Online shopping is a rapidly growing consumer trend in the Middle East and North Africa and the region now stands poised to be the next eCommerce hot-spot. A recent report by PayPal has revealed that spending online in the MENA will grow from $9 billion in 2012 to $15 billion by 2015. The digital realm with its convenience of access, abundance of attractive offers and truly staggering range of options is being willingly embraced by tech-savvy consumers.
But the region, being a hot-bed for cyber crime, is also drawing the interest of hackers and scammers who are equally keen on doing some shopping of their own- at the expense of their victims. This might involve using stolen credit card and bank account information to fund online purchases, or even capturing and selling personal information to the highest bidder.
Pradeesh VS, General Manager, ESET Middle East warns that while eCommerce is a trend sure to positively impact both consumers and retailers in the MENA region, customers must take some precautions to ensure their online safety. Here is our list of top tips to help savvy cyber-shoppers avoid getting scammed while hunting for the best online deals.
Tip 1: Clean up before you shop
Like tuning-up your car before going on a long drive, you should also ensure you get your laptop in top shape before going online for some power shopping. Give it some love, and improved protection, by updating and patching your browser and add-ons like plug-ins. It might be worth checking to see there aren’t any bad ones in there since this is a trick cyber criminals have been employing this year. Finally, before you shop, patch your operating system and anti-malware suite too as this will help you avoid malware infections and scams, and keep you running smoothly.
Tip 2: Make sure it’s secure and ideally, shop from a PC, not a phone
When you are in the ordering process on a website, check to make sure it is using SSL, the standard in secure transactions- often shown by browsers as a little lock symbol. If that isn’t there, check the URL i.e. website address. You should be able to see https or shttp in front of the web address instead of http. It’s far easier to do these checks on a PC, rather than smartphone or tablet browsers, so it’s worth sitting down, even if it is an impulse buy. Using SSL encrypts the exchange of information, such as your credit card, so eavesdroppers cannot read it. When in doubt, a quick search in Google for the word “scam” or “fraud” along with the site name should tell you if that site has a history of problems.
Tip 3: Logging into lots of sites? Don’t use your “real” password
Earlier this year, four out of five internet users admitted to being “locked” out of websites due to lost or forgotten passwords- and shopping binges can tempt you to reuse the same one, as you log in to site after site. DON'T. If you are reusing a password- make sure it's a “throwaway”, i.e. one unrelated to the important passwords you use for email, or for your bank. For good measure, why not use a throwaway email address as well? It will even help cut down on promo emails to personal mail accounts!
Tip 4: Don’t shop at leaky hotspots
If you need to do any shopping over WiFi, either at home or at a hotspot, make sure it is secure by looking out for the lock symbol in the WiFi connection dialog. As a rule, avoid shopping while connected to public hotspots such as those in malls, coffee shops etc. You’re far safer using your 3G or 4G phone as a hotspot. While this might add a little extra to your data bill, its far better than someone going on a shopping spree with your credit card. The last thing you want is someone snatching your personal details out of thin air as you transmit them from your laptop or smart device.
Tip 5: Use a credit card
According to PayPal, about 80% of online purchases in the Middle East are made with cash on delivery while Credit and debit cards make up 15%, and PayPal the remainder. If you get scammed and try to get your money back you may have better luck with credit card transactions versus debit cards. Credit cards often offer guarantees against fraud, whereas debit cards don’t. Many vendors, whether at the mall or online, prefer debit cards because the transaction is cheaper for them. But that’s not the customer's problem. Credit cards can put an extra layer of protection between you and the bad guys.
Tip 6: Scan credit card bill for 'mistakes'
After a heavy shopping spree, you might have a tendency to avoid looking at your credit card statements. Maybe you were hoping that you didn’t spend as much as you THINK you may have. But if you got scammed, that statement may be the first sign, so make it a point to at least skim the statement to see if there are any transactions you don’t recognize. For example, if you have never been to Russia and don’t know anyone who lives on the outskirts of Moscow, it’s a safe bet that any wire transfers or shipments of computer gear to the region are fraudulent. Remember, the sooner you act, the more likely you are to recover your money.
Bonus Tip for Parents: Buying the latest gadget? Make sure it’s child-safe
Many gadgets already have built-in controls which can help you protect children from adult content. Be sure they are in place before children run off with their new gifts. Apple’s iOS for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad contain a range of settings to restrict access based on age. These include the ability to block in-app purchases, which can protect against “bill shock” if children buy extras within games.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire devices have a particularly impressive range of child protection options. Windows 8 PC also has upgraded security controls for parents which can be found under the Family Safety area. It can monitor internet use and deliver reports each week on where they’ve been surfing. Be sure to know which of your children’s gadgets CAN go online since today, most games consoles can too. Consoles such as Xbox and Nintendo DS have parental controls, which block children from inappropriate content. Use them- many parents don’t!
Follow these simple tips and you should sleep a little better knowing that you're safe while shopping online. Remember, things will show up on your computer, as they do in real life, that seem too good to be true. Caution may sound boring, but it will definitely pay off. After all, if you have decided to shop online because you feel you don’t have enough time, you certainly don’t have time to bear the hassles of dealing with online fraud.