10 Ways to Spot and Outsmart Scammers

Let us face it. Bogus sellers have become more creative and they have gone out of their way to make it seem that they are legitimate. Some are even worse; they pose as employees or owners of well-known online retailers. 
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have made matters worse. And even with all the information warning us about scammers, why do a lot of people still get scammed out of their hard-earned money? 
Some shoppers are too eager for a great bargain, especially since money is tight with the upheaval caused by the pandemic. In the urgency of filling the gap in with any kind of work, shoppers will go hunting around for home office essentials for nearly half the market price. They are forced into situations which lead them to think irrationally.
“Here’s a seller with the item I need in stock, just a single unit left. It’s nearly 70% off! What a bargain!” 
But is it, really? Normally, we would be researching market and competitor pricing before deciding to purchase but then think “what if someone else gets it before I do?” This is exactly what a scammer is banking on: that feeling of urgency and great luck.
“If it doesn’t work out, I can ask for a refund, right?” 
Wrong. They are here in a flash and will be gone just as fast — them with your money and you with nothing but regret and the desire for revenge.
So how exactly are we supposed to protect ourselves and spot the real bargains from the scams? Here is a list of questions that you should ask to help you determine if the online seller is legitimate or a scam.

1. Does the Seller have a Legitimate Website?

Most companies that sell online have one. A quick Google search using the store or brand’s name will easily lead you to their official website. Once you find their website, check if the site is secured by an SSL Certificate. Legitimate E-Commerce businesses do not go without an SSL Certificate because it is required to protect the communication between the site’s users and the web server. To find out if a website has an SSL Certificate, look for the padlock icon to the right of the website’s address and click the “View Certificate” link.

2. Does the Seller have Official Social Media Accounts?

If the seller does not have a website, check out their Facebook or Instagram accounts and answer these questions: How long has their social media account been around? How many followers do they have?

3. Are the Contact Numbers and Email Addresses Consistent?

If the social media account shows a different set of phone number and email address on the website, that is a red flag for you to step away and look for the legitimate seller. Not everyone has the luxury of time, but if you do, you may also call and verify. Their website and social media account do not have any contact information? That alone should be scary enough for you.

4. What are People Saying about the Seller?

Read customer reviews. Not every customer would go out of their way to rate a store. But a store with minimal to zero reviews means it is recently set up and it is probably a bogus account. All the reviews are suspiciously posted on the same week? Guess what? It is probably a scam.

5. Are their Payment Collection Methods Secure?

E-Commerce websites and 3rd party E-Commerce platforms use various payment gateways like PayPal, DragonPay, TendoPay, Atome, PayMaya, GCash, WeChat Pay, or AliPay. These gateways are secure, and the transactions are traceable. Should there be any issues, you can hold the payment gateways accountable and you can rest assured that your money is 100% secure. 
If the seller is asking for payment through bank transfer, check first if their bank account is a personal or corporate account. No legitimate company would ask you to send payment to a personal account. Legitimate businesses use official corporate bank accounts carrying the company name.

6. Is the Seller a Shopee Mall or Lazada Flagship Store?

The best places for bargain-hunting nowadays are third-party E-Commerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee. A lot of companies with brick and mortar stores have partnered with these popular E-Commerce marketplaces to offer huge deals that we do not normally see in the retail spaces. This is also where scammers thrive the most. 
But take heart! As long as you shop from the “Malls” or “Flagship Stores,” you are safe. It takes a lot of effort and verification processes for these platforms to accredit sellers for Mall or Flagship status. To be on the safe side, it is best to shop from LazMall or ShopeeMall because they carry the guarantee you need to feel at ease whenever you checkout. 
The same guarantee cannot be given for community sellers and although there are honest ones, there are some that you need to weed out, especially the ones that ask for the payment to be settled outside of the platform (i.e. direct bank transfer). Shopee and Lazada cannot identify them all so it helps to report them immediately.

7. Is the Seller Asking for Partial Payment Before Shipping?

A legitimate seller either deals with cash on delivery, pre-order or layaway programs with clearly laid out mechanics and terms & conditions, or bank transfers to corporate accounts before shipping an item. Watch out for those who ask for a huge “downpayment” that direct payment outside of the website or 3rd Party E-Commerce Platform. There’s a very high chance that the few messages you exchange before you wire the funds would be your last conversation with the scammer.

8. Does the Seller Insist to Meet Up?

Legitimate sellers partner with registered couriers like LBC and J&T, or use apps like GrabExpress, Lalamove, and MrSpeedy, or have their own delivery team. No meetups are allowed unless you do it in their retail stores. Perhaps meeting up is okay if you will have the opportunity to check the goods first before you hand in your payment. And make sure to do it in a place where there are CCTV cameras and other people who can witness your exchange. If the seller is suggesting for you to meet up in a random location after you’ve sent your partial payment and they don’t show up, don’t tell us that we didn’t warn you. 

9. Do they offer to send screenshots of Company Documents and IDs of their employees?

Some scammers go to great lengths to falsify company documents to show you so they could come across as legitimate. Legitimate sellers will not even bother sending their documents directly to buyers because those are private and confidential information that they also need to protect. When presented with identification and company documents, just send a message, or call the seller’s official contact details first to be sure.

10. Is the deal “Too good to be true?”

Remember the saying “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” When you do encounter these scammers, call them out on their fraudulent activities.
Scamming is a Cybercrime and punishable by law. If you have been scammed, gather all evidence and file a case with the PNP Anti-Cyber Crime Group at Camp BGen Rafael T, Camp Crame, Quezon City (acg@pnp.gov.ph)

Do your homework before you buy online. 

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