The internet has really boosted consumer choice – online shopping represented nearly 6% of all retail sales last year, and now that nearly everyone owns a smartphone, it’s never been easier for people to whip out their handset and make a purchase any time of the day or night. Internet shopping has also been a real boon to people in rural areas and those who find it hard to get out-and-about, allowing them to buy whatever they like in the comfort of their own home.
However, there are a huge range of dangers involved in online shopping that are far less commonplace in bricks-and-mortar stores. An investigation has found that between October 2013 and March 2014 10% of problems reported to Citizens Advice consumer service relating to products or services offered through eBay were either a “scam or potential scam,” with this rising to 17% for Gumtree.
Some of the online scams Citizens Advice found people had fallen prey to included paying for smartphones, tablets and other items that never arrived. One con uncovered by the organisation involved a man who bought a car for £360 and spent £700 on repairs, only for a logbook lender to turn up later and take the car back.
Another person was scammed when he took interest in a flat advertised on Gumtree, took a look at it, gave the landlord £1,450 and £200 in cash for rent, the deposit and other costs, only to discover that the flat actually belonged to the scammer’s mother.
Accordingly, Consumer Advice urged online marketplaces to improve their policing and better protect users from scams. It also called for the law to be changed so that logbook lenders can no longer take cars away from people other than the original borrower.
It’s all too easy to be lackadaisical when it comes to buying things online, especially when doing so while viewing scaled-back websites on a smartphone, but even reasonably vigilant people can still find themselves falling prey to internet scammers.