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It’s not uncommon to hear about nightmarish tales of fraud when it comes to Internet shopping. Take note of these scenarios before clicking “buy”, and learn what to do if they happen to you.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It’s not uncommon to hear about nightmarish tales of fraud when it comes to Internet shopping. Take note of these scenarios before clicking “buy”, and learn what to do if they happen to you. 

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I’m looking for designer items at bargain prices, but am wary of fakes. My friend bought a Philippe Starckdesigned Kartell Louis Ghost chair from a website (which was welldesigned and looked professional), and received a poorly made replica instead. What can I do to ensure this won’t happen to me?   
The fact is designer items aren’t cheap – even when they’re discounted. “The cost of producing authentic and highquality furniture is high due to the use of quality materials and experienced craftsmanship by professionals,” says Leo Shu May of Danish Design, a multi-brand furniture store that carries brands like Fredericia and Fritz Hansen. Hence, the first red flag would be a ridiculously low price.  Before purchasing, check if the website is by an authorised dealer.
You can verify this by looking out for a dealer list on the brand’s website, or dropping a quick e-mail to confirm the e-store is indeed an authorised dealer. You can also request a certificate of authenticity – a trusted dealer will be happy to comply. Once you’ve received the item, pay attention to the workmanship and finish.
Inspect the joints and type of material used – for instance, the timber used on a Wishbone chair by Carl Hansen & Son should not have an uneven finish or knots. Check the underside of the item, too; a knock-off is more likely to be held together with staples or glue and will not have a label or serial number.
I bought a pendant lamp, which was supposedly made in the US but, after a thorough check, I discovered it was manufactured in China. There is no indication of its origin on the invoice and the website did not reply to my request for a refund. What can I do?
In Singapore, you are protected by the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), known colloquially as lemon law. It allows consumers who have purchased defective products – or goods that fall short of what was advertised or held out by the retailer – to seek a refund, replacement, repair or reduction in price from the retailer. “If the website explicitly stated that the lamp was manufactured in the US, you have a legal right to return the China-made lamp to the retailer and to ask for a refund. If the retailer refuses to accede to your request, you may file a complaint against the retailer with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). Case will then intervene and arrange for a mediation session between you and the retailer if necessary,” says Fong Wei Li, a lawyer specialising in civil and commercial law. Unfortunately, Case may not be able to intervene if the purchase was made with an overseas-based retailer. You may technically sue an overseas company under the CPFTA, but enforcing any judgement you may get against the overseas company may be a costly and tedious process.
Although I shop online regularly, I am still paranoid that hackers will access my credit-card information. I check my bank statements regularly for discrepancies. How else can I guard myself?
The scenario you mentioned is called identity theft, where criminals use your personal information for financial gains. Ensuring that all your card transactions are in order is a great start, but you can protect yourself further with these tips shared by Mastercard and security specialist, the Cyber Security Agency.
First, avoid shopping on open and non-encrypted websites or public computers, as it opens your information to greater hacking risks. Shop on trusted and legitimate sites, such as those with a green lock symbol on the browser URL box; this SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) symbol means all data between shopper and website remain confidential. Try to use familiar websites, which your friends have patronised (and received their items as described), too.
Next, protect your data by choosing a strong password for online shopping accounts, and clearing your cache after shopping to ensure no confidential information is being stored. If you make your online purchases through your mobile device, you should also download anti-virus apps – from trusted app makers and brands like AVG – on your phone or digital tablet. Lastly, do not share your personal details or passwords for online shopping accounts with anyone – even if they claim to be from a bank. If you’re sceptical, hang up and call the bank at its listed number.