SINGAPORE - Consumers have been warned to take precautions when making online purchases after reports surfaced of online retailers using tactics to mislead consumers into buying products.
Some common tactics include online advertisements claiming that the retailer has a presence in Singapore.
The URL of the retailer's website could also deliberately contain the abbreviation "sg" to give that impression.
In an advisory on Thursday (Sept 2), the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) said that from January last year to Aug 2 this year, Case received 52 complaints related to transactions involving overseas sellers.
The joint advisory said: "Attempts to get a refund of money paid to such online retailers may be difficult as they may not have any presence in Singapore.
"Consumers are advised to adopt certain precautions in order to minimise the risk of falling prey to some of these tactics."
Errant retailers may also include claims about the product in its advertisements or websites, including those related to the product's quality, country of origin, or the accreditation it received.
"The product eventually delivered may turn out to be different," Case and CCCS said.
Other tactics used include seemingly large discounts, where retailers advertise extremely low prices, citing reasons such as warehouse clearance, when these discounts may not be genuine.
The advisory comes amid a boom in e-commerce transactions, with online sales in Singapore hitting an estimated US$8 billion (S$10.76 billion) this year, according to a report by Facebook and management consultancy Bain & Company.
The report, released on Tuesday (Aug 31), also said that e-commerce sales here are expected to grow to US$10 billion by the end of 2026.
Case and CCCS said in their advisory that some overseas sellers may attempt to mislead consumers by giving them fictitious contact information to seek refunds.
The sellers may also claim to have products recognised by accredited bodies.
The consumer watchdog and CCCS said buyers should check against the accreditation the product is said to have received, for example, by verifying the authenticity against official sources like the website of the organisation that purportedly issued the award.
Consumers can also verify if the retailer is based in Singapore through the Bizfile+ portal maintained by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.
Escrow payments should also be opted for, where possible. This arrangement is when a third party releases the money to the retailer only after certain conditions are met.
When making a purchase, a padlock symbol on the address bar would indicate that the connection is encrypted, which means that information such as credit card details will be kept secure.
Mr Samuel Tan, head of the Smart e-Commerce Centre at Temasek Polytechnic, said consumers are usually attracted to the marketing and illustration of these online offers.
He said: "The fear of missing out mentality will kick in, especially when there is limited quantity and tight deadlines to put in the order."
Director of Nanyang Polytechnic's Singapore Institute of Retail Studies, Ms Megan Ong, said some consumers do not bother chasing after a bad retailer because their purchases may not cost much.
She said: "But this just encourages bad behaviour. Make it difficult for these retailers to continue their practices, write bad reviews backed up with proof, and send complaints to the online platforms that hosted them."