Online shoppers, beware!
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2016 - 12:00am

As more and more people turn to the internet to conduct their financial transactions like banking, shopping, Uber and Grab payments, buying airline tickets or paying hotel accommodations in advance, the threat of being manipulated or tricked by scammers likewise increases.

In the US, where the so-called Black Friday shopping frenzy happens after Thanksgiving Day, increased online sales have also prompted cyber criminals to step up their black schemes to prey on shoppers not mindful of giving out personal information.

Last year, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said cyber scams cost American consumers $1 billion this year, with the returning health of the US economy, both Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales of all major retailers were at much higher levels.

The FBI, however, has warned shoppers not to let their guard down because cyber scams are no longer just confined to retail websites (or those posing to be the retail websites), but also on social networks through posts and smartphone apps.

And while Nov. 25, this year’s Black Friday, has transpired, the Christmas shopping frenzy is expected to continue and once again peak on the eve of Dec. 24 as shoppers scramble with their last-minute holiday gift buying. That’s one solid month for scammers to lay wait.

In the Philippines, the US trend using desktop computers and smartphones to shop is similarly gaining traction, although nowhere near the estimated online sales of $3.34 billion during the last Black Friday. Correspondingly, social networks have also been increasingly employed as platforms.

Age of globalization

The rising popularity of doing financial transactions online is something that is dictated by the convenience offered by banks and retailers, as well as the increasing sophistication of software programs to reach out to consumers with notices of promotions and discounts.

If you’re an iPhone user, you may have received such invitations during the last few days, which you would have likely deleted because the sale items offered were in dollar terms. But, in truth, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been increasingly positioned for sales outside the US market.

This is, of course, the age of globalization. And with delivery services geared to transcend borders and cross oceans, those tempting Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales offerings are within reach especially to Filipino consumers who have become more adept at using credit cards.

Unfortunately, the cyber scams that prey on Americans have also been transported to the Philippine milieu. Thus, the risk of identity theft associated with phishing, pharming, vishing, and smishing, as well as being duped by fraudulent discount offers is ever more real for Filipinos.

The US has a more sophisticated redress system for victims, which somehow consoles those that were scammed. The Philippines, on the other hand, has nothing of this kind. Thus, if you suddenly wake up one morning to find out your bank account has been skimmed or wiped dry, just cry.

Be warned

Be armed, though, before you end up being a victim. Fortunately, scams and attempts to pry into your financial accounts can be avoided if you are aware of potential threats and how to deal with them.

Phishing describes methods by cyber criminals to fish for personal data such as bank data, credit card details, passwords and usernames. Phishing usually happens through  emails pretending to be from legitimate organizations, your bank or credit card company.

The emails usually will ask you for a variety of reasons to key in your username, password, or even your account number. Banks and credit card companies, even legitimate retailers will never ask their clients for these information.

Pharming has the same intention: to collect key information to access your personal account through sites that were created to look exactly like the real thing – except that its url, or web address, is slightly different from the real thing.

Because of the deviousness of pharming, consumers should always scrutinize the address of the website, especially if these ask for personal information to complete a sale transaction. Do remember that bogus websites may try to look almost the same as the real site, so be extra vigilant.

One foolproof measure is to transact only with secure websites, such as those start their addresses with “https” (the “s” to mean secure). If it just has four letters, “http,” then best to ignore it.

Smishing or SMS phishing is the same as phishing although confined to mobile phones. Our local simple versions are those that request for a “wrongly transferred” money to be “returned.” More sophisticated smishing provide links that will attempt to get your personal information.

To steer clear of smishing scams, never be tricked to giving out personal details like bank account numbers, usernames or passwords.

Vishing uses voice calls with the same aim: to extort from intended victims those all-important personal details. The cardinal rule still stands: never give out bank details, credit card numbers, your username, and password.

It’s on Facebook, too!

The hottest online shopping cyber crimes today, though, are the thousands of masquerading websites that sell goods online. With many getting their daily dose of news from social websites like Facebook or Instagram, it is not rare to encounter links passed on by friends that purportedly offer sale items.

Or popping up on your social network feed are those “sponsored” messages that are not always legitimate. They come in all forms: contests, surveys, gift vouchers, vacation trips – all with the intention of stealing your personal information and gaining a foot into your financial accounts.

The best advice so far available is to always be aware of potential risks of clicking any link on your social network feed. In fairness, there are legitimate sites by struggling entrepreneurs that offer good bargains. All it takes is a little thinking to ensure you don’t get ripped.

If you fear you may not get what you intended to buy, opt for a pay-when-delivered term. If the site insists on getting your card details when it doesn’t feel right, stick to your instincts. An ounce of caution will often go a long, long way to avoiding misery.

Facebook and Twitter

We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us at www.facebook.com and follow us at www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS ONLINE SHOPPING SCAM UBER AND GRAB
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