Internet has become an essential tool for daily tasks. The options people have nowadays are limitless: banking, shopping, booking reservations, chatting, and so on. However, several drawbacks have arisen that are of concern to all of the internet users. Unfortunately, incidents of auction fraud, the sale of illegal items, and criminal trespassing are booming in the e-commerce market. The nature of the Internet and the ease of gaining anonymity on it, has made crime easy and catching criminals much more difficult.
Many cases of fraud have occurred: people who collect payments from buyers and never ship the goods to them. “Earlier in the summer, for example, former eBay seller Robert Guest pleaded guilty to mail fraud. Prosecutors had accused Guest of collecting approximately $37,000 from bidders for items he never shipped.”
Cases like these are a real drawback for e-commerce. The lack of tangibility has been a major obstacle in doing transactions online and these cases only serve to destroy the little confidence that consumers have gained so far. Many people are hesitant to shop online, for example, and when they hear of fraud cases it only serves to confirm their initial fears. That is why organizations such as The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are educating consumers to protect themselves.
These agencies know that thousands of consumers are taking advantage of the opportunity to shop from the comfort of their homes via personal computers. A person can buy anything and avoid crowded malls, long lines and busy parking lots. Furthermore, the Internet is always open: 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In order to actually benefit from online shopping, certain things must be taken into consideration. The BBB’s Web site contains a section that offers tips on “What You Need to Know About Cybershopping.”
The tips are the following:
- When dealing with a new merchant, ask for its physical location in order to check its reliability with consumer agencies (i.e. The BBB).
- Determine the company’s refund and return policy before you place an order.
- Never give out your Internet password. When creating a password avoid using established numbers, such as your house number, birth date, telephone number or Social Security number. If you are asked to create a new account, never use the same password you use for other accounts.
- Be cautious if you are asked to provide personal information (i.e. Social Security number or bank account information).
- Look at the “address” of the site, the URL ensures that you are dealing with the right company. It is good to print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
- Know your rights. The same laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop online. Under the law, a company must ship your order within the time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days after receiving it, or give you an “option notice.”
- If you decide to pay by credit card or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. “Under this law, consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is investigating them. In the case of unauthorized use of a consumer’s credit card or charge card, consumers are generally held liable only for the first $50 in charges.”
If you are not comfortable entering your credit card or charge account number online, call it in to the company’s 800 number or fax it.The FTC also contains a section which offers consumers tips on online safety.
Use a secure browser. This is the software that you use to navigate the Internet. Your browser should comply with industry security standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Electronic Transaction (SET). These standards scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, ensuring the security of your transactions. Most computers come with a browser already installed or you can download one over the Internet for free.
Before signing up for any service or buying any product, evaluate how the company is securing your financial and personal information. Many companies explain their security procedures on their Web site. Other companies give you options on their Web site as to whether and how your personal information is used.
Another main concern on the Internet is the trespassing. Bulk e-mails are flooding our systems everyday. The main problem with these unsolicited e-mails is that most of the times they are scams. The FTC made a list that highlights the 12 scams that are most likely to arrive via bulk e-mail.
- Business opportunities. These e-mails make it sound very easy to start a business that will bring lots of income without much work or cash. The scam: they are usually illegal pyramid schemes.
- Bulk e-mail. You receive offers to sell you lists of e-mail addresses for your own bulk solicitations. The problem: sending bulk e-mails violates the terms of most internet service providers. In addition, some states have laws regulating the sending of unsolicited e-mail.
- Chain letters. You’re asked to send a small amount of money to each of 4 or 5 names on a list, replace the names on the list with your own and forward. The scam: chain letters are almost always illegal and most of the people who you forward the message to, are not likely to pay.
- Work-at-home schemes. These are envelope-stuffing solicitations that promise steady income for minimal labor. In most of the cases you have to send money for a start-up kit. The problem is that once you pay the money, you either never hear from them again, or you receive a kit that is clearly not worth the amount of money that you mailed.
- Health and diet scams. These e-mails offer pills that will let you loose weight without exercise or changing your diet; cures for impotence or hair loss. The scam is that these gimmicks don’t work.
- Effortless income. Typically a “get-rich-quick” scheme that offers unlimited profits. The problem is that these systems don’t really work. If they did, wouldn’t everybody be rich?
- Free goods. You are offered valuable goods for free after gaining a certain type membership that you have to pay for. In reality, the goods aren’t free and in some of the cases you don’t even receive the goods.
- Investment opportunity. You are offered outrageously high returns with no risk. You usually have to send money and after you do, you never hear from these people again.
- Cable “descrambler” kits. For a small amount of money you can buy a kit to assemble a cable descrambler that supposedly allows you to receive cable TV transmission without paying any subscription. The scam: it’s not going to work and you can’t even complain to authorities because you were engaging in something illegal by trying to steal cable service.
- Guaranteed loans or credit, on easy terms. This turns out to be a useless list of lenders who will turn you down if you don’t meet their qualifications.
- Credit repair. These are offers to erase negative information from your credit file. The people who promote these services usually can’t deliver and they can in fact get you in trouble with the law because the advice you to lie on loan/credit applications or to misrepresent your Social Security number.
- Vacation prize promotions. Typically you win a fabulous vacation. The truth is that this is an easy way to collect information form you, for marketing purposes. Also, most of the times you end up paying for specific dates and upgrading.
There are however, ways in which to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of bulk e-mails that are sent to you. In most of the cases you can remove yourself from the sender’s mailing list. In addition there are organizations that are formed with the purpose of filtering information. One of the most known organizations is TRUSTe.
TRUSTe is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to build users’ trust and confidence in the Internet by promoting the use of fair information practices. OptList is a Web site designed to filter the information that you receive via e-mail. Its privacy practices have been reviewed for compliance by TRUSTe. OptList wants to demonstrate its commitment to consumer privacy. By displaying the TRUSTe trustmark, this web site has agreed to notify Internet users of:
- What personal or identifiable information is being collected from the web user
- The organization collecting the information.
- With whom the information may be shared.
- What choices are available to you regarding collection, use and
- The kind of security procedures that are in place to protect the loss, misuse or alteration of information under OptList, Inc. control.
- How you can correct any inaccuracies in the information.
- The OptList Web site is committed to filtering the information that you do not want.
“Our mission is to help reduce the unsolicited e-mail traffic on the Internet. To help consumers gain control over the flow of unsolicited e-mail into their inboxes. To help ISPs gain control over the flow of unsolicited e-mail into their mail servers and to help marketers comply with the preferences of consumers and ISPs.”
Companies can really make a difference in addressing consumers needs. There are many tools available out there in order to protect consumers from Internet scams and fraudulent deals. The important thing is to be well informed and use common sense.