ARE YOU SAFE WHEN SHOPPING ONLINE?

Have you ever sold something or bought something online? I’m guessing most people have, either because the item in question is cheaper, not found in Malta, more to our taste, or for various other reasons. Buying and selling things on the world wide web has become something common and even a pastime for many.

However, one must be very careful when dealing with monetary transactions online, since there are obviously traps and pitfalls one can encounter on the internet, which are quite different to the ones present when making face-to-face purchases.

Just the other day for example, I was browsing through a particular local website and came across something which I thought would make a good anniversary present for my other half. I contacted the seller, asking for further information about the item. However, the seller refused to give this information, telling me to contact him on his mobile phone instead. While I understand that it’s easier to communicate on the phone than through email or chat, I decided to wait a couple of days, until I perused more websites as well as a couple of stores for the same item, in order to compare prices. I also dislike giving my mobile number to strangers, which is another deterrent when buying something from certain sites. Websites such as Ebay and Amazon are more secure in this regard, since they do not need your mobile number, and only ask for your address for shipping purposes. I sent an email thanking the seller for his help, and that was that.

Lo and behold, as soon as I opened my inbox on Monday morning, I found a very abusive email from this seller, calling me a miser and a time-waster, as well as other unsavoury things, because I hadn’t called him after all. Needless to say, I was astounded. Was this the way one treated prospective clients? Of course not. However, the fact that this seller was hiding, so to speak, behind his seller username, as well as not having to face an actual person in the flesh, seemed to have given him the idea that nasty and uncalled for behaviour was acceptable. In other words, he felt like he had nothing to lose. So, being anonymous behind his screen, he felt free to vent his frustration at me when he thought that I was not going to buy the item from him.

Big mistake.

I was about to contact him again, but I simply told him that I wouldn’t buy anything from him in a million years. Thank all the gods I never gave such a person my mobile number, and that the website in question is not one which, as such, facilitates such monetary online transactions directly through one’s bank account.

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Even though online sellers and buyers never actually see the person they are negotiating with, there is still normal civilised etiquette to consider. Not meeting someone in person does not give you the lee-way to transform into a nasty beast. Let’s leave aside the fact that a person who hasn’t bought anything from you today may very well buy something from you tomorrow, or recommend you to someone else. Let’s consider normal human decency. Why do some people feel it’s ok to degenerate into squalid baboons just because they are hidden behind a screen?

In the case I mentioned, the transaction never actually took place, so certain problems were thankfully destroyed at the root. Things, however, can get even worse once you actually pay online and send the money for an item which, for example, never arrives. How do you get your money back? In some cases, when one buys from Ebay, especially using security websites such as Paypal, there are actual contractual clauses that each seller using the site is forced to adhere to, unless they want to be penalised. However, when it comes to other less reputable and established sites, this is not the case at all. There are actually some sellers and companies which sell you one item, but send you another. You can’t really complain and enforce their purchase after it’s done, especially if the seller lives in another country, and refuses to reply to any emails or calls.

It’s easier for sellers to entrap or misguide buyers than for buyers to do the same. This is because generally, sellers only post the required item after they have received payment, thereby mitigating any chances of fake transactions or fraud. On the other hand, unless the website contains the necessary policies and structures, buyers are very much naked amidst the fury of the storm, in that they have to implicitly trust that the seller will post the right item at the right address, and not just grab the money and run.

 

What do you think about buying something online? Have you ever been cheated in an online transaction?

Let us know in the comment section below.

 

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