Online Shopping in Hyperdrive Mode; Consumers ripped-off by Imposters

August 26, 2022

It is now absolutely imperative for consumers engaging in online shopping to be vigilant and only engage with reputable and trustworthy businesses/sites. This fresh call to be cautious is being issued as increasing number of consumers are falling victims to innovative and unsuspecting ruse being employed by cybercriminals.

The Consumer Council of Fiji Chief Executive Officer Ms Seema Shandil says that e-commerce is no doubt in hyperdrive mode; with increasing number of consumers engaging in online shopping. Unfortunately, Cybercriminals are keeping pace.

“This is evident by the number of complaints lodged at the Consumer Council of Fiji (CCoF) relating to online shopping; a staggering 189 complaints were registered in a 12-month period between August 2021 and July 2022. Additionally, a recent poll run by the Consumer Council of Fiji has revealed that 56% of consumers who participated have been ripped by businesses/individuals operating online via platforms such as Facebook and Instagram; this is quite alarming,” said Ms Shandil.

The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website, mobile app or, increasingly, social media pages and relating advertisements. While many online sellers are legitimate, unfortunately scammers can use the anonymous nature of the internet and social media to rip off unsuspecting shoppers.

“Online shopping although efficient, may be risky particularly as many individuals create fake accounts and operate hoax businesses. The Council has come across cases that have been difficult to resolve particularly due to this fact and as such we have referred cases of bogus business profiles to relevant enforcement bodies. When consumers deal with fake profiles, it becomes close to impossible to identify who is operating that account. We can only solicit redress for consumers if we know who the respondents are,” added Ms Shandil.

The Council is also concerned with the increase of fly-by night operators who appear on various social media platforms all of a sudden with the intention to entice consumers with their deals and their sole purpose is to extort money from consumers and disappear without delivering products as promised.

Ms Shandil has further stressed that it is not only these traders in particular that consumers need to be most wary of but certain well-known and formerly reputable operators who have also resorted to unethical practices such as non-delivery of products after taking full payments. Additionally, we have also had cases of people calling us and voicing their concerns regarding delay in delivery, traders not responding to customers after a deposit was made, and traders failing to provide a schedule to customer following the deposit.

As Fiji’s leading consumer protection agency, the Council is stepping up its awareness campaigns amongst the general public to ensure consumers are fully aware of the pros and cons of doing online shopping and that they are not duped by unethical businesses. However, it is also the consumers’ responsibility to do their due diligence and ensure they are not ‘sitting ducks’ for online imposters’ ‘hunting’ for unsuspecting prey to rip-off.

“Consumers must do adequate research, check for reviews, look-out for red-flags and if they are 100% confident about the legitimacy of the businesses, only then should they engage with them,” added Ms Shandil.

The Council is also calling on traders to be ethical and ensure that they do not mislead consumers with false advertising and deliver the items as promised.

Any consumer facing similar issues are urged to lodge their complaints via the National Consumer Helpline toll-free 155 or email Consumers can also download the Consumer Council app or message us directly on our Facebook page.