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Shopping Shock: Over a third of customers scammed on popular shopping sites across Europe and beyond

by Staff Reporter
17 May 2024 at 12:14hrs | Views
While price comparison sites are a popular tool for finding deals and secure retailers, a new study reveals a disturbing truth: online shopping might not be as safe as we think. According to the report, over a third of customers across Europe and beyond have been scammed on popular shopping websites.

It's an issue that raises serious concerns about online retail fraud and the need for increased vigilance, even on seemingly safe platforms.

But how has it come about? This article looks at how one of the biggest consumer stings in history has happened in the last few months.

Staying as safe as possible online

Before we get to the investigation, we should take a look at how to stay safe when shopping online.
Making sure you have the correct web address is a must, which means double-checking domain names against the brand's official website.

Many customers opt for an extra layer of security by going through price comparison sites that vet the stores beforehand and give ratings. They're part of a popular online industry that helps protect people in other internet industries: examples of other sites include StakeHub in the online casino world, and Skyscanner for flights.

When it comes to payment, it's best to only use a trusted online payment provider with high-quality reviews. There have been stories of some operators ripping customers off.

Yet, despite these safety measures, a criminal ring was still able to sting innocent customers. The next section looks at how.

A vast network of fraudulent sites

We tend to take online safety for granted when going digital shopping, but the recent findings shocked investigators.

The investigation, carried out by a consortium of journalists from The Guardian, Die Zeit, and Le Monde, exposed a network of over 76,000 fraudulent websites mimicking popular designer brands like Dior, Nike, Lacoste, and Hugo Boss. These sites offered tempting discounts to con shoppers into parting with their personal details and, in some cases, even credit card information.

The data examined by investigators suggests a highly organized and technical operation. Over the past three years, the network is estimated to have processed over 1 million fake orders, attempting to steal as much as €50 million.

While not all transactions were successful, a significant portion of the network remains active, with over 22,500 fake shops still in operation.

Yet, even more alarming than the financial losses is the fact that the criminals accessed private personal information. Experts warn that this data, including email addresses, phone numbers, and even credit card details, could be used for phishing attempts, identity theft, or even sold to foreign intelligence agencies.

How the criminals did it

The network stood out from previous online fraud cases with its use of a "franchise-like" model. A core group of specialists created a platform to churn out fake websites quickly and semi-automatically. This platform was then used by others to launch their own fraudulent shops, creating a vast network of designer stores that appeared legitimate.

The investigation told the experiences of people who fell for the scam. Many reported being tempted by deep discounts and ended up sharing personal details but receiving nothing in return. In some cases, customers received unrelated or low-quality items instead of their designer purchases.

The fight back

Experts warn that online scams are a growing problem, and online shopping fraud is a major concern.
Law enforcement agencies are working to take down the fake websites, and calls are growing for stricter regulations and better protection for consumers from tech companies and search engines.

Yet, for this to work there needs to be wide-scale international co-operation, which with several major conflicts happening right now, appears to be a tall order.

Possible solutions for safer shopping

The shock of such a widescale attack has prompted authorities to look into future solutions to deal with repeat attempts.

One is for tech giants like search engines and payment processors to implement stricter vetting procedures to identify and block fraudulent websites. Improving user education on recognizing safe online marketplaces is also crucial.

Governments can also work with consumer protection agencies to establish stricter regulations for online businesses. This might include mandatory verification processes and data security measures to keep shopper info safe.

Finally, educating the public on online scams through targeted campaigns can empower people to be more vigilant. Sharing red flags and safe shopping practices can significantly reduce the number of victims.

The hope is that we can learn from serious cybercrime to make a better digital future for everyone and stop this type of crimewave from happening again.


Source - Byo24News