Convenience, simplicity, comfort, time savings, no crowds, and more variety. These are some of the benefits that many Africans are enjoying, thanks to the growth of online shopping on the continent.
With the growth of internet penetration, the number of digital buyers in Africa is increasing. There were 281 million online shoppers as of 2020, and this number is expected to reach 520 million by 2025.
However, the growth of e-commerce has brought a parallel rise of scammers trying to rob people of their money. Worldwide fraudulent transactions and online shopping scams are on the rise, and online shoppers are losing money more easily than before. The number of people who have lost money to scams went from 71% in 2015 to almost 75% in 2021.
It’s important to keep your sensitive data safe so as to avoid financial fraud and identity theft. What follows are five tips you can use to shop online securely.
Verify the vendor’s legitimacy
Confirming a vendor’s legitimacy is the first important step to securing your online transactions.
There are millions of online shopping sites across the globe — it’s easy to get enticed by attractive offers from little-known sellers and jump into making a purchase without enough research. But, for any given number of legitimate websites out there you’ll probably find a few fraudulent ones.
A lot of the fraudulent sites will use limited offers to create a sense of urgency and drive you into a dubious purchase. You have to look out for signs that validate a vendor’s legitimacy, or the absence thereof. Here’s how to get started.
- Look out for subtle clues. A website’s look and feel may indicate that a vendor is a scammer. It’s possible for reliable sites to make spelling and grammar mistakes, but your alarm bells should go off if a site looks unprofessional. Pay attention to elements that undermine authenticity such as too many errors, sloppy design, and low-resolution images. Also, look out for ridiculously low prices. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Review company information. Check if the company has contact information such as a phone number, email (a professional address is better than a generic Gmail address), and even a physical address. If a site looks particularly well-established, but you suspect that it’s not legitimate, you can check the domain age using free tools like Duplichecker and Sitechecker. For example, an “official” Amazon website that’s only a few months old is likely a scam site looking to con you out of confidential information.
- Check for social media presence. Does the company appear to have legitimate posts and a genuine following that engages with the business? You want to stay away from a vendor if their social media accounts seem suspicious with things like poor or no content, poor engagement with followers, links to phishing scams, and no information about who runs the accounts.
- Look for reviews. A vendor with a legitimate website will likely have some reviews from previous customers, whether that’s on social media, review sites (such as Trustpilot), or Google.
On a more specific note, here are a few elements to look for on a vendor’s site:
- Return policy. Does the vendor have one? Does it sound genuine? An online shop without a system to process returns should immediately raise alarms.
- Expected delivery dates. Check if the expected time of arrival (ETA) seems well-thought-out; dates should match with where the product is coming from. For example, a delivery across continents should take longer than one across countries or states.
- Prices. Look at what other sites are charging for the same product. Some scam sites try to make a business out of selling counterfeit products at dubiously low prices, so this is another practical way of sniffing out a possible scam.
Remember that a little diligence and a simple google search can go a long way in helping you shop safely.
Check the security of the website
Once you have verified that a vendor is legitimate, it’s time to check if their site is secure. You want to keep your personal and financial data safe when transacting.
Try the following to validate an online shopping website’s security.
- Check for basic security features. The “s” in “https” in the URL, a padlock symbol next to the URL, and the information you get when you click on the padlock symbol — these are all basic security features you can use to filter out suspicious site URLs. Although they are not foolproof, the features are a good starting point when evaluating a site’s security.
- Look for key security markers. Scam websites often imitate the URLs of reputed websites to pose as legitimate, so it’s worth remembering key markers that legitimate vendors often use to distinguish themselves from any fake websites. For example, Amazon’s web pages all contain “.amazon” in them, as in https://pay.amazon.com for Amazon Pay. Be especially wary of misspelled sites (“amzaon”), grammatical variations (“amazonian”), or a different top-level domain (“.net” instead of “.com”). Those are some of the oldest tricks in the book, but they do work well.
- Use website checkers. You can use online verification tools such as Google Transparency Report and URLVoid to check if a website is safe.
While auditing the sites you shop on is important, you need to go a step further and ensure that your online security systems are robust as well.
Strengthen your online security systems
Secure systems provide an extra layer of defense when shopping online. Here’s a quick rundown of how you can improve your online security.
- Install reliable antivirus software. Good software will not only protect you against hackers, spyware, and ransomware, but it will also offer browsing protection and provide real-time alerts for potentially unsafe websites. To stay protected, update the software regularly so that it’s always running on the latest available version.
- Check privacy policies. Before providing any personal and financial information, make sure you understand how the information will be stored and used.
- Follow some best practices. Use strong passwords when registering on e-commerce websites, and don’t reuse the same password on other sites. It’s also a good idea not to save your card details on e-commerce sites.
- Use one-time passwords (OTPs). These passwords will provide additional security when making payments. Just don’t share your OTPs with anyone when conducting online transactions.
- Keep records. After making any payments, compare your purchases and bank balance, and immediately report any discrepancies or fraudulent transactions.
- Don’t overshare. Avoid sharing any personal information that an online seller doesn’t need to do business. A vendor will likely not need to know your ID number or birthday to process your order, but this is information that can be used to steal your identity.
Don’t be afraid to go mobile
Which is more secure, a PC or a smartphone?
This debate has gone on for a long time, and in the past, people have felt safer online using their PCs instead of mobile phones.
But there’s no need to fear online transactions made on your smartphone. Mobile devices may be at greater risk of being lost or stolen due to their portability, but in the end, all devices — whether desktop, laptop, or mobile — are vulnerable to online security threats. You just have to secure your devices as best you can.
The following are some security tips to help you shop safely on mobile.
- Only download and use trusted apps. Make sure to only use official apps owned by the vendor. You can also avoid malicious apps by using Google Play Store and App store (both platforms have security measures that offer some protection against malicious apps). Trusted apps are a notch safer for transactions since they eliminate the risk of accidentally going to a scam website that looks real.
- Use passwords and biometrics. Biometrics and strong passcodes restrict access to your device even when you accidentally leave it somewhere. It’s easier to keep intruders away from any sensitive information you have on your device.
- Be cautious when shopping on a public wi-fi network. You increase your chances of sharing personal information with hackers whenever you give public wi-fi hotspots permission on your device. Use a private wi-fi connection or your device’s cellular data whenever possible, and avoid giving multiple permissions if you have to use public wi-fi.
- Ensure that your mobile device is always running on the latest operating software. Outdated operating software makes you vulnerable to hacking. On the other hand, software updates usually come with added security features that increase your safety when shopping online.
- Update your mobile apps. Similar to updating your device’s operating software, updating your apps helps you better protect your confidential information and increases your security against malicious hackers.
Use a credit card as much as possible
Finally, if you have a credit card, use it for online shopping.
Credit cards generally offer better protection against fraud; they usually come with zero liability for all fraudulent transactions. In most cases, you won’t get this same level of protection with debit cards. Plus, if you lose your debit card details to a scammer, your entire bank account gets compromised — which is a far bigger problem than losing money.
But what if you don’t have a credit card or you’d rather not use it for online shopping?
Fortunately, you can mimic some of a credit card’s protections and benefits to secure your money when spending online. One of the best ways to do this is using a prepaid debit card. In case a scammer does get access to your account, they will only get the funds loaded onto the card. What’s more, a prepaid card can help you budget effectively as it limits your spending to the amount you’ve added to the card.
Start shopping safely
While no transaction, online or offline, will ever be entirely risk-free, you can significantly reduce risk by following these tips. Hackers and scammers are getting better at tricking online shoppers into losing money and compromising their confidential information, so it’s a good idea to stay vigilant and on high alert for any suspicious activity.
And if you’re looking to move your shopping money across Africa and the rest of the world quickly and securely, Chipper Cash can help. Transfers are free and you get to enjoy the lowest cross-border rates.
Get your Chipper Card today on Google Play or App Store and start shopping globally.