The honest guide to shopping online this festive season: 10 things you need to know

SINGAPORE - While online shoppers may be shivering in excitement at sales during the festive season, don't fall prey to unscrupulous retailers when filling virtual shopping carts with goodies for friends and loved ones.

The Straits Times reported on Friday that the police were investigating 17 people for their suspected involvement in more than 70 online purchase scams, involving more than $134,000.

Besides security, beware other pitfalls when buying online. Here are 10 things to keep in mind when facing the big, bad world of virtual shops.

The online shops themselves, shoppers and security company Sophos tell you what you need to know, whether you are shopping for yourself, friends or loved ones this Christmas and New Year.


Be a happy shopper

1. Be prepared to give away your online clothes buys to your child. If you do not have one, any child would do.

Some blogshops have inaccurate sizing, and the item that arrives will not look like anything you saw on the model in the picture.

Whether you are buying for yourself or someone else, if you want to avoid such situations, it is safer to buy from international labels.

Here is a hilarious experience of an American blogger and Huffington Post writer who bought clothes from a blogshop called Nastydress that is apparently based in Singapore:

2. Do your shopping early.

While shopping online means you do not have to wait in long queues and jostle with others, your items are going to be just a few out of the many that the shop will be posting out.

Items can be delayed even when they are bought during off-peak seasons, so there is no saying when your parcels will arrive.

3. There is nothing worse than giving a faulty or fake item as a gift.

The Internet is full of people trying to lure undiscerning online shoppers with their cheap prices.

Cheap is good for the pocket, but be careful where you buy at such prices. Check online for reviews of the shop, and if there are none, it is better to avoid trouble.

4. Try to combine purchases with friends or others you know who may be buying from the same site so you can share shipping costs.

This way of sharing used to be popular in "sprees" that were advertised on livejournal blogs.

There is no reason it should not be done still. Anything to save a cent during this budget-busting sale season!


Be a considerate shopper

5. If you are buying clothes for yourself, make sure to take your measurements correctly.

One pet peeve of online shops is that customers do not measure themselves accurately, end up buying the wrong size, then blame the shop.

6. If you do not want to be a customer from hell, read the terms and conditions and other standard information on shipping, delivery, postage on the shop's website, so that the shop staff or owner do not need to repeat what they have already stated in the FAQs.

And also, if the shops are nice enough to pre-order for you before you pay, pay on time.


Be a safe shopper

7. Online shopping is not a bed of roses. There are security risks to be mindful of as well.

Sumit Bansal, director for Asean at Internet company Sophos says that the top three most common threats buyers encounter when shopping online are spam, phishing and scams.

While spam is often more of a nuisance than a danger to buyers, it is often used in conjunction with phishing attacks or scams.

Phishing attacks often come in the form of malicious links sent via e-mails , pop-up windows or websites enticing buyers to click on certain web links.

Online scams become more common during shopping seasons. For example, Sophos found claims of Free iPhone 6 scams and the promise of winning the lottery over the period of American annual sales called Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

8. Deal with reputable sellers, such as websites you already know or websites that have been recommended to you.

Ensure that the payment site address starts with "HTTPS" as this indicates a secure payment transaction.

Administrative chores may be a pain, but keep receipts and check them against bank statements.

9. If a shopping offer looks too good to be true, it probably is, because there is no such thing as a free lunch, according to Mr Bansal from Sophos.

Legitimate shopping items rarely have such good discounts. Buyers should check the URL of their web browser and be wary of spoofed websites which have slightly different URLs compared to real sites.

10. Do not provide financial information without thinking.

These data when in the wrong hands could be sold on cybercriminal forums to other attackers for purposes such as identity theft.

The data could also be used to make a lot of transactions by cybercriminals, which could lead to credit card fraud.

There are two ways this can happen. Should there be a malware hiding on your device, they might capture the financial information you have entered online.

You may also unknowingly enter your financial information on a phishing or scam site, giving your data away to cybercriminals.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg

This article was originally published on Dec 9, 2014