Abdul Hadi, an Iranian expat living in Al Nahda, Sharjah wanted to buy a vacuum cleaner worth over Dh500. While browsing the Internet, his wife happened to see an advertisement for the same vacuum at 50 percent off. They immediately ordered the product — but when it arrived, they were shocked.
“It was delivered after a week, and what we got in the parcel was nothing worth Dh500 — not even the Dh250 that I paid. They sent a vacuum cleaner that costs only Dh30 in the market,” said Hadi.
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The expat said what they saw on the shopping site was a 3ft-tall vacuum that can be used to clean floors. “The one we received was just over half a foot,” said Hadi. It looked more like a hairdryer than a vacuum.
He said the website was no longer accessible when they checked after a few days.
Hadi wasn’t the only one. Cyber scams usually hit a peak around the holiday season when many people are on the lookout for online deals and smart gifting ideas, according to a study done by payment platform Visa. Every year, thousands of people across the world fall victim to holiday scams, it said.
Muhamed Ammar, a software engineer who lives in Dubai’s Al Warqa neighbourhood, was scammed, too.
“I love perfume. I have a collection of them. There are many websites that claim to sell original perfume but, in truth, the product they offer at 60 per cent ‘discount’ was nothing but water with a few drops of fragrance,” Ammar said.
He learnt this the hard way. Earlier this year when he was about to leave for his annual vacation, he bought Dh1,200 worth of perfume for friends and family.
“When I got the order, I tried one and it lasted just a few minutes. They have a number on their website for complaints, but it’s always out of reach,” said Ammar.
The perfume was clearly fake, he said. It was just sold in a packaging that looked like the original one.
Ammar essentially lost Dh1,200 and had to spend Dh3,000 to get the authentic perfume from the store.
How to stay safe when shopping online
UAE authorities have time and again warned residents of online scammers, reminding them to always “think before you click”.
Visa, in its study, listed a number of tips and steps that one can follow to stay safe when shopping online.
- Only shop from trusted and secure websites: Look for ‘https’ in the URL and a padlock symbol in the browser bar. These symbols indicate that the website is secure and uses encryption to protect your data.
- Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true: Scammers often lure victims with incredible deals. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
- Be cautious with e-mails and messages: Phishing scams are common during the holiday season. Never click on links in unsolicited e-mails or messages. Always verify with the sender directly through their customer service line or mobile app before providing any personal information.
- Always check the details in the OTP message: Before entering the OTP, verify the purpose of the OTP and review the purchase details such as the merchant’s name, and transaction amount. Finally, you should not be disclosing your OTPs over the phone, e-mail, or messenger.
- Keep your devices and software updated: Regular updates often include security patches that protect against new threats. Make sure your devices and software are up to date.
- Use strong and unique passwords and enable 2FA: Each of your online accounts should have a unique password and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) to make it more challenging for fraudsters to access.
- Monitor your bank and credit card statements: Regularly check your statements for any unauthorised transactions and enable transaction alerts. If you see anything suspicious, report it immediately.
- Be wary of fake charities: Scammers often take advantage of the holiday season to set up fake charities. Always research a charity before donating.
- Protect your personal information: Never provide personal information unless it’s necessary. Be wary of any requests for personal information – even if the message claims to be from a friend or family member.
- Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured and can be a target for hackers. It’s safer to shop from a secure home network or use a VPN.