Prices too good to be true? They probably are.

Head in Hands

A friend of mine was scammed before Christmas by a fake shopping website that offered branded goods at fantastic prices, and I’ll share a few things that are worthwhile to know so that it doesn’t happen to you.

The website has now disappeared, but I had the chance to look at its pages before it vanished in the ether. It was supposedly a UK website with a co.uk address, but the information on the site broke several British online trading laws. From a bit of online research, I believe that the company was based in China. Unfortunately my pal didn’t know this, he ordered a pair of branded boots for about £50 and received a fake pair of Adidas trainers.

He paid by debit card and under the Chargeback scheme, if a trader does not fulfil certain contractual obligations (such as, in this case, not supplying the correct items) your bank can request the money back from the seller’s merchant bank to which the payment was made. My friend made a claim through his bank and got all his money back.

How can you tell if an online trader is legitimate or not? Firstly, check for reviews on Trustpilot and other review sites. Although the website that tried to scam my pal is gone, I have found a similar one that appears to be run by the same people here and it has dreadful reviews on Trustpilot.

It is a legal requirement for any UK company that trades online that they must provide their business name, contact details and address. If you look at the scam website, this is nowhere to be found; a contact form is not sufficient.

You also have certain legal rights to cancel an order placed online. The online store that I have linked above does state that you have a right to return the goods, but looking at the Trustpilot reviews for these companies it seems that they have no intention of refunding your money, even if they send you the wrong goods.

Look carefully at the terms and conditions; even though this masquerades as a UK website, they are clearly not written by a native English speaker. This is a classic:

“If the problem about the item is not big enough, please do not make fuss about it. We will be gratitude if you take care of it by yourself. And for the unfit size problem, to send it away as a gift is a good choice and also can save your precious time and avoid the unnecessary waste.”

In other words (I think, from trying to work out its meaning), if it’s the wrong size, give it to someone else! Great customer service, don’t you think? (Not!)

So, in summary;

  • If it’s not a company that you know and trust, read its T&Cs and company details carefully.
  • Check reviews.
  • Know your consumer rights and redress.
  • Try to pay where possible by Paypal or credit card; it is easier to get your money back if things go wrong.
  • If in doubt – shop elsewhere.

Photo credit – Alex Proimos, reproduced under creative commons license, https://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334

Disease Called Debt
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Money fraud could make your debt problem a whole lot worse

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Disease Called Debt

It happened to us!

Well, to Mr P to be precise. Last year he bought something with his debit card from a website he hadn’t heard of before, and a few days later I noticed that our bank balance was about £120 less than it should be. I checked the statement and there were about 30 withdrawals that had started the previous day; one from a shop, five from an online betting site, and the rest were small sums for computer gaming.

We contacted the bank straight away and Mr P’s card was stopped. He was asked a few things about his security of his card and when his answers satisfied the bank, they agreed to investigate and refund the money. Fortunately they could see from our prior transactions that we don’t indulge in gaming or betting. The missing sums reappeared in our account about three days later and Mr P later had a declaration in the post to sign and return to say that he had not made those payments.

I have taken a keen interest in financial fraud scams and preventative measures that we can all take ever since.

It’s a good job that we weren’t close to the edge

It didn’t cause us any hardship as there were no big expenses coming out of our account imminently and we had an emergency fund. This could cause someone a major problem though if money goes missing from their account close to their mortgage, rent or Council Tax payment; if there would not be enough money in the account to pay it, the bank would not do so and this would be classed as a payment in arrears.

It could mean that you have to borrow to tide you over

Unless you have an emergency fund, it could mean that you might need to borrow in order to make your essential payments until it is sorted out by the bank – if they do agree to return the money to your account, which they don’t always do now. You might end up incurring interest if you can’t pay it back quickly.

It all changed earlier this year

In March, the chief of the Metropolitan Police suggested that banks should not be responsible for fraud that could be the result of poor computer security. Consumer groups criticised his remarks as they saw it as a way of banks to absolve themselves of responsibility and the Met backpedalled on the comments, but I have heard since that the Financial Ombudsman Service has reported a rise in complaints about the banks’ handling of fraud losses by customers.

“Cybercrime Overtakes Traditional Crime in UK”

That was the conclusion of a recent report by the National Crime Agency, which stated that “the speed of criminal capability development is currently outpacing our response as a community”. In other words, the crooks are getting cleverer and more innovative all the time.

Is online/phone banking a good thing?

It’s convenient, that’s true. But – you have to weigh up the risk of having your bank accounts emptied though smishing and other frauds. I do use online banking but as little as possible, and only on my MacBook after deleting my browser history and using a private window. Read why a cyber crime expert won’t use online banking; https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/nov/21/safe-internet-banking-cyber-security-online

Furthermore, the more we use electronic banking, we are putting bank branches at risk and the jobs of people who work there are in jeopardy. I do prefer to deal with people than a computer screen.

Make sure that you have strong passwords

An unbelievable number of people use ‘password’ or ‘123456’ as their password. A hacker could crack those blindfold.

It is also a bad idea to use the same password for every account that you have; if your details are hacked from a shopping site, the same password could be used to hack into your email account. Apparently 12 character passwords are the most difficult to crack, especially if they’re made up a combination of letters, numbers and other characters. Identifiable words such as ‘birthday’ or ‘coolbabe’ made up only of letters are easier to crack.

Try using a phrase to help you remember it, for example:

?%mbJia20ts!

(“my brother Jack is a 20 ton softie”, with the beginning and end characters added to make it harder to crack.)

A few tips for keeping your money safe

NEVER disclose your bank account details and passwords to a caller.

If you’re phoned out of the blue and asked for bank/card details and/or any passwords, hang up.

Create strong passwords.

Call your bank to check suspicious calls on a different phone. If you call your bank from the same phone, fraudsters will stay on the line after you have hung up and listen to everything you say, including your bank account details.

Get the best antivirus software that you can afford.

Run the update notifications on your computer regularly.

Delete your browser history frequently.

Run malware scans regularly.

Beware of using shopping websites that you don’t know – use Paypal where possible rather than your card. Check review sites for shopping websites that you haven’t used before.

Never open emails with attachments from people that you don’t know.

If you see a USB stick lying on the ground, never pick it up and use it; this is a recent scam of dropping malicious USBs for people to pick up. Bin it or hand it in to the police.

Disease Called Debt

Further reading

If you’re a victim of fraud, take a look at this advice from the Money Advice Service:

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/identity-theft-and-scams-what-you-are-liable-for

Types of scam, also from the Money Advice Service:

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/beginners-guide-to-scams

The scale of the problem:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/one-in-people-now-victims-of-cyber-crime/

Photo attribution – By BrackezMassimo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons