Most of us think we're smart enough to avoid being fooled by illegitimate online retailers. We look for "https" (the s denoting secure) in URLs, and always check the security certificate before buying. I've been shopping online for more than 10 years, and I've never come across any fraud... until last month.
I was fooled by a mirror website of a popular international brand - a site that looked identical to its authentic United States counterpart, had a New Zealand domain name, but unfortunately, I discovered, sold counterfeit goods shipped from Beijing. Truth be told, I was in a hurry to make a purchase and didn't take any precautions aside from checking the security certificate - the only thing on the site that was genuine.
Before you pull your card from your wallet and click "purchase", there are several precautions you should take - even (and perhaps especially) if you're an experienced online shopper.
Netsafe's advice in avoiding internet trickery is to buy online only from businesses in New Zealand. In an ideal world, we'd all do this. In my case, I thought I was buying from a New Zealand franchise. But the reason many of us shop online is because we want products unavailable in our own country, so Netsafe's advice isn't going to deter many.
If you are determined to buy online from an international website, take a few minutes to assess the validity of the site. First, check for adequate contact details, including a phone number and email address under the same domain as the website address. A red flag should immediately be raised when you can't find a phone number (and if it's present but contains a dubious country code, call it and see what happens). Physical address details must be available, too.
Subsequently, go to whois.net and enter the URL. WhoisNet is a free service which provides domain identification details, including country of origin, full contact details, server details, and website creation dates. If you're about to buy from an American website that was registered three months ago in China, you've definitely found a fraudulent mirror site.
According to Netsafe: "Scammers often pay to register a new website name for only one year in the knowledge they will be shut down or bad reviews by customers flag the problem to other shoppers. Private registrations [which omit public details from WhoisNet] can also be a cause for concern."
If WhoisNet checks out (and you've got adequate contact details) you're probably safe. However, do a quick Google search of the URL and see if there are any message boards that list that website as problematic.
Local online scams are listed on the Department of Internal Affairs website dia.govt.nz, and you can report fraudulent websites by emailing details to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs also lists scams on scamwatch.govt.nz, and scams can be reported on theorb.org.New Zealand. However, if the fraudulent website is offshore, there's little these organisations can do to help you get your money back.
If the purchase was made via direct transfer, your bank may be able to cancel this before it is processed. Likewise, a Western Union transfer can be stopped on request, but this has to be done within hours of the purchase. Fraudulent Paypal purchases can be disputed after 20 days of no resolution between parties.
If you paid by credit card, your bank is able to assist in a reversal of funds, called a "chargeback". This process is long and arduous, and will result in a cost to you if the dispute is not resolved in your favour.
Your bank will require you to provide all correspondence with the merchant and proof that you have made attempts to resolve the issue directly. This includes proof of returning counterfeit goods to the sender, or, if no goods arrived, that you emailed several times to no avail to get tracking numbers.
It will take about a month, but if your bank determines your case a genuine example of online fraud, they will pursue a funds reversal from the merchant's bank..
More often than not, a funds chargeback will be possible, so do take the time to pursue it if you've been fooled. If your bank doesn't agree your case is worthy of a funds reversal and you're unhappy with this, take your case to the Banking Ombudsman via bankomb.org.nz. If your complaint is upheld, the Ombudsman will order your bank to process the chargeback.
- The Press