Online shopping during the festive season: separating the real from the fake

In recent times, online shopping has gained prominence with many physical shops moving to get online presence to take advantage of this internet-powered sales boom, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The process involved in making sales or purchases online is what is generally captured as e-commerce.

Whether it is a business website, a business page on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp, many individuals and businesses establish their presence online to make sales.

Unfortunately, this development, like any other, comes with its own challenges.

Our experience in fact-checking popular claims in Ghana over the past many months has taught us that some persons are taking advantage of the e-commerce boom to perpetrate scams. 

With the festive season being characterized by several sales and purchases, it is anticipated that disinformation peddlers and scammers will heighten their activities to try and defraud unsuspecting buyers.

A common observation has been the proliferation of fake pages cloned after genuine business pages and purporting to be offering Christmas deals.

Identifying the real from fake pages could be a daunting task but here are some basic tips that can help you. 

1. Page verification: It is best to do business with pages that are verified. Verified pages have a blue tick like this next to their names. It is true that many small businesses on social media have not been verified, in these cases, always ensure you run a search to see if the original page will emerge or if you are already engaging with the original one. 

Most times, the original pages have more followers than the cloned pages. 

Also looking out for the date the page was created is crucial. The older the page, the most trustworthy is, usually. 

2. Deals too good to be true: This is a widely known red flag but always very tempting to shoppers. If it is too good to be true then it is probably not true. There are countless stories about people who have been defrauded by business pages online when they tried to take advantage of very ridiculous product offers. 

It would be helpful to browse other online stores to know the average cost of a product, before making your final purchase with one whose offer you find to be unreasonable. Ridiculously low prices could be a bait to defraud. 

3. Suspicious reviews: Most web-based platforms give room for reviews from customers. Going through the reviews could give you clues on whether or not you are dealing with the right page. Being very thorough here is important because so many praise-singing or positive reviews could be a red flag. Too many negative reviews could also give relevant information. Having reviews or comments that look like they were ‘Bot-generated’ is also a red flag. 

A 2019 news feature examines some experiences of victims of e-commerce scams. 

These experiences and the trends observed by fact-checkers show that ignoring red flags on online pages you intend to do business with could mean seeing you giving up your hard-earned cash in return for nothing. 

You can read some of our fact-checks relating to e-commerce scams here, here and here

Have a Merry Christmas and the Happy New Year.

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