Online shopping is on the rise, but consumers need to be aware of how to keep themselves and their data safe from phishers and hackers.

According to the fourth annual e‐commerce report released by market research firm Ipsos, by the end of 2018, South Africans would have conservatively spent well over R45 billion shopping online over the course of the past 12 months – a 19% increase over 2017.

With this spend anticipated to leap to R61.9bn by 2020, it’s no surprise that con artists are eyeing the online market to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers wherever they can, says Rowan Ziman, Information Technology Manager of online retailer Teljoy.

“On the other hand, the very threat of these fraudsters could be enough to deter other shoppers from considering an online purchase,” says Ziman, “but there are ways to mitigate these fears and alleviate the scepticism that potential online customers may be feeling.”

Providing products such as home electronics, appliances and furniture on rent‐to‐own basis, Teljoy took its operation entirely online back in 2016, and has a digital team engaged full time in protecting its own customers’ rights and data, while also making the online shopping experience as engaging as possible.

Ziman therefore has a number of tips both for regular online consumers as well as for those who have not yet engaged with online shopping but would like to give it a try: “The very first thing shoppers should check is the way in which a website address appears in the address line.”

Elaborating on this, Ziman notes that a safe site would have what is known as secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption. The address in the address bar would start with “https://”, preceded by a small “locked” symbol.

Another easy giveaway that a site is suspicious would be the look of the site itself. “Does the design look attractive or is it instead very amateur‐looking?” asks Ziman. “And is the language and grammar used correct and appropriate for the audience to whom it is speaking? If the design is bad and the language even worse, it’s probably best to leave the site alone.”

Having a good programme installed particularly to protect a computer or mobile device against malware as well as viruses, and keeping this, the browser and operating system up to date are also good measures to alleviate any potential threats.

“Likewise, be careful of emails that offer links to websites you’ve never seen or used before, and usually with deals that just seem too good to be true. These could be phishing emails designed to fraudulently obtain sensitive, personal information such as your usernames, passwords, banking or credit card details,” warns Ziman.

Online shoppers should also beware of doing their shopping via open and often free WiFi in public spaces or in cafes, restaurants or other places that offer this service, as hackers could be occupying the same space waiting to intercept a user’s online traffic and, again, get hold of usernames and passwords.

A particular threat to your information being stolen is in the use of computers other than your own ‐ for example, in internet cafes, where computers will store your browser history.

Ziman also advises online shoppers to regularly check their bank accounts for illegal activity in order to, hopefully, have unauthorized transactions reversed as soon as possible, but also notes that using credit cards rather than debit cards online offers purchasers more security.

“When you use a credit card, ultimately you are using the bank’s money rather than your own, and so banks tend to build better legal defenses into credit cards that make them safer to use. Plus, as a consumer, you are less liable when a fraudulent transaction occurs on a credit card, as long as you report the fraud as soon as possible to the bank.”

Consumers should also be aware of their rights, as the same Consumer Protection Act (CPA) that protects in‐store customers also applies to online, as does the Electronic Communications Act (ECTA) and the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) act.

“In fact,” notes Ziman “all of these contain specific clauses to protect online shoppers, including the right to cancel purchases or services as well as to return goods or receive a refund if you’ve been sold something you feel was not up to what you expected.”

Being aware of these rights as an online company, and in turn making sure that its own customers know their rights is an important part of Teljoy’s online strategy: “Besides the fact that we do our due diligence to ensure all our customers have good credit records, we also make it very clear to them that they can not only upgrade their account with us at any time, they can also downgrade or cancel at any time,” says Ziman.

“This gives our customers peace of mind that they are not locked into a credit situation that, should their own personal circumstances change, they would not be able to afford and maintain.”

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