not all products are as good as they’re advertised, because I once placed an order and when I received it, it was a defective item,” she said.

 Another victim, Toluwalase Adebayo, said it might sound like he is old school, but as long as it is Nigeria, he will keep visiting the physical stores and markets, to avoid “stories that touch.”

 According to him, “I once ordered for an adult shoe online and put in every required information, only to be surprised when the delivery arrived. The shoe they delivered couldn’t even fit into my one year old baby’s leg, not to talk of myself, just to tell you how small it was. Till date, nothing has been done and I keep calling daily to get the same old story. Ever since then, I would go to the market myself and do a total evaluation of what I want to buy before taking it home.”

 In the same vein, Omooba Olatunji, a security expert, said that last year alone, scam cases reported in their unit and tracked on Instagram by Nigerian buyers totalled N273,235,485. Unsatisfied transactions also known as “what I ordered vs what I got” amounted to N84,399,140.

 He said while a lot of Instagram vendors are honest and trustworthy, a few dishonest people have decided to take advantage of people’s trust and initiate fraudulent transactions.

 In his words “there are several ways to detect scammers online. First, legitimate vendors will post reviews from previous customers. If you don’t see any review, then you should be careful. Fake vendors also create reviews; so be careful. If anything seems off, don’t buy it. There are a lot of security tips we can’t make public, so we won’t end up giving these criminals free space to operate, but when you get scammed online and you report the case, they will be easily tracked down,” he said

 Tomisin Omole, a Cybersecurity expert, said that the first thing one should do when one gets scammed is to get evidence of the scam (Payment receipt and conversation, etc).

“Do not report the scammer’s account or get it deactivated. Doing this will drastically reduce your chances of getting the person, especially in the event that ip addresses and account login activity etc are needed by an investigator. Once you have compiled the evidence, go to your local law enforcement agency and file a complaint, showing the evidence of course. While there might not be much that they can do, they at least now have a record of this scam. You may then contact a cyber-crime investigator for help,” he said.

The cybersecurity consultant added, “While there is really no 100 percent guarantee that you can get your money back, you may be lucky enough to get enough information to find and get this person arrested. Of course, this depends on the amount you lost. If it wasn’t so much, you should let it go and learn from your mistake.”

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